Pasadena may form its first sister city relationship with an African city Monday when the City Council considers adopting Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, with a population of nearly 37,000, covering an area of 1.93 square miles, and serving as the political, financial and commercial center of the country’s capital of greater Dakar.
While discussions to form a Sister Cities relationship with an African city have been ongoing for at least 20 years, efforts ramped up in 2015 when the Sister Cities Committee created a 15-member ad hoc committee on Africa and appointed Boualem Bousseloub as its chair. Bousseloub is a Pasadena resident who was born in Algiers and has lived in Paris, Albi, Bruges and Sacramento.
Pasadena has established five other Sister Cities partnerships, including with Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 1948; Mishima – Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, in 1957; Järvenpää, Finland, in 1983; Vanadzor, Armenia, in 1991; and Xicheng District – Beijing, China, in 1999.
The idea of partnering cities grew out of the Twin Town concept in Europe in 1946 following World War II. Ludwigshafen was selected in 1948 by the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee. America’s involvement came in 1956 following President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, out of which grew Sister Cities International (SCI). Pasadena formally established its Sister Cities chapter in 1960.
Traveling to Dakar-Plateau
From March 21 to April 1, Bousseloub led a delegation composed of four members of the ad hoc committee on Africa, Pasadena Councilman and Vice Mayor John Kennedy and Honorary Consul of Senegal in Los Angeles Mame Toucouleur Mbaye, on a fact-finding mission to Dakar-Plateau. There they met with community leaders, including the mayor of Dakar-Plateau and member of the country’s Socialist Party, Alioune Ndoye, to determine the feasibility of forming a sisterhood with that city.
The delegation visited schools, youth centers, museums, the chamber of commerce, the Port of Dakar, the island of Gorée (the infamous gateway of slavery to the Western Hemisphere), the National Assembly, the US Embassy and other locations.
“Mayor Ndoye was with us from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of our delegation, as was a cameraman from a private TV station,” said Bousseloub. “Everywhere we went we were received with great interest and warmth by officials as well as the citizens of Dakar-Plateau.”
Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. According to the BBC, for example, it is the “only country on mainland West Africa never to have had a military coup.” Although it is 96 percent Muslim, the country is also tolerant of other religions. Easter and Christmas are government holidays, for instance, and Muslim residents often have Christmas trees in their homes. Officials at the US Embassy also informed the Pasadena delegation that while Senegal is a conservative society, it is making positive progress on LGBTQ rights and there have been no recent active persecutions against LGBTQ people.
Senegal is not without its political turmoil, however. Dakar-Plateau is one of 19 district communes of greater Dakar, with each district commune having its own city government. In March, as the Pasadena delegation was touring Dakar-Plateau, the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzling $3.4 million and falsifying documents. Sall and Dakar’s city government would not be involved in a Sister Cities relationship between Dakar-Plateau and Pasadena.
Identifying a Sister City
Before settling on Dakar-Plateau, the ad hoc committee explored other possibilities on the continent. They preferred a region that had an English-speaking population, no war or epidemics and a democratic political system that respected human and civil rights. They considered all 54 countries before narrowing the list down to three: South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia.
They first approached Cape Town, South Africa, but after several months of waiting, Mayor Patricia De Lille informed the committee that Cape Town was only interested in investors, not a formal Sister Cities relationship. The cities of Durban and Port Elizabeth expressed interest, but did not follow up.
In June 2017, Senegal’s Honorary Consul in LA Mame Mbaye unexpectedly called Bousseloub and they discussed the possibility of a Sister Cities relationship with a city in Senegal. On June 18, 2017, Bousseloub gave an invitation letter to Mbaye, who delivered it to Ndoye in Dakar-Plateau. On July 13, 2017, Ndoye wrote back accepting the offer.
“Aware of the extraordinary exchange and collaboration opportunities between our two cities, we express our full support for this project,” Ndoye wrote.
The Importance of Exchange
Bousseloub and Jim Barry, a member of the ad hoc committee who lived in Senegal for five years, are optimistic that the Pasadena City Council will approve their proposal. They pointed out that the Sister Cities Committee overwhelmingly approved it.
Bousseloub also pointed out that Dakar-Plateau has a wealth of museums, a UNESCO World Heritage site, strong infrastructure such as its new airport and port, popular cultural festivals, financial institutions and youth programs. The presidential palace, the country’s major banks and all of its top companies are located in Dakar-Plateau.
If the City Council approves the proposal on Monday, the two cities would exchange official delegations led by Ndoye and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and conduct signing ceremonies in each city.
Bousseloub then envisions extensive exchange opportunities between the two cities, including police officers, doctors, students, faculty and administrators of schools and universities, scientists, artists, musicians, business executives and athletes. Ultimately, he would like to see the creation of an annual Pan-African Market and Arts Festival at the Rose Bowl, and invite all of the African consulates in LA to participate.
“People on the West Coast of the United States have so little contact with Africa compared to people on the East Coast of the United States,” Barry said, addressing why Pasadena needs a Sister Cities relationship with an African city.
Bousseloub agreed, pointing out that the African-American community is a sizable portion of Pasadena’s population.
“This is a time when African Americans are searching for their roots,” he said. “We look at Pasadena as a mosaic. We want to add a beautiful new tile to make it a comprehensive and beautiful mosaic. We have Sister Cities relationships with three Asian cities and two European cities. Well, there are no Central or South American cities, and there are no African cities. I think there is something there that needs to be done in the future.”
Pasadena just finished hosting two college students from Ludwigshafen, Germany, who interned at a Pasadena law firm and the Huntington Library. One of the students, Sophia Hoffman, who stayed with different host families in Pasadena and Altadena for five weeks, told the Pasadena Weekly about how meaningful this experience was for her.
“I’ve had a wonderful time here,” she said. “I am glad and thankful for having the chance to be here. The people of the exchange program are very welcoming and cordial. I will always remember my time in California and I am sure that I will come back.”
To learn more about Pasadena’s Sister Cities Committee, visit pasadenasistercities.org.