A GNA Feature by: By Maxwell Awumah
The Sister Cities International (SCI) movement developed out of an idea mooted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States in 1956.
It aimed at encouraging people of the world and different cultures to reach out to each other as a means of strengthening international cooperation and peace.
Today, Sister Cities is a non-profit, non-governmental network and movement of citizens and institutional partners in all countries across the world. It is based on the concept of a grassroots "People-to-People" approach to international relations as a supplement to "Government-to-Government" international relations.
To date, there are 2,400 Sister Cities relationships formally registered worldwide. Sister Cities International, which is incorporated and headquartered in Washington DC, USA is the apex organization of the movement. Besides the apex organization are Sister City Foundations for each continent - Africa Global Sister Cities Foundation (AGSCF), which is now charged with promoting SCI's goals and activities in Africa, with Mr Prince Kwame Kludjeson, being the Africa-President and the Country Co-coordinator of Ghana-SCI.
The underlying objective of the Sister Cities Program is the promotion of international friendship to create and strengthen long term partnership between citizens of cities in the world by motivating and empowering private citizens, their municipal officials and business leaders to dialogue and engage with other cities and their citizens in peace and understanding.
Ghana, which is apparently, a member of the United Nations and other peace - seeking organizations of the world, therefore, shares the goal of the Sister Cities International. The Ghana Sister Cities Foundation continues to facilitate the twinning of their district to cities abroad. As a result, the number of Sister Cities in Ghana today, had increased from 10 in 2003 to 15 in 2004 with the latest being the twinning of Agogo Traditional Area to the City of Fort Lauderdale in the Florida State of the United States. In this vein, Hohoe district is equally making effort to have its district twinned with the City of West Palm Beach-Florida, in the US.
It is gratifying to note that during last year's Sister Cities International Annual Conference held in Fort Worth-Texas, U.S.A., Tamale Municipality and the City of Louisville in Kentucky, US were adjudged the best Sister Cities for 2004. This feat was achieved when the two cities jointly undertook a project on women empowerment and poverty alleviation.
To survive a test of time, an established Sister City relationship requires the formation of a local Sister City Committee comprising of a broad range of community members as well as the election of local officers to steer its affairs. This way, all sectors of the community can actively participate in its programmes, thus promoting citizen diplomacy from the grassroots level.
By fostering international understanding, friendship and encouraging exchange of education, culture and sport through Sister Cities, would help to support tourism and trade. Such contacts are estimated to have brought billions of dollars to the world's economy mainly at the grassroots level.
The hope is that sister city relationships would help people from different countries to understand each other better and use them as a way to build trust, understand new cultures and explore business relationships.
The Sister City concept, therefore, has become an excellent catalyst for economic growth and delegations visiting twinned cities add to our local tourism market, especially eco-tourism attraction sites - Wli Water Falls, Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary, Mount Afadjato, which is the highest mountain in Ghana and the mysterious Seven-Branch Palm Tree at Leklebi Agbesia, all in the Volta Region.
This type of tourism, although it has been around for decades, was becoming more and more popular as more tourists are getting addicted to choosing sites where they could experience the beauties of the natural world while learning more about 'mother nature'. Undisputedly, eco-tourism is still only a small sector, yet it is growing rapidly as more and more tourists want to learn and participate in the natural, cultural and social worlds they visit. This is an area of tourism that needs to be supported and encouraged, apart from the financial rewards the social and environmental impacts gained from caring and learning about the environment are priceless.
By encouraging these travellers and providing a world class, sustainable visitor- experience, the country would be preserving the natural assets that create unity among the people and communities worldwide through sister cities affiliations.
From the foregoing, the Africa Global Sister Cities Foundation had, therefore, taken a challenge to establish and host an international website for all districts, selected communities and traditional areas, in Ghana, to showcase their investments and tourism potentials to attract the yearning international community through Sister Cities affiliations to facilitate socio-economic development of the country.
INVITATION TO AFFILIATE
This year's Sister Cities conferences, which are scheduled from May 25 to May 28 and July 27 to July 31, would be held in St. Louis Missouri USA, and Spokane in Washington D.C, respectively. Interested Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MDDAs) as well as corporate and business entities, traditional areas and communities could sponsor delegates to the confab and explore avenues of twinning to a city or business, as the benefits were enormous. For instance, Egypt, which had harnessed and sustained its tourism potentials, was reaping billions of dollars from the sector while Agogo Traditional Area has also benefited from more than 1.3 million dollars from the SCI.
Consequently, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies should inculcate the Sister City concept into their development programmes, by setting aside some proportion of their budgets for the operations of their local SCI programmes.
By so doing invariably, there would be increasing global co-operation at the local level, fostering cross-cultural understanding and stimulating economic development while building bridges of hope and peace between communities and their international counterparts worldwide.
As per the SCI 2004 membership directory, there were 96 Africa Cities, municipalities, districts in partnership with Sister Cities in the US.
These Africa partners have been in Sister cities relationships for varied periods of time and have various experiences to narrate with regard to benefits from the programme. Possible areas of collaboration in the SCI/AGSCF were the arts and culture, business and economic development, education, environmental awareness, disability awareness, healthcare assistance, public safety, training, youth activities and humanitarian relief among other things.
DOMESTICATION OF THE CONCEPT
The SCI concept when domesticated would go a long way to enhance its actualisation in the country, for instance - inter-district, inter traditional area, inter-community or inter-regional local Sister Cities affiliations.
This would boost national cohesion, understanding and development. Togbe Afede XIV, the Agbogbomefia of the Asogli State, is a pacesetter in promoting unity, peace and development beyond his jurisdiction.
He has extended a hand of friendship to some traditional areas. This eye-opener, deserve commendation. The country would be enjoying total peace, if the gesture of the Agbogbomefia, were replicated by other traditional authorities towards facilitating unity and development.
Ghana is at the crossroads of placing itself on the international tourism map and it behoved on all stakeholders to ensure that tourism became the mainstay of the economy while attempts were made to harness and package tourism products to attract the desired tourists.