17 May 2005
“Our people are crying for bare necessities such as clean water, electricity, clinics and hospitals, affordable public transport and basic housing. Let us not let them down.”
So said Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, interim president of the United Cities and Local Government of Africa (UCGLA), at the body’s launch in Pretoria on Monday. Mkhatshwa is also mayor of Tshwane, which includes Pretoria.
Over 4 000 delegates and exhibitors from African countries and beyond are attending the four-day founding congress. They include mayors, local government officials, ministers, academics and United Nations representatives.
The UCGLA congress aims to tackle poverty alleviation at the lowest level of government by establishing a strong, unified municipal structure for Africa, setting up governing structures of a new pan-African organisation and strengthening local governments in the region.
Mkhatshwa said the congress offered “hope for the hopeless, comfort for the despondent and life for the dying”.
Among the dignitaries attending are Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa and South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
African solutions to African problems
Opening the congress, Zuma said the UCGLA was another example of finding African solutions to African problems.
“We are carrying the hopes, dreams, wishes, yearnings, aspirations and expectations of millions of people in our continent for a better life,” Zuma said. “These are ordinary Africans who long for clean water, electricity, sanitation, tarred roads and decent housing.”
The new organisation, he said, had a responsibility to ensure that the basic minimum requirements for a life of decency and dignity was available to all Africans.
“It is imperative that we invest all we have – morally, intellectually and materially – in the cause of development of our continent,” Zuma said.
“The achievement of that vision depends on continental cooperation and unity. Unity requires compromise and humility. It requires a political maturity beyond the norm.”
Obasanjo, chair of the African Union (AU), said the UCLGA had to ensure that sustainable development became part of every African local government’s programme.
“A corrupt and badly run local government is just as useless to the people as a bad government at any level of society,” the Nigerian president said. “A bad leader cannot run a good local government system. I want introspection: know whether you are a good leader or not.”
Chissano said local governments had a key role to play in achieving African socio-economic freedom, as well as consolidating African unity at grassroots level.
The new organisation’s biggest challenge, he said, would be to ensure the overall sustainability of African local governments, despite their constraints.
“Africa is making strides in fighting political instability on the continent,” Chissano said. “This congress will also help us to work together to develop our continent.”
Economic fruits of freedom
Also speaking at the event, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa said there was a need to ensure that economic growth translated into employment growth, broad-based income redistribution and a reduction in poverty and inequality.
“Freedom and democracy must mean access to economic opportunities for the majority of our people so they move from being mere spectators to becoming active participants and drivers of economic activity,” he said.
He pointed out that Gauteng woudl be home to 14.6-million people by 2015, becoming one of the largest urban settlements in the world. The province’s main challenge, he said, was to move from being just a city region to being a successful globally competitive region.
“We have people who are homeless, some with water and proper sanitation, and some without those services,” Shilowa said. “We are here to find solutions to ensure that Africans taste the economic fruits of their freedom.
“We also share a common destiny with yourselves as our African brothers and sisters. Our success is also your success. Your success is also our success.”
Africa-wide voice of local government
The UCLGA is the unified voice and coordinating body of the African municipal movement. Its objectives are to organise, at continental level, effective political dialogue with central and local governments, civil societies and the international community.
According to its website, the UCLGA is “an Africa-wide unified voice of local government, a facility for supporting the process of decentralisation, consolidating the African municipal movement, and strengthening the capacities of local governments to deliver services and contribute to local development.”
The genesis of the organisation was the 1998 Africities Summit, the first-ever platform for dialogue between all African local governments, held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
From commitment made at the summit, African mayors and other local leaders decided to unite the three umbrella organisations of local government in Africa – the African Union of Local Authorities, the Union des Villes Africaines and the Uniao dos Ciudades y Capitaes Lusofono Africana – under the UCLGA.
The organisation sets out its three fundamental objectives as:
- To organise, at continental level, effective political dialogue with central and local governments, civil societies and the international community, with a view to adopting decentralisation as one of Africa’s priority development issues.
- To give African local governments their due place in the dynamics of African integration.
- To integrate the African municipal movement into the mainstream initiatives of the world municipal movement.
The UCLGA’s priority activities will be:
- To ensure the UCLGA is recognised by the African Union.
- To advocate the decentralisation and autonomy of organised African local government.
- Capacity building activities focusing on associations of local government and political dialogue.
- To support African local government development endeavours and cooperate with international organisations, both government and non-governmental.
- The delivery of the Millennium Development Goals at local level.
- To position African local governments in support of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).
- To share knowledge and experience.
- To develop of tools that support decentralisation, especially in countries where lack of democracy remains a challenge.