Celebration of World Metropolitan Day 2020: key messages from African metropolises

Five key messages highlighting the interface role of metropolises in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic were highlighted by African local governments during the celebration of World Metropolitan Day 2020.


As part of World Metropolitan Day, celebrated annually on October 7, UCLG Africa held a webinar on 06 October, themed: “Covid-19 and Metropolitan Management: lessons learned from the health crisis world” in partnership with Metropolis.

Approximately one hundred participants took part, which served as a platform to collect the contribution of African metropolises around the general theme of the celebration: “Metropolises facing the pandemic.

The opening ceremony, moderated by Ms. Rahmatouca Sow, Advisor for Political and International Affairs of UCLG Africa, was marked by speeches from: Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa; Dr. Mohamed Boudra, President of UCLG, President of AMPCC and Mayor of Al Hoceima (Morocco); Mr. Octavi de La Varga Mas, Secretary General of Metropolis; and Mr. Vincent Ncho Kouach, Vice-Governor of Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) and Vice-President of Metropolis.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary General of UCLG Africa underlined the importance for African metropolises to celebrate the day during this period of the pandemic. “This World Metropolitan Day is important for us. Africa is also going through a metropolitan transformation. There are roughly 18 cities hosting more than one million inhabitants on our continent today. Our metropolises are part of the global network of metropolitan regions and cities responsible for managing the flow of the globalized economy. Due to their exposure to globalization, Africa’s metropolises have been both the entry points and the places of spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The global nature of this pandemic shows that there is no individual response to face this pandemic and the response will therefore have to be a collective one. Metropolises are the articulation point between the country’s internal urban network and the international urban system (both continental and global). The people responsible for metropolitan management have a special role to play in the current management of COVID because of this role of interface and articulation of internal dynamics with external dynamics. At the end of this webinar, we should have a pretty good idea of ​​what the new post-Covid19 normal will be. What are the pitfalls to be avoided? What innovations have appeared and on which can we build new approaches in the management of metropolitan areas?

Mr. Mohamed Boudra, President of UCLG, President of AMPCC, and Mayor of the city of Al Hoceima, Morocco, explained that the post-Covid19 world remains to be defined and that local authorities can play a role in its design. “The response to COVID requires a global agreement, which makes our communities more resilient to future epidemics. In the age of urbanization, we must rethink the relationship between large cities and other territories. We need real transformation. This transformation leads us to rethink metropolitan governance, which can be a way of strengthening democracy. This transformation calls for a different kind of multilateral system. The international system will have to transform into an inter-urban system supported by cities and territories of all sizes.” He also stressed the need for more access to new technologies. “Enabling people to work in reliable environments is essential. We need adequate means to provide basic services. To do this, our local governments must be present in all governance mechanisms for the result to be effective on the ground. Local and subnational governments must be the guardians of international solidarity. More than ever, international cooperation is proving to be crucial in the management of the current pandemic and it will be even more so in the future.

For Mr. Octavi de La Varga Mas, Secretary General of Metropolis, the celebration of the Metropolis Day aims to, “continue the international debate on decentralization. The goal is to open spaces for dialogue between all metropolitan actors. I am happy that UCLG Africa has joined the celebration of this day, as has UN-Habitat. The context of COVID confronts us with the contradictions of the urban world. The President of the World Bank said that 110 to 150 million people will join the ranks of the poor by 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. COVID has highlighted the importance of the informal economy, the issue of access to basic services, of decent housing, and of the public space. The issue of mobility and of the digital divide is also highlighted in the management of COVID. It is important not to look only at the development of cities with a Northern perspective, because we often forget the realities of Southern countries. Metropolitan governance is crucial and there are a whole variety of models, but there are five crucial factors to consider: 1. Leadership through strong commitment from political leaders; 2. Inclusion: we must make the voice of citizens heard in decision-making; 3. Cooperation with the active engagement of all spheres of governance; 4. Institutional frameworks for cooperation; and 5. Resources: we need adequate funding and investment. In particular, we launched a call to rethink metropolitan spaces. This appeal is made to everyone; it is a call for international cooperation.“.

Mr. Vincent Ncho Kouach, Vice-Governor of Abidjan, Vice-President of Metropolis, also mentioned international solidarity. “We are glad to participate in this meeting of sharing and solidarity in the face of this pandemic. This meeting will allow us to discuss the challenges metropolitan areas are facing in the face of the pandemic and to see how to prepare for the post-COVID period. Most African metropolises have very vulnerable populations. We need to develop solidarity actions, and mainly awareness-raising, through communication. In Abidjan, this crisis was slowed down thanks to the intense communication carried out by the local authorities. International solidarity is essential at this time”.


Peer learning

The second part of the meeting was devoted to training and information sharing for representatives from the regional metropolises, as well as a metropolis from Europe and from South America. This session was moderated by Dr. Najat Zarrouk, Director of the African Local Government Academy (ALGA) of UCLG Africa.

North Africa

The cities of Tunis and Rabat shared their experiences of managing the pandemic. Ms. Souad Ben Abderrahim, Mayor of Tunis, and her team have introduced local policy based on 3 main measures: 1. Sensitization of local elected officials to their responsibility to impact the local population; 2. Strengthening of municipal services, particularly environmental services, and establishment of a large hygiene system through the creation of a Covid-19 care center, and; 3. The digitization of services as quarantine measures have led many services to promote remote work. “This situation has contributed to strengthening the partnership with civil society and with international partners (via donations and funding). The crisis has pushed the municipality to develop digitization and remote municipal services, as well as e-medicine and e-education,” Ms. Souad Ben Abderrahim.

Digitization has also been important for the city of Rabat in addition to the provision of food and housing for vulnerable people, including street children and migrants. The Mayor of the City of Rabat, Mr. Mohamed Sadiki, praised the synergy of action at the national and local levels. “This pandemic has pushed us to accelerate digitization at city level. As far as authorizations are concerned, everything was dematerialized and we organized a virtual digital festival with online shows. Among the lessons learnt, we saw the importance of setting up crisis management units, well beforehand, the need to strengthen social cohesion and the need for the empowerment of local governments and their resilience.

East Africa

In the Seychelles, the city of Victoria has not experienced any cases of community contamination. In response to the pandemic, preventive sanitary measures for both public and private spaces, has been introduced as well as measures for compliance, as seen across the world. Like his counterparts on the continent, Mayor David André has seen his municipality affected economically. “We are severely affected because our economy is based on tourism. The government is providing wages until December 2020. For the post-COVID period, we are working to diversify our economy through fishing and agriculture. We are implementing preventive measures to enable us to face future crises. We invest in programs and projects that will improve the lives of citizens. We rely a lot on international solidarity.”

In Madagascar, the capital city Antanarivo has launched a municipal hygiene code. Mr. Michkael Reilly Solofoniaina, standing in for the Mayor of the city, explained that the main difficulty was managing the population, as Antananarivo is a very big city. “The rainy season is approaching and we will launch the drainage channel cleaning project to prevent further spread of the virus. A Post-Covid financing plan has been validated for 11 million dollars. Special emphasis will have to be placed on digitizing and strengthening scientific research.



Central Africa

In Bangui, in the Central African Republic, six months after the arrival of the COVID pandemic, the municipality of the capital has been on the front line in the fight against the virus. The team, led by Mayor Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo, created a civil protection unit made up of 5,000 young people from each district to help parents and strengthen solidarity between the inhabitants. The municipal council has also created the municipal anti-COVID unit. The mayor noted the following pitfalls to be avoided in the fight against the pandemic: “One should avoid trivializing the disease, which risks relaunching the spread of the virus, anarchic constructions, social discrimination and exclusion, and one should avoid the loss of jobs. Within the political class, one should prevent politics from gaining the upper hand.

In Brazzaville, Congo, the municipality carried out awareness-raising activities in the neighborhoods by involving the neighborhood leaders to put the message across to the population. Mr. Guy Marie SOKANA, 1st Deputy Mayor of Brazzaville, noted the effectiveness of the actions of municipal teams in terms of regularizing market activities.

In Douala, Cameroon, locally elected officials from the business capital have joined forces and implemented the “Douala Stop Coronavirus” concept. The onset of the disease coincided with the installation of the mayors following the local elections of February 2020. Dr. Solle, 1st Deputy Mayor of Douala, indicated that a response committee bringing together the 6 district municipalities of Douala was put in place. “Local awareness-raising activities were carried out with a thousand young people who went door to door. Traditional structures were also involved. The current challenge is to ensure a safe school year. Hand washing devices have been installed in schools. At the city level, we have created an Environmental Affairs and Living Environment Department, which continue to improve the living conditions of the population, and an Economic Affairs Department, which deals with the attractiveness and competitiveness of the city.”

West Africa

Bamako, the Malian capital city, experienced a complexity of management issues of the pandemic during the 6 months of the socio-political crisis that Mali went through. The mayor of the District of Bamako, Mr. Adama Sangaré, revealed that the low rate of positive cases was due to the fact that very few people are tested. For the mayor, there should be more emphasis on awareness-raising, as some members of the population still do not believe in the existence of the disease. “We would have liked to have had more collaboration with the central government to raise awareness. Community centers do not have reagents to be used in the administration of the COVID test. For Greater Bamako, awareness campaigns have been initiated.

In Benin, the municipality of the capital city, Porto Novo, has benefited from funds made available by the government to carry out preventative actions on the ground. The Mayor, Yankoty Charlemagne, explained that he had involved religious leaders in the awareness-raising campaigns. “The central government has continued to support us. We received an endowment of $130,000 to promote preventative actions from October to December. The municipal council is free to carry out flagship activities. The priority was focused on the local workforce with the construction of hand washing facilities in schools and the construction of sheds to strengthen the reception capacity in the markets. The emphasis was placed on communication in local languages. In addition, one must rethink mobility at the metropolitan level and promote the use of digital tools,” he advised.

Mr. Mouctar Mamoudou, President of the Special Delegation of Niamey, also contributed to discussions concerning West Africa.

Southern Africa

Mr. Makone Ian, Vice-President of the city of Harare in Zimbabwe, called on research laboratories across the continent to get involved in international efforts. “Two hundred and twenty-eight people have died from COVID and we don’t have enough laboratories to perform the tests. We have learned the lessons from this pandemic and one of the most important ones is the need to collaborate with universities and research centers.

Europe and South America

Mr. Cecilio Cerdán, Director General for Cooperation and International Action in the city of Madrid, Spain, stressed that the pandemic had revealed the, “need to protect vulnerable people, the homeless, and children, but also to provide liquidity to businesses to avoid bankruptcies and closures. The measures around closures have been unpopular. Many people in Madrid needed immediate help and hotel rooms were made available. 60% of our next municipal budget will be devoted to the fight against the consequences of COVID.

Ms. Giorgia from the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, spoke about the importance of cooperation between cities at the international level.

Questions were moderated by Mr. Charles Patsika, Director of the Membership Department of UCLG Africa. The Governor of Kisumu, Kenya, Mr. Anyang’ Nyong’o explained how his city had had to adopt a new business plan to deal with the pandemic. “The halt in trade due to the lockdown has led us to wonder about the development model we have followed so far and which makes us dependent on the world market for our supplies, as well as for our income. Isn’t it time to put back on the agenda the import-substitution policy followed after independence and to insist on the absolute urgency of food self-sufficiency and of the transformation of food production?’ he urged.

A following contribution was made of Dr. Tifari of the Addis Ababa City Council, who highlighted the production capacity of masks and the presence of several testing sites in the Ethiopian capital.

Action plan and plan of activities of the African Metropolitan Network

The last session of the meeting focused on the establishment of the Forum of African Metropolises. Mr. Vincent Ncho Kouach, Vice-Governor of Abidjan, and Vice-President of Metropolis, reminded us that the Forum of African Metropolises and Cities was launched on November 22, 2018 in Marrakech, during the last Africities Summit. All the members present insisted that it was not a question of a new organization, but of a mechanism to be set up within the framework of the umbrella organization of local governments of the African continent, UCLG Africa.

The forum aims to be:

  1. A framework to strengthen cooperation between African metropolises;
  2. A space for debate, advocacy and a platform for the exchange of experiences, in order to contribute to the narrative on metropolitan governance, institutional models, vision and approaches to governance;
  3. A platform for managing and sharing knowledge in the field of metropolitan management;
  4. The united and strong voice of African metropolises, capable of influencing the Global Agenda and advocating within the AU, and finally, making an African contribution to the debates within the UCLG and Metropolis networks;
  5. A provider of solutions in the search for endogenous innovative financing and in the mobilization of investments for sustainable economic development leading to growth, wealth creation and jobs for young Africans;
  6. A place for experimentation with the peer review and learning mechanism in order to help implement the goals of the urban agendas and to discuss the development and implementation of appropriate tools;
  7. Strengthening cities’ diplomacy in areas such as migration management, living together, managing diversity in metropolitan areas and improving the quality of life of citizens.

Participants of the webinar praised this initiative and expressed their wish for its immediate implementation. They invited all the capital cities and all the millionaire cities to join the forum and recommended that the UCLG Africa secretariat initiate the necessary procedures for this purpose.

Identified Themes

Action points and flagship themes have been proposed to serve as work pillars for the Forum’s three-year action plan:

  • Planning for the economic and ecological transition;
  • Innovative financing and massive investment to build infrastructure;
  • Economic development;
  • Basic services: health, water, food systems and policies, and energy;
  • Social inclusion and sustainability;
  • Support for living together and migration issues (migration and urbanization);
  • Leadership in sustainable development and support to peripheral towns and municipalities through subsidiarity;
  • Inclusive and transparent metropolitan governance to become a credible partner in Africa’s development and for the implementation of the SDGs, the Climate Agenda, the New Urban Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 with institutions, but also with African populations;
  • Cities diplomacy.

The debate on a roadmap was initiated in Marrakech but has not been finalized.

Some avenues that have been proposed:

  • to be an observer within the AU or a privileged interlocutor.
  • to put the question of the urbanization of cities on the agenda of Heads of State and make it a subject of the African Union’s annual meeting;
  • to establish a tripartite dialogue for a true territorialization of public policies;
  • to have the charter on decentralization ratified by African states;
  • to define a clear political agenda and assume leadership around regional champions as locomotives;
  • to have a more detailed knowledge of statistics and data in our metropolises for effective decision-making in partnership with universities, the research community, think tanks, the private sector, and multilateral institutions;
  • to create a narrative of African metropolises and rethink the design of our cities.

Key messages

In conclusion, Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi recalled the key messages to take away from the exchanges and debates of the webinar:

  1. We are all part of a global, urban ecosystem where metropolises are the interface between the national urban system, the continental urban system, and the global urban system. This interface makes metropolises the entry point for all that is good and bad on our continent. Metropolises are both the entry point for the virus and the point where the virus spreads across the country, but at the same time, they are the place where the struggle can be best organized, because they are the interface between the international, national and local levels of governance, and where a multi-level and multi-actor approach can be organized. It is important that the leaders of metropolises understand the leverage effect of metropolises through their role as an interface.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, public authorities were the authorities that steered the fight in the face of the virus, with the national government on the one hand and metropolitan governments and other local authorities on the other. Metropolitan governments and cities have shown greater responsiveness in the fight against the virus due to their proximity to the population. They are the agents who placed the emphasis on preventative health measures while at the national level the emphasis was placed on curative health. It is important to note that part of the success observed in Africa comes from the progress made in the implementation of environmental health and hygiene measures by metropolitan and municipal governments.
  3. COVID has highlighted a number of shortcomings in metropolitan and municipal administrations in the preparation and organization of relief for health and other disasters, especially in the planning and provision of funeral services. This is an area where metropolitan governments should cooperate more to improve this preparedness.
  4. COVID raises the need to revisit the development model in Africa, in that we need to reverse the trend of our over-reliance on imports and exports in the global market. Greater attention needs to be paid to self-reliance in food production and processing, import substitution and better distribution of human settlements, as well as a better use of urban areas and a better integration of urban functions.
  5. We need to learn more about ourselves, what we do and about what we can learn from international experience, including the experiences of metropolises. This is why the creation of an African Metropolitan Forum can only strengthen this mutual learning and this partnership, which would also participate in the construction of the necessary global partnership of metropolitan regions around the world, because metropolitan governments and cities will, after all, be the guardians of the human face of international relations and of solidarity.