Council Votes on Pasadena's First African Sister City

If approved, Dakar-Plateau would join cities in Germany, Japan, Finland, Armenia, and China as Pasadena partners

Published : Monday, August 27, 2018 | 5:13 AM

The City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on whether to approve Pasadena’s first Sister City relationship with an African city.

The vote considers adopting the designation for Dakar-Plateau in Senegal, which would join Pasadena’s current Sister City roster of Ludwigshafen, Germany; Mishima, Japan; Järvenpää, Finland; Vanadzor, Armenia; and Xicheng District in Beijing, China.

Dakar-Plateau is relatively small, with a population of 36,900, but it is a section of Senegal’s capital of Dakar, a sprawling coastal city of over 1 million. Dakar is the westernmost city on the African mainland.

Dakar-Plateau is 6,241 miles away from Pasadena. The road to this point in its City Sisterhood with Pasadena has been — literally and figuratively — a long one.

“The interest has been there for a long time,” said Boualem Bousseloub, Pasadena Sister Cities Committee Ad Hoc Chair. “In fact, it seems that there had been two to three or possibly four attempts that, for various reasons didn’t work out.”

What seems like a desirable relationship between cities isn’t as easy to arrange as one might think.

As Bousseloub explained, “We approached, for example, Cape Town in South Africa and after three, four, five months, they responded they were not interested in an official relationship. It happens that [later] the Mayor of Cape Town was in Los Angeles leading an economic delegation and she told me that she was interested in investment. And of course, that is way out of our bailiwick as a Sister City.”

But, as the Committee’s recent report to Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek revealed, an unexpected opportunity in June 2017 came in the form of a phone call from the Honorary Consul of Senegal, Mame Toucouleur Mbaye.

Planning a trip to Senegal and fully aware of Pasadena’s African Sister City project, Mbaye offered to take a letter to the Mayor of Dakar-Plateau, Alioune Ndoye, said the report. A month later, Consul Mbaye returned with a warm letter from the Mayor that invited a delegation from Pasadena to visit and discuss the topic of “twinning” the two cities.

Five members of the Pasadena committee — Jennipha Nielsen, Talin Hindoyan, Raequel London and Mame Toucouleur Mbaye — led by Bousseloub and accompanied by Vice-Mayor John Kennedy, visited Dakar-Plateau from March 23 to April 1, 2018, meeting local leaders and visiting tourism centers, arts and culture sites, as well as businesses and factories.

The trip was privately funded, sources said.

Senegal is located halfway between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer on the western coast of Africa. As Bousselboub wrote to Mayor Tornek, “With the Sahara at its back, the African nation of Senegal is Atlantic in essence, and Western in its outlook.”

Although small in appearance, it is nonetheless the giant component of the capital as its political, financial and economic center, said Bousselboub.

“At the southern tip of the capital, Dakar-Plateau seems to be probing the maritime future of Senegal,” he said.

“With relatively well-developed infrastructure and ambitious plans for private investment, Senegal is a hub for all businesses from abroad and Dakar-Plateau, the port of entry because of its geographical location, offers growing trade and investment opportunities for U.S. firms and an attractive location for companies that serve the West African regional market,” Bousellboub wrote.

Tourism is also a major economic activity in Dakar-Plateau, said Boussellboub, with the Island of Goree being a particular attraction and pilgrimage destination for the African Diaspora. According to UNESCO, it is “a foyer for contact between the West and Africa, and a space for exchange and dialogue between cultures through the confrontation of ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Vice-Mayor John Kennedy points to a direct connection between America and Senegal: Goree Island, part of Dakar, was one of the original ports of international slavery.

The infamous “Door of No Return” where slaves were chained before being transported on slave ships, has been visited by a number of world leaders, including former Pasadena resident Barack Obama.

“There’s a direct connection,” Kennedy said, “and we need to study those connections, acknowledge those connections, whether they be good or bad, and then celebrate how we can work together to build a better present and future. And so under the Sister Cities umbrella, this would be historic for Pasadena to move forward. And we hope that the Council will, in fact, move forward in naming our first city on the continent of Africa.”

“People think of Africa as a country,” he added, “but in fact, it’s a continent made up of 54 separate countries.”

Kennedy also noted the historical value of the Sister City relationships, first begun in the United States in 1966.

The relationships, he said, “establish a lifetime friendship and lifetime transfer of knowledge and information” between the people of the cities, he said.

“We’ve had students from all of our Sister City relationships come to our city,” Kennedy observed. “There’s mutual exchanges, educational exchanges where they entertain our students and we host their students.”

The process allows the appreciation of other cultures and “other international dynamics on the world stage at our level as opposed to the federal government level.”

Bousellboub also said that he hoped that the new relationship would result in cultural and business exchanges between Dakar-Plateau, as well as exchanges between members of the arts and media communities.

Pasadena’s City Council is agendized to vote on the proposal Monday night at its 6:30 p.m. public meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall, 100 North Garfield Avenue.

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