History will be made smack dab in the middle of the 2013 King Biscuit Blues Festival.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis will host a formal signing ceremony to develop a sister city relationship between this Delta community and the city of Moshi, Tanzania in east Africa. Japhary R. Michael, lord mayor of Moshi, will sign the agreement at city hall.
History will be made smack dab in the middle of the 2013 King Biscuit Blues Festival. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis will host a formal signing ceremony to develop a sister city relationship between this Delta community and the city of Moshi, Tanzania in east Africa. Japhary R. Michael, lord mayor of Moshi, will sign the agreement at city hall. Michael and six other dignitaries from Moshi plan to be in attendance this weekend for the 28th annual KBBF. Six representatives from the Helena-West Helena community returned from a week's visit to Moshi back in July. Those making the journey from Helena-West Helena in addition to Mayor Willis were former State Senator Kevin Smith and his son, Drew, Debby King of Phillips College, Father Honest Munishi of St. Mary's Catholic Church and Sherman Banks, head of the Arkansas Municipal League's Sister City International Program. Smith told the Helena World that he had been approached by several members of the community asking why Moshi, Tanzania was selected as a sister city. Smith recalled approaching Father (Honest) Munishi after seeing him at the Helena Farmer's Market wearing a guide shirt with an emblem over the pocket reading, “Tanzania National Park.” “From that point Father Honest began telling me about his hometown of Moshi,” recalled Smith. “He told me how close it was to some famous African landmarks such as Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Congo.” According to Smith, Helena-West Helena was already participating in the Municipal League's Sister City International Program. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Sister Cities Program in 1956. Today, the program serves 140 countries on six continents. “Our original idea had been to seek such a status with Amsterdam, Holland because of their love of blues music,” added Smith. “Unfortunately, nothing worked out.” Besides Father Honest, Helena-West Helena had another link to the east Africa country. Brady Anderson, Helena born and raised, served as ambassador to Tanzania under President Bill Clinton. He remains well connected with the international community through his involvement in many international forums and projects. After all the options were examined, Willis agreed on one condition – that not one cent of city money would go to fund the trip to Tanzania. Willis and Smith paid their own way and Smith covered the cost of his son's participation. The Delta Cultural Center and many people and businesses in the community gave generously toward the project. Many members of St. Mary's Catholic Church helped defray Father Honest's travel costs. Smith says several opportunities exist for Helena-West Helena to help our new friends in Moshi, particularly in the areas of education and health care. “We all agree there is one area we can clearly learn from them – tourism,” said Smith. “Brady Anderson told me, 'This is a chance for Helena to be in on the ground floor of a place that is truly a Land of Opportunity.'” Smith reported that travel writers recently voted Tanzania, formerly known as British East Africa, the Best Safari Country in Africa. Back on Jan. 6, 2012 The New York Times ranked the country seventh among the top 45 places to visit. The tourist industry, Smith added, supports 27,000 jobs and generates 25 percent of Tanzania' foreign exchange. Over 1 million Americans visit each year, according to the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. “The development of this relationship between Helena-West Helena, Arkansas and Moshi, Tanzania offers the opportunity for broad-based long term partnership to pursue cultural, educational, tourism and economic development,” commented Willis.