Cities Alliance meeting in Johannesburg, 14-16 October 2013

The UCLG Africa secretary general leaded a delegation comprising Mr. Daby Diagne, special advisor, and Charles Patsika, program manager, that attended the Cities Alliance meeting in Johannesburg from 14 to 16 October2013.

The aim of the meeting was to contribute to the definition of the Cities Alliance Strategy for Africa. This meeting is a follow up to a former Cities Alliance meeting held in Addis Ababa which identify 5 focus areas for the Cities Alliance Africa Strategy, which are: 1. Developing a compelling pro-city narrative; 2. Developing information systems that can produce and manage accurate and relevant data; 3. Empowering local governments; 4. Better understanding and more effectively responding to informality; 5. Responding to new actors, issues and challenges.

Photo CA-meeting-in-Johannesburg3

Three objectives were addressed by the meeting: 1. what do we know about the issues in the different focus areas? 2. What are the challenges to be addressed to start moving the agendas? 3. Which guiding principles and recommendations should be defined for action and what should be the way forward  towards a Cities Alliance strategy for Africa?

On the pro-city narrative, the meeting agreed that we have to face two main obstacles: firstly,  the fact that must of the growth of cities often translate in the growth of slum areas and informal settlements, thus painting African cities as the reflection of the failure of development strategies in Africa; secondly, the fact that despite a ten year period of sustained economic growth rates, the economies of African cities seem to still be dominated by the informal sector in terms of job and revenues generation for the majority of city dwellers, thus amplifying the feeling that cities of Africa cannot be qualified as such, given the huge gap they witness in basic service provision compared to other cities of the world. Building a pro-city narrative should therefore address these two obstacles, but at the same time highlight the resilience potential of African city dwellers thanks to the immense social capital developed by them to adapt to very adverse living conditions; and insist on the bigger share of cities in the GDP of most African countries, which implies that performances of the national economies are more and more linked to the effective and efficient functioning of cities. Any pro-city narrative should also take into account the changing scope of the urban landscape, in terms of thematic focus and actors involved. The technological advances, the issue of sustainability and climate change impacts, the rise of civic power, have deep influence on the way cities are perceived, operate and are managed. City management is from now on the concern of a wider range of stakeholders far beyond the ones we are acquainted to in the national context (communities, local and national authorities, the private sector, and the academia).

On data and knowledge production, the meeting assessed that what gets measured gets managed. One of the key hurdles to the efficient management of African cities is the lack of accurate and useful data  which to base the management system on. The information systems in place are either obsolete, or not enough oriented towards addressing the management needs of city leaders and citizen. The fact that the growth rates of cities are rather high associated to the urban sprawl also complicates the production of timely data. Hence the need to develop alternative ways of data collection and information production, relying more on GIS  digitized information and on the use of ICT and mobile device, and to explore crowd-based generation of localized information. The  Know Your City Campaign being developed  by SDI and UCLG Africa could serve as a model for such alternative ways to producing data in African cities. The development of city dashboards using first hand crowd-based information associated with digital-based information could be a good outcome of such alternative urban information systems. The proposal of a open-source platform to serve as a repository of such data and on African cities has been mentioned. Such a city knowledge platform can be developed in collaboration between SDI, UCLG Africa and the African universities and research centers such as the African Centre for Cities of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Concerning the empowerment of local governments, there has been a shared understanding that  unless local authorities are on the driving seat in managing the urban challenge, there is no way Africa can maximize the advantages of urbanization and curve its ill consequences on the living conditions of city dwellers. Three main requirements have to be fulfilled in order that cities and local authorities can become key players in the management of urbanization in Africa: (i) get the legal and institution framework right, so that cities and local authorities can benefit from an enabling environment for their initiatives and actions; (ii) get  the financial sharing of public resources between national and local authorities right, which implies that a fair debate on fiscal decentralization takes place between central and local governments. Such a debate can only be effective only if local governments are organized within national associations which empowerment is a precondition to an efficient and structured dialogue on the definition, implementation and assessment of the decentralization policy; (iii) get the human resources of local governments right, which means focusing on the professionalization of local administrations staff, and on the  drastic improvement of leadership skills of the elected local officials.

Given its share in African cities landscape, it was felt that informality is what characterizes the best the nature of cities in Africa. Informality has economic, social, cultural, legal and spatial dimensions, to cite but a few. Addressing the informality issue is therefore a very complex endeavor. Many city leaders lack of understanding of the contribution of the so-called informal sector in the functioning of the city. Some argue that informality is seen as a response to the incapacity of the formal economy to provide means of living to the majority of city dwellers. Other have the feeling that the informal sector is a poor response to the wants of the African city dwellers. Most of the perceptions about informality is rather negative. There is however another school of thoughts that argues that the majority of African city dwellers pursuing their livelihood outside the formal sector stable wage earning jobs are precursors of what will be the future of the labour market worldwide, which is characterized by the precariousness of the conditions of the employees, and the rise of self-employed workers. The way Africa is dealing with this situation particularly in cities can inspire other regions less acquainted to such situations.Therefore this school of thoughts think that the continent can have an advantage on the other regions for alternative and appropriate approaches to social security networks in an environment of dominant self-employed workers.  Having a better understanding of these alternative approaches and systematizing the documentation of the emerging solutions experienced in the African cities contexts, in particular among the city poor, can lead to the rehabilitation of  the African cities informal sector in African cities and  to the definition of inclusive and innovative approaches to inclusive cities.

The meeting recognized that the entrepreneurial and genius capacity of the African people is not supported by the institutional framework. Leaders do not yet realize that the functioning and performances of places are key to optimal and inclusive economic trajectories. They are to attend to the territorial base of economies. This demands a radical departure from the status quo: national and regional economies are anchored in cities that are landing stores for investors and gateways to local, national and regional markets. Cities need robust, capable and fiscally sound local governments endowed with constitutional and other legal defined powers. The political commitment for decentralization is yet to be translated into concrete improvement in the autonomy of decisions of local governments in terms of institutional and fiscal measures. Of course there are different decentralization schemes according to the different countries. But an effort is being made to arrive to a common ground and vision of the content decentralization policies across the continent. The future adoption of the African Union Charter on Values and Principles of Decentralization and Local Development is a step in the right direction.

The Cities Alliance is a good platform that can also contribute to this effort. Without transforming its agenda, mission statement and charter, it has the capacity to make a case why cities matter, generate hypes for the branding of that case, connect key stakeholders for the defense and promotion of this case, and develop at the same time a proof of concept on some pilot cities, thus laying a groundwork for upscaling. In the same vain, the Cities Alliance can also support the development of appropriate knowledge and information systems, develop a pledge in favor of informality, and support the strengthening of the capacities of local governments. In order to efficiently address all these issues the meeting felt it was necessary for the Cities Alliance to set up a Think Tank that would be charged of developing a 3 year roadmap for the definition and implementation of the  Cities Alliance Africa strategy, taking into account the following key milestones:

  1. the Cities Alliance Consultative Group meeting on 4-6 November 2013 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
  2. the UN Habitat launching of the Habitat III preparatory process on 4-6 December 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya
  3. The next AMCHUD meeting on 23-28 February 2014 in N’Djamena, Chad
  4. the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in April 2014 in Washington, USA, where a side event is scheduled between African local authorities and the African ministers of finance
  5. The 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in April 2014 in Medellin, Colombia
  6. The Meeting on the Africa’s position for Habitat III in June 2015 in Abuja, Nigeria
  7.  The 7th Africities Summit on 1-5 December 2015

Mr. Billy Cobbett, managing director, of the Cities Alliance Secretariat concluded the meeting by confirming the Cities Alliance Secretariat will present a framework of a strategy and build the proposed Think Tank in the coming days. Participants in the meeting will be informed accordingly.

In the fringes of the meeting, a Memorandum of Understanding on the implementation of the Know Your City Campaign was officially signed between SDI, UCLG Africa, and the Cities Alliance.