Expanding global reach: Cleveland plans to build relationships with more sister cities in Africa

At first glance, Cleveland and Tema, Ghana, may not have much in common: They are located on different continents, with vastly different climates and populations that may never meet.

And while the first two are not easily fixable, the pair’s governments are seeking to bring together their cities and people, as Cleveland City Council is poised to approve a resolution that will add the Ghanaian city, as well as two other African cities, to a growing list of Cleveland’s sister city partnerships.

What are sister cities?

Formalized sister-city relationships were created under President Dwight Eisenhower shortly after World War II as a means to develop economic, cultural and technical trade between U.S. cities and the rest of the world.

Cleveland’s first-ever sister city was Lima, Peru, established in 1964 under Mayor Ralph Sidney Locher, according to Case Western Reserve University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

From there, Cleveland’s international relationships expanded, dependent on each mayoral administration. Under Mayor Justin Bibb, the city has established five additional sister cities, bringing the total to 28 across five continents, pending legislation that will establish relationships with Tema, Ghana; Cape Town, South Africa; and Kigali, Rwanda.

“The goal [of sister cities] is to expose folks to culture and ultimately, economic opportunities,” said Ryan Puente, Cleveland’s chief government affairs officer.

How are sister city relationships formed?

Sister cities are forged in a variety of ways, but it all boils down to a governmental or citizen-driven Cleveland connection.

In the case of Tema, Ghana, the conversation began because of Crystal Bryant, an East Cleveland native who has actively worked with city officials in varying capacities in her tenure as executive director of Cleveland’s NAACP chapter and working with Cuyahoga County. Bryant is married to a man who lives in Accra, Ghana, the country’s capital city.

Bryant had previously helped with work supporting West Africans who have relocated to Cleveland, such as a partnership with Global Cleveland, a nonprofit dedicated to growing and supporting the international population in Northeast Ohio, that provided women with period products and other sanitary items.

“Why Ghana is an easy question,” Bryant said. “I’m an African American woman born and bred in the inner city; I’ve experienced and people around me have experienced racism, poverty. For me, Ghana is the gateway back into Africa … We do know is there are several countries specifically in which enslaved people came from, and Ghana is certainly one of them.”

Crystal Bryant visited a slave castle in Ghana on a recent trip to the country.

Crystal Bryant

Crystal Bryant visited a slave castle in Ghana on a recent trip to the country. Slave castles or fortresses were built by European powers during the African slave trade from the mid-1500s to the late 1800s.

Bryant and Global Cleveland began thinking about what cities would best benefit from a relationship with Cleveland, and vice versa, and landed on Tema due to its mid-sized population of about 160,000, its proximity to the capital and its position as an industrial hub with ports shipping out steel, petroleum and cement.

“When you think about building up a workforce or the sharing of educational systems and making investments internationally for a Black-led and primarily Black-inhabited city, but also a country that is looking for advancement and looking for opportunity to learn and grow, Tema just made a lot of sense,” Bryant said.

Each sister city relationship is different, however, and dependent on who has connections where. In some cases, a city may reach out to Cleveland instead.

“It’s all about reaching out and seeing if there’s interests that align,” Puente said.

What can sister cities do for one another?

As Puente said, “you get out of it what you put into it.”

“The end goal is obviously cultural and economic exchange,” he said, but noted that each relationship is different.

It can be something as simple as cultural exchange and expanding Cleveland’s global footprint to practical economic outcomes.

For example, Puente cited a longstanding relationship with County Mayo, Ireland, from where hundreds of thousands of residents immigrated to Cleveland in the twentieth century. Earlier this year, Bibb and other Cleveland leaders took the inaugural direct flight between Cleveland and Dublinvia the Irish airline AerLingus, and the group met with County Mayo officials and companies. He said the Irish-based satellite company Ubotica Technologies has already agreed to open a headquarters in Cleveland to work closely with NASA Glenn Research Center.

“There’s a really, really strong Irish diaspora here,” Puente said. “And so the cultural connections and heritage that’s shared between both cities is really strong … That certainly has opened up more economic opportunities.”

Beyond that, sister cities can also learn from one another on a practical level. Puente said Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia, was struggling with medical transport issues and brought back policies from Cleveland’s emergency medical services during a sister cities conference in Cleveland.

“It’s not just about what does America get, or what does Cleveland get?” Bryant said. “It’s the establishment of a pipeline for workforce development, leveraging technical skills of each other, building cultural exchange programs, learning different things about each other and creating a local government for both parties to invest in each other and work and travel.”

Cleveland City Council will vote in the coming weeks to welcome Tema, Cape Town and Kigali as sister cities.

What are Cleveland’s sister cities?

  1. Alexandria, Egypt
  2. Bahir-Dar, Ethiopia
  3. Bangalore, India
  4. Beit She’an, Israel
  5. Brasov, Romania
  6. Bratislava, Slovakia
  7. Cleveland, United Kingdom
  8. Conakry, Guinea
  9. Fier, Albania
  10. Gdansk, Poland
  11. Heidenheim, Germany
  12. Holon, Israel
  13. Ibadan, Nigeria
  14. Klaipeda, Lithuania
  15. Lima, Peru
  16. County Mayo, Ireland
  17. Ljubljana, Slovenia
  18. Miskolc, Hungary
  19. Rouen, France
  20. Segundo Montes, El Salvador
  21. Taipei City, Taiwan
  22. Vicenza, Italy
  23. Volgograd, Russia
  24. Bursa, Turkey (Turkiye)
  25. Novi Sad, Serbia
  26. Capetown, South Africa
  27. Kigali, Rwanda
  28. Tema, Ghana

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