by Jackie Reid Dettloff

This is a story about connection: connection between two places on opposite sides of the globe. It has to do with the announcement early last month that Milwaukee has adopted Morogoro, Tanzania, as its sister city.

On May 8, Alderman Joe Davis, Chair of the Sister Cities Committee, called a press conference to make public that the Common Council had unanimously approved the connection. On May 15, Mayor Barrett signed the document, making it official. Representatives from the African nation will visit Milwaukee this summer.

The background to this story can be traced back in at least two different directions. One follows the story of Ryan and Laura Skaife, who were crewing their way around the world on a semester of sailing in 2003. As chance would have it, they came into the Tanzanian port of Dar-Es-Salaam on the east coast of Africa and met a couple who offered to take them on safari to the largest game preserve in the country, a remote place two and a half hours by wretched roads west of the coast.

Ryan and Laura said yes to the adventure of that safari, not knowing that it would lead them to horizons they never could have imagined. What they found was a vast, unfinished development project of fifteen thousand acres.

Twelve thousand of those acres were irrigated because over the course of four decades, while Tanzania’s socialist government maintained close ties to North Korea and the Soviet Union, aid had been sent in the form of agricultural equipment and advisors. But in the 1980s, with changes in government, the collaboration between the three countries fell apart and the project was abandoned. The couple who invited Ryan and Laura on safari had obtained a lease from the Tanzanian authorities to develop the project but they were stymied by the magnitude of the undertaking and the lack of funds.

Was it an accident or fate that they ran into Ryan and Laura that day in Dar-Es- Salaam? Ryan and Laura doubt that it was accidental. In the past four years, the Bay View couple have stepped up to the plate to promote the development.

They have set up the non-profit Hope in Tanzania Foundation ( to raise funds for the project. Ryan has drawn on his Milwaukee media contacts from work he did at Channels 12, 18 and 58. Single-handedly he devoted himself to calling everyone he could think of, sometimes averaging 100 calls a day to win support for HIT.

They have enlisted the support of politicians like Gwen Moore, Russ Feingold, Tom Barrett and several Milwaukee aldermen.

The announcement of the sister city connection last month represents a huge landmark for Ryan and Laura. With the stage set for an official visit of Tanzanian delegates, they have high hopes for HIT. Another Milwaukee citizen who cheers this new sister city connection is Marty Payne. A prominent figure in the National Association of Minority Contractors, Marty had an office in Riverwest, near the intersection of Capitol and Holton, until recently. He is currently involved in applying the technology of solar ovens in Africa. He sits on Governor Doyle’s International Trade Council and traveled to Tanzania during the Clinton years.

With his international perspective, Marty sees exciting potential for Milwaukee businesses to transfer their know-how to Tanzania. He cites the response of a recent delegation of South Africans who visited MATC and were wowed by the training in medical and dental technologies that is available there.

“With our agriculture, with our expertise in treating waste water, building highways, and producing agricultural equipment,” extols Payne, “the Milwaukee region is like a one-stop shop for foreign visitors looking to improve the infrastructure in their own countries.” He looks for the sister city link with Tanzania to be very fruitful for both partners.

So does Alderman Davis. He sums up his enthusiasm like this: “To have been chosen as the first U.S. city to consummate a Sister City International Agreement with a Tanzanian city or region is truly a feather in our cap.”

Ryan Skaife puts it this way: “This relationship will stimulate economic and trade activity between cities and countries but will also allow for governmental training and policy advice, cultural education and awareness, tourism and most of all, a different perspective on the world.”

In a decade that is so dominated by violence, division and bad news, Skaife’s foundation and the connections it has forged signify hope not just for Tanzanians but for Milwaukeeans as well.

To learn more contact:
Ryan and Laura Skaife (414) 763-1858
Marty Payne (414) 235-1398

Riverwest Currents online edition – June, 2007