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African city has sister act together

And it wishes Boston would remember the relationship

Local pubs brew no Samuel Adams, instead peddling fermented palm wine. And without clam chowder, chop bars serve red fish in groundnut soup, a thick peanut stew.

Still, Mayor Philip Kwesi Nkrumah insists that Boston and this West African port city are municipal peas in a pod, and three years after signing a sister-city agreement with the Boston City Council, he is intensifying plans to increase investment and cultural exchange.

''The only difference was the weather," Nkrumah said of the ''sisters," recalling in a recent interview a frigid Duck Tour taken in October 2001.

This year, Sekondi-Takoradi will convert a traffic circle into Boston Square, affixing the first public sign of urban fellowship atop a speck of grass. Boston Square will nestle against a muddy stream, on land inhabited by a homeless woman and maintained by a landscaper's machete.

Nkrumah also plans to invite the Red Sox over for a visit, and if they accept, he has pledged to introduce baseball to local residents and install a baseball diamond at Gyandu Stadium, now under construction. ''What we saw in Boston has changed our thinking," he said of the pointers his delegation picked up in the areas of urban development, city management, and trade. ''We're counting on Boston's help."

Despite what Mayor Nkrumah says about the sister cities' similarities, residents of Sekondi-Takoradi who have heard of Boston -- and there are few -- say the two communities have little in common. Their equivalent of Logan sees one civilian flight a day, and the Bakano Bridge, the Ghanaian Zakim, is a two-lane concrete slab overhanging a shallow inlet, its road sign advertising a strict weight limit.

So far, the sister-city agreement, signed in Boston in 2001, has had little impact on residents. Proposed by City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, the plan envisaged intense trading between Boston and Sekondi-Takoradi, a fellow Atlantic port city of about 600,000 residents.

Yancey first visited in 1999, after attending a conference in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, with a member of the Ghana Association of Greater Boston. Two years later, he forecasted ''millions of dollars of economic activity." Ghanaian officials say there has been almost none.

Though fostering trade links with a city 7,000 miles away is difficult, Yancy said he still intends to make good on the plans. By next year, Yancey said Boston students will travel to Ghana. And eventually, he said, a direct air link could be established to Sekondi-Takoradi. "It's just a start," Yancey said. "It doesn't happen overnight."

Officials in Sekondi-Takoradi also remain hopeful. ''It hasn't had any impact yet, but we see the prospects," added Efokodjo Mawugbe, Ghana's regional director for arts and culture.

Sekondi-Takoradi is Boston's most recent sister city, and the only one in Africa. Others include such well-developed metropolises as Kyoto, Japan; Barcelona; and Melbourne, Australia.

Not all of the sister-city programs are active. Though Mayor Thomas M. Menino has added only two during his 11-year tenure, Boston created four in the 1980s. That ''sister-city sale" meant some programs became quickly dormant, said Tony Nunziante, a spokesman for the city's Office of Arts and Cultural Development.

But Ghana, he said, is not one of them.

''The mayor doesn't want anything without a good chance to thrive," he said. ''There was a real effort [with Sekondi-Takoradi], and still is, to make a real cultural and economic exchange."

Eager to export their country's gold, bauxite, and manganese, Ghanaian officials said Boston, too, could benefit from closer ties.

Sekondi-Takoradi's version of the Big Dig -- a six-year, $250 million harbor-dredging project -- is on schedule. And the roads of the former fishing village, which ballooned after the British opened Takoradi port in 1928, are now maintained by the national government and are largely pothole-free.

With no public health warnings, life continues in 90-degree weather, the streets crowded with merchants balancing on their heads trays of avocados and hard-boiled eggs.

Ten local students, who spent six weeks in Boston last year, offered some free advice to their sister-city brethren: They praised the cleanliness of New England's streets but recommended a little global warming, and said Bostonian attitudes were a bit chilly, as well.

''It was so very cold," said Pamela Andoh, 14. ''They should try to socialize themselves a little bit. Meeting someone on the road and talking seems strange to them."

Benjamin Gedan can be reached at

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