Honourable Ibrahim Baidoo is the Mayor of Ashaiman- a city of over 200,000 people located 30 km outside Accra, Ghana’s capital. Baidoo has been involved in politics for two decades, and served 4 terms as an Assembly Member before being elected as the city’s mayor in September 2013. He is a visionary, who is spearheading the Sister Cities International initiative, which he sees as an opportunity to spur development in the city of Ashaiman.
Sister Cities International is a U.S. based organization founded in 1956 to be a hub of peace and prosperity by linking cities around the world. In it’s early years, the organization created partnerships between U.S. cities and Tokyo, Japan, mending tensions after WWII. Today, the organization creates links based on cultural, educational, informational, humanitarian and trade exchanges.
Below, is a Q & A with the mayor on the opportunities being a sister city presents to Ashaiman.
Q: How did you first hear about sister cities?
A: The first time I heard about it was in South Africa. I went to Port Elizabeth on a business trip and through discussions, someone mentioned their city has a partnership with an Australian city. I was curious and wanted to know [more], so I kept asking about it. Then there was a conference in Ghana about it, and I made the Assembly pay for my participant fees, and when attended it, I understood the concept.
Every time I travel for business, I’ve made connections with people in various cities to set up a sister city partnership with them. I’ve been doing this just as a concerned citizen, before I was the mayor. I just want to see development in my area.
Q: In the past you linked the city of Tema with U.S. cities San Diego, Virginia, and the Borough of Grenich in the UK. What has come out of that relationship?
A: We derived a technical benefit. Some of the staff members of the TEMA municipality were trained by people on sanitation.
Staff and assembly members traveled to San Diego to observe how their municipality operates. In San Diego, the assemblies are structured in such a way that each member has 7 staff under them and a chief of staff and they have their own budget. Apart from that, they have non-agenda items, which permits the public to come to the assembly meetings and present their urgent issues or petitions at these meetings and the assembly accepts these. We learned a lot of lessons from them and it was a great cultural exchange.
Our partnership with the Borough of Greenwich in the UK helped with tourism. They helped train our tour guides and we put together a comprehensive plan for Tema’s tourism with them.
Q: What are your target sister cities for Ashaiman?
A: I’m looking for any countries, all over the world, that’s my target. Any city that’s willing to share with us and learn from our challenges and our culture would be welcome. We’re interested in building bridges, which promotes international peace. We’re looking at Canadian, U.S. and European cities.
Now, we’re having discussions with Tampa, Florida. The director of waste management in Tampa has been speaking with me and we’re looking at the basis of sanitation to form our relationship. Tampa has a university with a full faculty on sanitation and they teach a lot of sanitation courses so I think it will be very beneficial for our people.
It will help [our sister cities] study different ways to manage waste as far as Africa is concerned. We need some people in that area of specialty to partner with so they can give us good ideas, and we can benefit through their training. They can pick some of our sanitary engineers and give them some specialized training, which would be used to impact the community.
Q: What are the benefits of these partnerships with other cities?
A: I know the linkages will expose my people to opportunities. Sister cities means school to school, business to business, people to people. I could make arrangements for business people or investors. Through council and myself, we’d organize where they would stay, how they can meet the right people- so [they are not] defrauded. So we become the link, connect them to the right ministers, and so on. But there is fraud here, and once we have that relationship, the people who come to Africa or Ghana, come through us and we become their protectors.
There are a number of people or students who want to do internships in Ghana. When they come through us [and the sister city program], we send them to the right places. Some people want to do voluntourism. Through us, they come and we will send them to the right places where we need volunteers. If you come in through the [sister cities] program, my council will be able to arrange accommodations for you. We can give you a host family. You wouldn’t pay for that. It’s one of the benefits of having sister cities. When I go to America, I don’t pay for my accommodations because I know people and they connect me to hosts. They don’t even know me, but through sister cities, they host me.
Q: What are some of the development opportunities this presents for Ashaiman?
A: There are a lot of benefits that you can’t quantify. Ashaiman is the fastest growing urban community in West Africa, not just Africa. It has a huge impact on our city planning and we could have advisors on how to regenerate our central business area. We could also look into interventions from the sister cities on our community development projects. These are some of the areas that we need sister cities to give us the opportunity. We need to think out loud with our sister city partners and see how they overcame these issues.
In Ashaiman, we have an area which is a dam used as an irrigation site- used for almost 50 years. We still need intervention to help develop irrigation and animal husbandry sites. The issue is that it’s underutilized and we need to intervene to train people to take advantage of the dam that we have. For the animal husbandry, we should be able to train people on how to use the animals for economic activities. Experience sharing will help us a lot. A lot of these cities have farming in them and there s a lot of lessons to learn because our farmers are also into cattle rearing so it will help them make a better income.