At his final State of the City address last month, Mayor Michael Coleman told attendees that as the first African-American mayor of Columbus, he could not leave office without opening a relationship with a sister city in Africa. The Mayor then announced that Accra, Ghana would become Columbus’ newest sister city, eliciting excited cheers from Ghanaians in the audience, who hoisted up the green, yellow and red Ghanaian flag.
Columbus has nine sister cities across the globe, including Dresden, Germany; Seville, Spain; Herzliya, Israel; Tainan City, Taiwan; Hefei, China; Odense, Denmark and Ahmedabad, India. Genoa, Italy became Columbus’ first sister city in 1955. In 2014, Curitiba, Brazil became the ninth and first sister city in South America. Accra, Ghana’s capital city, will be number 10.
Tim Sword became president of Greater Columbus Sister Cities International in December of 2014. According to him, the Sister Cities program started during the Dwight Eisenhower administration to facilitate economic development as well as academic and cultural exchanges. The program was meant to promote the idea of “citizen diplomacy” in an increasingly dangerous world.
“It was during the height of the Cold Was and this was a way for people to get to know each other on a real basis and not only rely on the rhetoric and fear of not knowing each other,” said Sword.
Since that time, the program has evolved into a means for individual communities to capitalize on globalization by connecting them with people and economies across the world.
Sword said that after the Mayor’s office and the Franklin County commissioners expressed a desire for an African sister city, a search committee was called together to establish what criteria would be used to identify the right sister city for Columbus.
“They were looking at possibilities for exchanges, they were looking internally in Columbus and saying, what kind of communities do we have here that have come from Africa? And there’s a number of them,” said Sword. “We have a really rich…new American community here in Columbus and they come from diverse parts of Africa. So we definitely engaged with them in this process and they were very involved, but we were also looking at the opportunity to have those economic connections and to see what relationships already existed that we could build upon.”
Eventually, said Sword, the process narrowed the list down to about five different African cities. Sword said Accra’s progressiveness and the ease of doing business there ultimately made it the clear winner.
Accra is already sister cities with Chicago and Columbia, South Carolina, and Sword said both U.S. cities have approved the new relationship between Columbus and Accra. The next step will be for Coleman and Accra’s Mayor Alfred Vanderpuije to sign an agreement making the relationship between the two cities official.
Sword said this is an exciting time for GCSCI. When the Franklin County became a funder few years ago, Sword said it opened up more opportunities for the program to expand to more parts of Central Ohio. Sword said that with the addition of Curitiba and now Accra, he expects more renewed interests in the previous relationships over the years and increased engagement with our older sister cities.