Mayor Rhodes-Conway and her delegation are slated to meet with Talib Ahmed Bensouda, the mayor of Kanifing, during this week’s sojourn to the West African republic of The Gambia.
They’re also slated to meet with the country’s president, Adama Barrow, and participate in an official ceremony celebrating a partnership between Madison College and the University of The Gambia, among other stops.
Kanifing is one of Madison’s ten sister cities. But what is a sister city?
“A sister city is a community in another part of the world that Madison has established a relationship with, some for many many years. And the reason they were started, and I know other communities and even states have such relationships, is the belief that person to person ties are the strongest,” says Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley.
Kanifing has been a Madison Sister City for about six years, and developing it as an official sister city was a project of Wisconsin state representative Samba Baldeh, during his time as a Madison alder.
The sister city program, however, has been around much longer, for almost 25 years. The City of Madison officially established a Sister City Program in 1998, with the goal of promoting person-to-person ties, peace, and better understanding of all cultures, though some of the city’s relationships go back further than that.
Arcatoa, El Salvador was Madison’s first official sister city. And Madison representative Carolyn Gantner said that the partnership saved lives in El Salvador by bringing attention to the violence in that country.
“And it was created in order to bring to light the state sponsored violence against the people of Arcatao and actually all of El Salvador,” says Gantner.
Gantner adds that one project Madison and Arcatao are working together on is the Historical Memory Project which helps Arcatao collect and record information for their Historical Memory Museum which honors the country’s history of conflict.
Charles James is Madison representative of sister city Freiburg, Germany. He says the main purpose of sister cities is to create relationships with people of different communities.
“Sister cities were created so that people in one community in the United States could communicate with people in another community in another country,” says James.
James said UW has an exchange program for students to go to Freiburg and many Freiburg students will come to Madison.
Another Madison sister city is Vilnius, Lithuania. This partnership was started in 1989 before Lithuania gained independence with a humanitarian focus. And Madison representative Daina Zemliauskas – Juozevicius said that since they gained independence in 1991, the focus has shifted to become more of a cultural exchange program.
Zemliauskas – Juozevicius says the main purpose of the partnership is to help people be aware of Lithuania and their struggles.
“I think that the more people that are aware of Lithuania and where it is and the potential pressure there, the better off that whole country would be.”
Bahir Dar, Ethiopia is another sister city that is focused on cultural exchanges. Representative Rahel Desalegne said their goal is to foster relationships between the two cities.
“So the benefit is us engaged with our counterparts in Bahir Dar. And we hope in the future there will be more of the cultural exchanges,” says Desalegne.
Madison also does cultural exchanges with Kanifing, The Gambia. Jerreh Kujabi, the Madison representative, said that the Mayor of Kanifing has visited Madison twice and now the Madison mayor is visiting Kanifing for the first time.
Kujabi said that sister cities are important because they connect people between countries.
“The goal is simple. We are connected more by what makes us common than what sets us apart,” says Kujabi.
Other official sister cities of Madison are Camaguey, Cuba; Mantova, Italy; Obihiro, Japan; and Tepatitlan, Mexico. The newest sister city is Cusco Peru, which was officially added in January 2022.
Reporting for W-O-R-T News, I’m Abigail Leavins.
Photo courtesy of WORT on Flickr