Africities Summit - Business Media MAGS

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Africities Summit

The upcoming Africities Summit provides an opportunity for African states to engage with the challenges they face on their own terms.

As we approach the seventh edition of the Africities Summit, many key stakeholders will be watching with keen interest, primarily in anticipation of the issues that will be tabled in the agenda for the 2015 event. City of Johannesburg Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau will be hosting this year’s event, which is expected to attract delegates from local and regional governments, representatives from the private sector, trade unionists, researchers and academics throughout Africa as well as abroad.

The Summit, which is held every three years, is set to be staged from 29 November to 3 December 2015. At the centre of the Summit, discussions will focus on Agenda 2063 and how local and regional governments can contribute to fulfilling this mandate. It will be interesting to see which Agenda 2063 goals will be prioritised.

The Africities Summit has become increasingly important in the formulation and evaluation of a decentralisation policy in Africa as a whole. It brings together all the key players within the local government spheres in order to discuss and debate policy action. The Summit’s central theme this year will be: ‘Shaping the future of Africa with the people: The contribution of African local authorities to Agenda 2063 of the African Union’, as adapted from their website.

Africities will be hosted by the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCGLA), which has gained momentum since its inception in 2005. The organisation is furthermore recognised as the legitimate and unified voice of local governments on the African continent. The focus of the UCGLA is to drive cooperation between African states towards a sustainable path to unity and stability, with the primary aim of serving the people of Africa. This it sets to achieve through efficient service delivery as well as playing an active role in the development of local governments throughout the African continent.

The Global Agenda for local and regional governments, under the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) outlines the vision and aspirations of sub-national governments throughout the globe. As a global network of cities and local governments, UCLG looks to explain the contributions governments can make to ensure that sustainable development in a rapidly changing world is achieved. Over and above this agenda, UCLG brings the priorities of local and regional governments to the fore. These include coping with rapid urbanisation, safety and security within cities, the issue of unemployment and poverty, as well as matters pertaining to good governance.

Africa is part of the greater global community, and due to the rapid pace of globalisation that came with the integration of national economies, we cannot live in isolation. Neither can any of the other continents. Through the process of globalisation, the world has become a global network of nations that can only thrive through active collaboration in trying to solve some of the issues that local and regional governments face, hence the importance of UCGLA being a part of the global agenda. By being a part of the global agenda, Africa is given a voice to be heard and a platform to initiate discussions around some of the challenges we face and how we can partner to address some of these issues collectively.

It’s been more than 50 years since the first 33 independent states gathered in Addis Ababa in 1963 to form the Organisation for African Unity. Africa has continued to face prodigious challenges, prompting the drafting of Agenda 2063, which seeks to mould the African continent into a global economic force in the next 50 years. Our continent remained a playing field for its former colonialists to continue to pillage it for its resources and minerals by way of causing conflicts, which was achieved through funding rebel groups and fuelling political instability. There have been numerous African states that have suffered decades of civil war. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind, as well as the Liberian war under Charles Taylor and countless others.

It is imperative that as part of the Pan-Africanist mandate for the reunification of Africa and its people, the rich culture and heritage of our continent are preserved. The only way to attain this is through the attainment of political stability across the African continent, and an unequivocal adherence to the rule of law in all spheres of government.

The African agenda is one that has come under the spotlight in recent times. Though our continent continues to face its fair share of troubles, we are no longer viewed as helpless and destitute. The lenses of the global economic powerhouses are upon the continent as what some predict will be the new growth region in the next several decades. At the heart of this projection is the fact that Africa is comparatively less developed than other continents, which explains why infrastructural development is seminal in the majority of African governments and is emphasised in Agenda 2063.

Infrastructural development will not only improve the efficiency of transporting goods from one point to another, but also the construction of ports, airports, and road and rail networks – with improved information and communications connectivity inevitably opening up new markets across the rest of the globe.

China has become a friend to a number of African countries, including South Africa. It has strengthened its relations by investing billions of rands, partnering with local companies through various mergers and acquisitions, and furthermore strengthening ties with respective governments.

As South Africa’s biggest export partner, it is difficult to overstate China’s significance to our economy. What may be of concern, however, is China’s recent stock-market collapse, which sent prices of equities into free fall and has resulted in a ripple effect on its weakening exchange rate. The implications for countries that have strong trade relations with China are potentially dire. These relate to a slowing Chinese economy, which would naturally mean that they may reduce their imports from South Africa and other countries. This will translate into declining exports to China on the back of lower levels of demand. This also poses a stern test for our economy, which is already showing signs of slowing down, having dipped below 2% annual growth in the latest figures released by the South African Reserve Bank. This emphasises the point that Africa should drive its own development in order to fulfil the objectives tabled in Agenda 2063.

Agenda 2063 is committed to the development of an Africa driven by its people through the promotion of inclusive participation of the youth and women in the economy. According to a published report by the World Bank, titled Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa, the youth make up the largest proportion of Africa’s population and are vastly under-utilised. Youth and women have been identified in Agenda 2063 as the future drivers of the African economy.

This potential can be realised through the creation of empowerment initiatives for women and youths in both urban and rural areas. Education programmes targeted at building a human capital base of local communities and the promotion of gender equality are just some of the interventions required. It is imperative that an environment promoting equal employment opportunities for women in senior positions in both the public and private sectors is cultivated throughout the continent.

Africa is viewed by many as an unpolished diamond, one that ironically is yet to shine. The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and other bodies such as UCLGA have an important role to play in improving the efficiency of service delivery and making the necessary infrastructural developments that will lower the costs of doing business in Africa. This can be achieved through the construction of transport networks such as road and rail, and the expansion of Africa’s ports capacity. The strengthening of information and communication technology infrastructure and connectivity will also be vital for Africa to keep pace with the rest of the developed world.

Local governments should also look into providing ancillary services to local communities, including entrepreneurial mentorship support for the youth and women in particular. In the words of the Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau, ‘Cities are the building blocks in optimising resources for the development of Africa in the lead up to 2063, and it is safe to say that African cities are awake to this reality.’ Last year, for instance, the City of Johannesburg became the first municipality in South Africa to list a ‘Green Bond’ at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The money raised through the R1.46-billion bonds, which will mature in 2024, is set to finance a number of green initiatives such as biogas energy projects and other initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

African economies should focus more on moving up the value chain from being primarily extractors of minerals and raw materials to becoming manufacturers and producers of semi-finished and finished goods, perhaps even luxury goods like some European nations. Agenda 2063 recognises this need by identifying beneficiation, particularly in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, as the drivers of economic development on the continent.

The expansion of economic activities will not only create employment opportunities for people, but will also elevate those who are destitute from poverty. This will translate into less dependency of communities on social welfare, thereby enabling local authorities to redirect these funds for the provision of other public goods and services.

Local and regional governments have an imperative duty to their communities because they are directly responsible and accountable for service delivery. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) explicitly states that ‘…government is constituted as national, provincial and local spheres of government, which are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated’. This provision sets out the important role of regional and local governments in fulfilling their distinctive mandate of service delivery within the interrelated prism of government cooperation at all other levels.

Some may argue that the efficiency or inadequacy in the cooperation between these levels of government in implementing of policy and service delivery is a concern. The City of Johannesburg is investing in biodiversity conservation, integrated waste management and ecological infrastructure. In addition, the City is embarking on air-quality improvement, as well as climate change action and energy diversification. Mayor Tau referred to these interventions as being ‘just a few that demonstrate how local governments need to be pioneers in this space in order to advance the development of the African continent’. He further added that ‘local governments need to harness all available energy resources, come up with fresh approaches and initiatives to fund new projects, and encourage investments in this space through green incentives’.

Despite some of the triumphs in creating these green initiatives, there is always room for improvement. The reality is that until such time that every South African in every local municipality has adequate access to services such as water, sanitation and electricity, the national mandate of providing its citizens with the requisite public goods and services is not complete – the government’s job is not done. The same can be said for the African continent as a whole.

It was recently announced that George Clooney had joined forces with human rights activist John Prendergast, a former African Director of the United States’ National Security Council. Their organisation is set to look into investigating corruption by tracking groups that are funding wars in Africa to exploit its mineral wealth and other resources.

The question some may ask is why, after decades of independence (in most African states), Africa still faces challenges such as poverty, disease and exploitation. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of them all is the ‘reverse oppressiveness’ taking place in a number of African countries, wherein those who fought for their countries’ independence and assumed power are becoming oppressors themselves. There are African states that claim to be democratic, but which have leaders who have been in power for decades. Then there are others that engage in the frequent power struggles epitomised by wars between rival rebel groups, in which thousands of innocent people are killed.

Though Clooney’s initiative is anchored in the ‘West’ and is evidently a good cause, Africa has myriad problems that ideally should be resolved by African leaders. There is a growing faction of black nationalists in Africa, including the diaspora, who find it ironic that although former colonialists are responsible for many of the atrocities that Africans have suffered in the past, they continue to meddle in the governance of African states – at times with utter disregard for the sovereignty of countries. Is this a fair and legitimate argument? Perhaps it is, but it is one that cannot be viewed in isolation. Unfortunately, numerous African states keep giving the former colonialists reason to meddle in their affairs with their failures to exercise good governance, often diverting attention away from their indiscretions and corruption, and instead continuing to blame the West for the problems they face.

The 2015 Africities Summit should be used as an opportunity for Africa to rededicate itself to the Pan-African vision of ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena’. We can only hope that this year’s summit will be a step in the right direction towards attaining the goals entrenched in Agenda 2063

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