Talib Ahmed Bensouda, the mayor of Kanifing, visited Madison today and thanked Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway for the resources she pledged to help his city build a library. Mayor Rhodes Conway said Madison would not give money for the project, but would instead use Madison city staff to help the project and promote Kanifing’s fundraising efforts.
Kanifing is a city in The Gambia, one of the poorest African countries. It is home to over two million people, but only has one public library, located in the capital city of Banjul. This is a problem for the many students and young people who live and study in Kanifing. Mayor Bensouda says that this is inconvenient, but it can also be downright unsafe.
“We feel we have an emergency on our hands,” said Bensouda. “We want students to immediately have a safe space where we can learn. Right now, how students learn, especially in the wee hours of the night, is using public facilities such as markets, street lights, or a bank has a well-lit light and students will sit under it. As you can imagine, that is a very unsafe way and a very exposed way to learn.”
Kanifing is one of Madison’s nine sister cities, which work with Madison to exchange cultural experiences, knowledge, ideas, and in some cases resources. Madison and Kanifing have a newer relationship—they became sister cities three years ago, while the program dates back to the 80s. According to Jerreh Kujabi, chair of Madison-Kanifing Sister City Committee, this project is just the beginning.
“Some of the components that go along with our program are health–we work with a group here called the Wisconsin Medical program that help us coordinate a shipment of medical supplies that we send to the Gambia,” said Kujabi. “We also have an educational component. We go in, have exchanges with students, talk about our background, educate them about Africa and The Gambia specifically. We’ve also tried to make roadways into the university. We’ve reached out to the African studies program there, we’ve reached out to the international studies division to have study abroad programs available to students from the university to come to The Gambia.”
Bensouda said that Kanifing’s relationship with Madison previously helped Kanifing acquire the resources to develop its waste collection system.
Bensouda says that the planning phase for the library is complete, and their next step is to raise money. Kujabi has set up a website that allows people to donate to the project and says that he will also be contacting private organizations to secure funding. He also says the library will cost about $3 point 5 million in total, but that its impact could be incalculable.
“It’s a project that is really dear to our hearts, coming from that part of the world,” said Kujabi. “I went to school there. I never had the opportunity to be in a library, not in my elementary school, not in my middle school or high school. I cannot overemphasize the impact that this library and the opportunity it would give to the young folks that are in The Gambia.”
Bensouda says he hopes to complete the project within the next year.