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News1-GT1539-UgandaA close look at our next possible sister city

The small African town of Kasese is six hours from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, most of it down bumpy dirt stretch roads. On the drive, scenery morphs from condensed buildings and heaps of scattered trash into a mountainous lush green countryside.

As the drive nears its end, the mayor’s bodyguard, who’s sitting in front of me and has an AK-47 hanging from his arm, turns and says, “this is the real Africa. Uganda is the pearl, and Kasese is the shimmer.”

Thirteen Santa Cruz delegates, myself included, visited Kasese in late August for seven days to look at the viability of establishing a sister city relationship between the Ugandan municipality and the city of Santa Cruz. Such relationships provide cultural, economic, and educational exchanges for the purpose of “letting the people themselves give expression of a common desire for friendship, goodwill and cooperation for a better world for all.” Those were the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sister Cities International’s founder. Since 1956, the nationwide nonprofit has formed over 2,000 partnerships in 145 countries. Depending on an upcoming vote, the Kasese Municipality could be Santa Cruz’s sixth sister city.

In the Kasese District, barefoot children in tattered clothes wave and shout “mzungu”—meaning “white people” in Swahali, one of the several languages spoken here—to the delegates as we drive through. Ramshackle shops, each the size of booths found at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, are held together by planks of wood and clutter the sides of the road. They sell meats, produce and international products like Coca-Cola.

At the heart of the Kasese District is the municipality of Kasese, which has paved roads and a more organized layout. The police department building resembles a small house with a rickety wooden gate small enough to hop over, and there isn’t a building in sight larger than a Victorian house in Santa Cruz. At 1,000 square miles, the Kasese District, which has 800,000 residents, is analogous to an expansive large county. This municipality, with a population of 120,000, is like the county seat.

The majority of residents have no electricity or water in their homes, and the municipality plans to build 2.5 miles of clean water pipes by the end of the year. Most people currently have to walk several miles for clean water. “We have problems with everything here,” Kasese Mayor Godfrey Kabbyanga says.

The region’s classrooms are overcrowded and underfunded. The area also has many dangerous diseases like typhoid and bilharzia. To put it bluntly, as Kabbyanga told me, “we waste a lot of time here burying people.”

Eighty percent of people between ages 18 and 30 completed primary education. Only 10 percent are employed, and a lack of white-collar jobs leaves most of college graduates with jobs in carpentry, small grocery stores or construction. Most women in the district as a whole marry around the age of 13 and abandon their education, leading officials to denounce early marriages.

Through exchanges, community members both here and in Kasese hope that Santa Cruz could help the Ugandan municipality develop.

“Our municipality is just starting to grow. What we need most is not necessarily money, but knowledge,” says Allan Tusiime, student president at the Bugema University in Kasese.

Mayor Kabbyanga hopes that a Sister City relationship would bring professional exchanges, where doctors, businessmen and other experts can share knowledge to help improve the community. Additionally, he says Kasese can share cultural arts with Santa Cruz, and give students an understanding of the way of life 9,306 miles away.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel here,” he says. “We want to learn from Santa Cruz.”

Peggy Pollard, chair of the Santa Cruz Sister City Committee, would love to see UCSC and Cabrillo College send engineering and sustainability students to Kasese, but she and the departments are still working out the details of such an exchange. “They don’t want just charitable handouts,” Pollard, also a delegate who went on the recent trip, says of the Ugandan people. “What they need most now is to learn how to develop entrepreneurship and how to develop local businesses to create many more local jobs.”

The sister city committee will vote on whether or not to make Kasese its Sister City, probably on Monday, Nov. 9, Pollard says. If the committee votes yes, the issue will go before the Santa Cruz City Council.

The idea for a sister city relationship first began when Godfrey Kasozi, the director of the Center for Environment Technology and Rural Development (CETRUD) in Kasese, attended UCSC for a six-month program at the university’s Center for Agroecology in 1999. Santa Cruz began exploring the possibility when the Sister City initiated friendship city status in November 2011, a first step which gauges the feasibility of becoming a Sister City.

CETRUD focuses on mitigating health and poverty issues throughout the Kasese District through programs that educate people about sustainable agriculture techniques and sponsorship programs for abandoned children. One of Kasozi’s goals is to build a processing plant for coffee, Uganda’s top export, by the end of 2016 to reel in some much-needed funds.

Renee’s Garden, a Felton garden seed company, has been sending Kasese and Kasozi thousands of free seeds, ranging from tomatoes and lettuce to flowers. Community members, including Pollard, have also helped fundraise for CETRUD and to bring clean water to the district. In March, the Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary raised money to build pipes bringing clean water to 800 people in Lhuhuwahwa village, one of the other communities in the Kasese District.

If the sister city relationship is approved, Pollard expects annual or bi-annual delegation exchanges, where both communities send students, artists, community leaders, and business experts.

Santa Cruz has five current sister cities—Shingu, Japan; Alushta, Crimea; Sestri Levante, Italy; Jinotepe, Nicaragua, and Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Pollard says only Shingu and Alushta have had a constant flow of exchanges of teachers, students, businesses, and local government leaders with Santa Cruz. She attributes the lack of exchanges in some communities to an absence of motivation by leaders, something she says won’t be an issue with Kasese.

Tyler Wilson, a recent graduate of CSU Monterey Bay and representative for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, says he had to think hard about what Uganda could bring to Santa Cruz. He suggests that Kasese could help Santa Cruzans gain a new outlook on life.

“I learned that I live a very luxurious life, and that not everyone is that privileged,” Wilson says. “I took away that there’s more to life than just material stuff, that you can still be happy even living in huts.”


BLANK SLATE The Kanamba Primary School in Uganda’s Kasese District has overcrowded classrooms with few chairs or supplies, a constant problem. PHOTO: ARDY RAGHIAN

Contributor at Good Times |

Ardy is a part-time freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including Cnet and Tahoe Daily Tribune. He graduated from UCSC in 2015, where he was the city news editor for City on a Hill Press and a radio journalist for an environmental news show on KZSC. Ardy works full-time with the Lakota People's Law Project, where he is a paralegal, press director and organizer. 

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