Local government Africa

Local government – transforming people’s lives

Dr Greg Munro Public Administration & Governance

As a South African, I have witnessed many of the changes that have taken place since the end of apartheid. I also contributed to that transition, principally through supporting and strengthening our new local government system in South Africa after 1994, both at local and national spheres of government.

While there is still much to be done, local governments in South Africa have been at the forefront of reversing the legacy of apartheid by getting access to clean water, waste management, connecting up to energy supplies and essential primary health care to our communities.

In South Africa and the rest of Africa, there are still too many people living in poverty and many more lack basic facilities such as sanitation and electricity. Poverty, underdevelopment and inequality remain big challenges for the African continent. Over the last 30 years, worldwide absolute poverty has fallen sharply (from about 35% in 1990 to 12.4% in 2012). But in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of absolute poor has barely fallen. Even in 2012, 43% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty and 75% of the world’s poorest countries are in Africa.

National governments, including those in Africa, through the UN and other agencies, have recently made some strong and ambitious commitments to transform the lives of their citizens. These commitments include the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the New Urban Agenda. In 2015 the African Union published “The Africa we want” to create a more sustainable, inclusive and just future.

The challenge now is how we turn these worthy aspirations into reality. I believe that local government must be a key part of this. Due to being the sphere of government closest to people, local governments are best placed to identify where the needs are, and form the necessary partnerships that can help transform people’s lives by engaging them in their own futures.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 169 targets – adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at the UN Summit – officially came into force on 1 January 2016. These new goals universally apply to all countries and aim to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. Some 65% of the 169 SDG targets relate directly to local government and local governance, including those around direct service areas – water, sanitation, food security, sustainable use of resources and infrastructure – and those around democracy, including gender equality, promoting peaceful societies and inclusiveness, and a specific goal around cities and human settlements. Local government is, therefore, a key part of the implementation.

Many African countries fell far short of meeting the targets when analyses were done on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now that these have been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, national and local governments must work together to achieve these new targets. Local governments are key partners in implementing national anti-poverty, development and economic programmes. They are responsible for managing the day-to-day needs around transport, providing basic services such as water and sanitation, attracting investment and developing infrastructure.

If the objective of ‘leaving no one behind’ is to be achieved, then all citizens must be engaged in the process. The best way of doing this is at the local level.
One of the concepts which originated in South Africa, and has now been taken up across Africa and the Commonwealth, is the idea of “developmental local government”. This recognises that local government has a key role in development and therefore must have a clear mandate to do this and the necessary capacity and resources to help address the development challenges the world is facing. This was the theme of the 2013 Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) conference held in Kampala, Uganda. Here delegates looked at how local governments can be empowered to be more developmental and agreed that strong local government is critical for community building. Resilient and effective governance and development at the local level provide the foundation for a strong nation.

Empowering local authorities
Decentralisation and the empowerment of local and regional authorities are critical to realising the vision of a fairer, more equitable, peaceful and sustainable future for 1.2 billion citizens of the African continent – and with a population which is expected to double by 2050.

Implementation of decentralisation has, however, been mixed in countries in Africa, with some embracing the idea and others more slow to implement it. Capacity development is also still a big challenge. For local governments to succeed, decentralisation must be understood at all levels of government, with the right policies and legislation in place, and adequate resources for them to meet their responsibilities.

Local and regional governments need to find ways of mobilising the resources in their jurisdiction to finance and support development and have access to long-term finance to strengthen their capacities to deliver sustainable and pro-poor services.

Local governments have various sources of revenue, including local taxes and fees, fiscal transfers from the government, and some external source funding through partnerships and credit financing. Johannesburg was one of the first councils to issue municipal bonds to fund infrastructure development. However, this is generally an area where councils have the most difficulty, whether it is having good data and systems to collect taxes, or having the right skills to maximise opportunities. Fiscal transfers are not always consistent. In Ghana, at least 10% of government revenue is transferred to local governments through the District Assemblies Common Fund; in other countries, it is far less.

Rapid urbanisation
By 2040, one billion Africans will live in a city, according to World Bank estimates, compared with almost half a billion today7. Urbanisation is a major challenge, not just for Africa but globally.

Urbanisation puts even more pressure on what is sometimes already weak infrastructure. Many people still do not have access to clean water and many urban centres, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have enough sewers or covered drains.

Africa has a number of megacities, including Lagos in Nigeria which has a population of more than 20 million, and the number will grow significantly over the next decade. As engines of growth, cities are key to our future, but they must work to be more equitable, safe and resilient and to ‘leave no one behind’. Yet in Africa, some of the world’s most expensive cities are populated by some of the planet’s poorest people. For example, while Maputo, Mozambique, is a very expensive city to live in, almost two-thirds of residents live in informal settlements.

Harnessing new technologies is an important way that cities can manage and deliver change. There are some excellent examples of cities in the Commonwealth using smart technologies, mitigating climate change and promoting trade and investment. Through CLGF’s Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Network, we are working to develop examples of good practice and innovative policies through which other towns and cities can learn.

For instance, as part of the 100 Resilient Cities project, eThekwini (Durban) is planning to have its resilience strategy in place by June 2017. They have developed a built environment performance plan which covers integration zones, urban network strategies and transport-oriented development, dealing with both demand management and alternative supply, renewable energies and how to get better value out of existing infrastructure, thus helping the municipality to internalise the SDGs into its planning.

CLGF’s work in Africa
CLGF and its partners led the campaign to make sure that local government’s view was heard in discussions leading up to the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda and other global agreements. It aims to continue to gain recognition for the need for a multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach to sustainable development, with local government as a key and equal player.

However, this is just the start. Helping our members, especially those in Africa, to implement the SDGs will be a key focus for CLGF’s technical programmes over the next few years, along with a continued focus on strengthening democracy at local level and a greater emphasis on cities in responding to the opportunities and challenges of urbanisation and the New Urban Agenda.

One of the approaches we have been developing to deliver sustainable development locally in Africa is through local economic development (LED). LED is an approach that allows local government to leverage its power to bring together relevant stakeholders to support local development and to contribute directly towards the achievement of the SDGs.

CLGF’s recent programmes in southern and eastern Africa on Supporting local governance and local economic development, which have been supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Union, have helped councils become familiar with LED, develop economic assessments of their areas and bring together local stakeholders to develop LED strategies for improving capacity, skills and investment.

In addition, at a regional level in Africa, we have been developing policy dialogues to promote closer working with relevant regional organisations such as SADC and the EAC.

The results show that LED does strengthen local development and offers a comprehensive framework for integrating and localising the SDGs. Local and regional governments play a crucial catalytic role as initiators and drivers of effective LED, fostering participation, job creation, economic empowerment of women, youth and vulnerable groups. LED can also contribute to building social trust and cohesion, making societies more stable and resilient to complex and widespread risks.

Our work has also helped leverage gains across broader areas. For example, a pilot project around environmental management and climate-smart gardens in Mbabane, Swaziland, has now been rolled out to more than 1,000 individuals from low-income communities. This has brought food security but also a scheme to reuse waste materials for the production of compost for the gardens, and the ability to sell surplus produce at markets.

The attainment of the SDGs by 2030 will require a massive global, multi-level, multi-stakeholder effort, backed by the necessary domestic and international resources. In addition, local governments everywhere will continue to be confronted by many unexpected short-term challenges arising out of economic uncertainties, natural disasters, conflict and insurgency, and major human tragedies.

At the forthcoming 2017 Commonwealth Local Government Conference, which will be held in Malta from 21-24 November, we will be discussing many of these issues. There will be a focus on resourcing local government, including innovations in financing to include public-private partnerships, social enterprises, green financing and the efficient raising of capital. Our members from Africa will be there to contribute their experiences and good practice, as well as to learn from other good examples from across the Commonwealth.

Written by

Dr Greg Munro became Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) on 1 August 2016. He leads the organisation in meeting the challenges of localising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, delivering a comprehensive programme for CLGF’s members in promoting local democracy and decentralisation and tackling key issues for local government internationally. Dr Munro has wide international and local government experience: he was previously Associate Director at the International HIV AIDS Alliance and has extensive knowledge of working internationally on developmental issues, including interaction with governments and donors. He previously worked with UNAIDS, the World Bank, and as a local government official at executive level in Cape Town and Durban.