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Activists Seek Sister City Ties

Community Residents Look to Africa and the West Bank

By Julian E. Barnes

In an effort to extend Cambridge's sister city program to new parts of the world, several city residents are lobbying for the establishment of ties with cities in Africa and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Proponents of the expanded ties cite the success of Cambridge's five current sister city relations in heightening awareness of other cultures, saying that the ties need to be broadened to include societies which are currently excluded from the program.

"These are excellent programs for bringing unity around the world on a totally different level that we haven't had in the past," said Joan Qualls-Harris, one of the organizers of a committee to identify a potential sister city in Africa.

While the the members of the committee have yet to be named, Qualls-Harris said that she would like to see Cambridge establish ties with either Johannesberg, South Africa, or a city in Kenya.

She acknowledged, however, that the current political situation in South Africa might make it difficult to maintain ties with Johannesberg.

First Choice

But city activist Lester P. Lee, Jr., who is heading his own campaign for an African sister city, said that his first choice is Akwa, Nigeria. Lee said that he favors establishing a city in the Akwa region because many Black Americans have historical roots in the area.

Akwa would also be an ideal choice, Lee said, because it was the birthplace of the late Kenneth Onwuka Dike, a Cambridge resident and professor of African studies at Harvard from 1970 to 1980.

"I'm not saying Akwa's the place," Lee said. "It's one of many. It depends on who has the initiative."

Lee added that there is no reason for Cambridge to have just one sister city in Africa.

Another group of city residents who recently visited the West Bank have been lobbying to establish ties with the cities of Ramallah and El-Birehin, which have recently been rocked by violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

But Mayor Alice K. Wolf said that such a program remains a matter of heated debate among many city officials because of the controversial nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many city officials fear that establishing ties only with a Palestinian city would be tantamount to an endorsement of their side of the conflict, said Brian Aull, who heads the city peace commission, which oversees the sister city program.

Look at History

"To focus on that and not look at the larger history is wrong," said Aull, "The thing I would do is not oppose it but augment it, make it holistic and involve Israeli citizens."

Cambridge currently maintains sister city programs in Yerevan, USSR; San Jose las Flores, El Salvador; Coimbra, Portugal; Gaeta, Italy; and Tsukaba, Japan.

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