Was it Africities or FrancoCities?

February 13, 2013

By Julian Baskin: Senior Urban Specialist, Cities Alliance

Was it Africities or FrancoCities?: 

The sixth Africities summit took place in Dakar, Senegal at the end of last year.  I was there as part of a Cities Alliance delegation and attended all that was possible. The summit has been described both in the press and by the organizers as a “huge success” due to the relevance of its theme and because over 5,000 people attended. Given the number of motorcades, there were undoubtedly a lot of important people present including heads of state and an impressive list of ministers and mayors. I appreciate that if you plan something big and influential, and it turns out big with influential people present, then it must be a success. But was this Africities or FrancoCities? Given that there is also a Commonwealth Local Government Forum, I suppose it’s inevitable that Africa seems so divided along old colonial lines, as the two groupings seem to rarely engage.

Unfazed, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) —an organization with almost no presence in Francophone Africa—attended Africities in force. Their sessions and the debates that followed provided a real insight into the difference between the Francophone and Anglophone Africa. The difference was especially notable in the discussion between the two neighbors Ghana and Burkina Faso.  Slum dwellers in Ghana are well organized and in a constant battle with government over evictions. No minister in Ghana has sleepless nights thinking about the future of the country’s cities. In contrast Burkina Faso has a strong ministry responsible for cities yet almost no active urban civil society.  The slum dwellers of Ghana learned what government might do and the government of Burkina Faso understood what it meant to have an active partner on the ground.

Of all the sessions across a wide range of issues, none where as well attended as those about municipal finance. Yet again there was another divide, this time between primary and secondary cities.  Presentations were given as to how primary cities like Durban manage to raise impressive revenues through various financial mechanisms and local rates and taxes. If we can, why not you? It is clear that mayors and local officials from secondary cities (with names I’ve never heard of) understand the challenge but battle to find the practical solutions. It’s as if the two groups live in different universes. Given that most of Africa’s urban growth will occur in secondary cities, it is clear that particular solutions need to be found for the problems of secondary cities.

With the fastest rate of urbanization in the world, the urban agenda in Africa is huge. The stakes are high and the future of cities will depend on how well Africa manages this process. With such high stakes, where were the support partners?  A full third of the expo hall was dominated by Morocco. With artisans and gorgeous woodwork it was a great stand to promote tourism, but with little relevance to the issues at hand. Of course France was present in force showcasing the scale and depth of the impressive programming they support.  The only other notable stand was the Cities Alliance. Otherwise development organisations such as the World Bank and UN-Habitat  had a very low-key presence.    Does this reflect on Africities? I think not. Rather it reflects that development partners in Africa have not yet caught up on the importance of the urban agenda in Africa.

These are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Cities Alliance, or any of its members.


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