“Ever since I arrived in the U.S., I’ve always had my people back home in mind,” says Nana Akyeampong-Ghartey. The native Ghanan immigrated from Winneba, a university town, 12 years ago, and he’d like to do what he can to shorten the 5,300-mile distance between Charlottesville and his hometown on the West African coast. “I realized that, hey, [Charlottesville] is a city that operates virtually like my hometown, so why don’t I try and see if we can link these two cities together?” he says.
Fueled by this impulse, Akyeampong-Ghartey has been steadily lobbying city leaders for years with a proposal that Charlottesville and Winneba become sister cities. “When I become mayor [in 2000], I started a thing called ‘Meet the Mayor’ every week,” says former City Councilor Blake Caravati, “and the second person that came was Nana from Ghana.” The vision Akyeampong-Ghartey’s been articulating centers mainly on American investment in Winneba’s industries: tourism, housing, brick and tile manufacturing, salt production, and agriculture. But he sees opportunities for cultural and educational exchange too—say, delegations of UVA students and profs visiting their counterparts at Winneba’s university.
Nana Akyeampong-Ghartey hopes that his hometown of Winneba, Ghana, can join Charlottesville’s city sorority.
At the time of Ghartey’s first meeting with Caravati, says the former mayor, City Council’s interest was more focused on Besançon, France, which became an official sister city in 2006. Caravati has been a champion of that relationship, one of three that Charlottesville currently maintains. (The others are with Pleven, Bulgaria and Poggio a Ciano, Italy.)
Akyeampong-Ghartey hasn’t been able to make anything official yet (though former mayor Maurice Cox and current councilor Holly Edwards have both traveled to Winneba), but he may have a new opportunity thanks to the formation of the Sister Cities Commission, which will have its first meeting in September to begin designing a formal process for establishing new sister cities.
“It’s been dragging and dragging,” says Akyeampong-Ghartey. “But then I am somebody who does not easily give up, especially when I know what I’m doing is right.”
Would it be possible for Charlottesville to have too many sister cities? Caravati says yes—entertaining foreign officials can get expensive, though the Commission hopes to raise private funds to cover such needs. But, he says, “there’s no negatives to cross-cultural and cross-political relationships with other countries,” adding dryly, “There is this thing called globalization.” He and Akyeampong-Ghartey both like the idea of Charlottesville having a sister city outside Europe. “Since the population in Charlottesville’s 20 percent African American, that’s an immediate historical tie and cultural pride,” Caravati says.
Meanwhile, in Winneba, a city of 80,000, the mayor and other officials are enthusiastic about the proposal, Akyeampong-Ghartey says. “They are very excited. If Charlottesville gets on board, Winneba is ready.”
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