Panafrica – Africities: Restoring trust among Africans

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The 5th edition of the Africities summit kicked off Wednesday, December 16, 2009 in the city of Marrakech, Morocco. The conference seeks to address burning issues related to local governments and their role in fighting the current economic crisis that has battered the African continent from all sides; financial, economic, social, cultural, civilization. Opening under the theme of “restoring trust,” Africities is not only dedicated to the channeling of the demands of basic African populations, to be made part of the global political collective of the continent, but also to present proposals that aim to find concrete local solutions to the global crisis. Employment and sustainable development are at the helm of this year’s focus.

Africities has become in a short lapse of time a reference in the promotion of a convergence of African cities (…) to learn from our shortcomings and strengths to better our development,” says Mr Marafa Hamidou Yahya, Minister of territorial administration, Cameroon. “We want to encourage sustainable development and employment as the basis of our continent’s economic development,” reveals Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (CGLUA).

This 5th Edition of Africities seizes the opportunity to expose Africa’s social and economic challenges and give clarity to the continent’s own tailored solutions, in order to send the appropriate messages from the grass-root or local government level to principal economic and political actors. The project seeks a population-focused involvement that will empower those who have been deprived of their civic right to partake in issues that concern their own welfare, and help build social structures through a decentralization process geared towards the achievement of set Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Lopsided relations

The summit brings together a great number of African local authorities who have joined in CGLUA’s fight for a representation at the African Union. “Africities is the best platform to inform African leaders that local authorities need to be represented at the continental level,” launched Aminata Ndiaye Ndeye, Mayor of the northern state of Louga in Senegal. This call trumpets the fundamental aim of CGLUA to find a balance between political powers and local populations by legitimizing the role of their “local representatives at the national level to address their interests,” insists Mr. Elong Mbassi.

Chakib Benmoussa, Moroccan Interior Minister argued that Africities is a golden opportunity to find answers towards the enhancement of “human, natural and infrastructural” issues and also a “call to strengthen” solidarity among Africans to tackle the current economic crisis head-on at a local level. “History”, Mr. Benmoussa said, has subjugated African relations to the dictates of a lopsided North-South cooperation, and it is high time Africa made concerted efforts towards a “South-South cooperation to find a methodology” that would positively affect development and address the continent’s social deficit.

Economic parasites

Former Ghanaian President, Jerry John Rawlings agrees with the Moroccan minister in what concerns the effect of history on African development. “Africa has been unable to stay united and assertive because a good number of us in leadership positions, rather than uphold ideals that protect the sovereignty of our countries, have fallen to the dictates of our colonial and development partners and of late through their multi-national organisations who come in with promises of employment, capital and infrastructural development.”

Indeed, the many advantages that stem from the investments, according to Mr. Rawlings, have failed “to benefit the mass of our people because of the political and economic parasites who find themselves at the helm of affairs in our countries.”

It is a general understanding that it is only by actively involving its populations in political decisions at all levels of the society can Africa best address its institutional bottlenecks at source and achieve its development goals. Africities provides a platform to address the contemporary economic development impediment, which “portends a grim picture for Africa (…) and threatens to derail the progress so far made towards meeting the Millenium Development Goals,” says Mr. Musalia Mudavadi, Kenyan Vice Prime Minister. “It is imperative to question governance,” he declares. The development impediment is not only limited to the economic crisis per se, but also due to the fact that “corruption is real and (that) if we do not factor this key failure of Africa into our deliberations (…) and saddle ourselves only with a scientific approach to resolving the effect of the global crises on Africa, we will be doing a great disservice to the continent,” Mr. Rawlings insists.

From regional blocs to Economic clubs

An all-inclusive strategy to deal with “the burden of disconnect in development in all spheres to address the hurdles that impede social, economic and political development in the continent” is needed, suggests the Kenyan Vice PM. This strategy, he believes, should encourage an evolution of the “regional blocs” by involving local governments to integrate into “stronger economic clubs”, as is the case in the developed world, especially Europe. “Failure to do so” Mr. Mudavadi says, “will continue to be our undoing”.

“With an annual growth rate of 4 per cent, we expect that in 21 years, cities in Africa will be where our citizens will live and work (and therefore cities should be able to, editor’s note) absorb the majority of the demographic shift of the ever growing pool of people moving into them in search of economic opportunities,” says Nigerian Minister of state and president of AMCHUD, Chief Grace Ekpiwhre. Africa can therefore no longer escape the reality that local authorities should be empowered to take on the urgencies that come with this demographic development including, the provision of “adequate urban services,” as they will be in the frontline in the fight against challenges arising from urban growth.

Africities through the years

The three yearly Africities summits are alternated between the various regions of Africa. It’s a rare momentum given to the promotion of the decentralization process in Africa, and tackles the question of the role of local governments in the framework of African development. The first summit took place in Abidjan, the Ivorian capital in January 1998: This first Africities summit gave birth to an African municipal movement on an institutional, regional and international, level. The second Edition was held in Windhoek, Namibia in the month of May 2000. Africities 2 marked the beginning of a structuring strategy at the African municipal level. A Panafrican dialogue on decentralization and local development was also launched.

The third Edition in Yaoundé, Cameroon in December 2003 was consecrated to the unification and recognition of the municipal movement in Africa and its place within the international municipal movement. As a matter of logic, the theme elaborated during the third summit led to The birth of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (CGLUA), launched in 2005. Nairobi, Kenya was the venue chosen for the fourth summit in September 2006 which focused on the contribution of African local governments vis-à-vis the implementation of the Millenium Development Goals. Africities 4 sounded the end of a cycle; a cycle of emergence and the structuring of the African municipal movement, as it moved on to a new stage, one that involves action.

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