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Intermediary cities A boost to achieve the SDGs in Africa

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Small and so-called secondary towns in Africa, characterized by a faster pace of development than large cities, can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through innovative mechanisms for efficient services, according to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat).

Intermediate cities occupy a strategic place in urbanization in Africa. The current and future trend indicates that the majority of new urbanites will settle in cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants. They should absorb nearly two out of three new city dwellers. It is therefore understandable why intermediary cities must be at the heart of global agendas and sustainability strategies for the planet. The achievement or not of the objectives pursued depends on the application of the global agendas in the intermediary cities. “Intermediate cities help to reduce the pressure on large cities, which are forced to provide social services to an ever-growing population due to rural exodus. They are essential because they can help localize the SDGs at the local level. They are thus likely to offer innovative mechanisms for effective services by strengthening citizen engagement in the public space,” said Oumar Sylla, Director of the UN-Habitat Regional Office for Africa, during the meeting of the East African region for the preparations ahead of the 9th edition of the Africities-9 Summit.

This means that it is more crucial than ever to strengthen the role of these intermediary cities in the development and integration of Africa. On the other hand, intermediary cities are an essential link in the structuring of the urban framework, making urban Africa less and less the continent of national capitals, but more and more the continent of intermediary cities which double population and surface area every 10/15 years and which, paradoxically, receive very little attention from public policies.

As a reminder, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), held in Quito in October 2016, resulted in the adoption of the New Urban Agenda (Declaration of Quito on Cities and Settlements viable human resources for all), which aims to determine how urban spaces (from agglomerations to villages) are planned, designed, financed, built, managed and administered. The New Urban Agenda recognizes the important contribution of cities and human settlements to the implementation and localization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030) as well as to the achievement of the SDGs, including Goal 11, which is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The « territorialization » or « localization » of the SDGs refers to the process of defining, implementing and monitoring local strategies in order to contribute to the achievement of development objectives at different scales (subnational, but also national and global) ( UNDP, UN-Habitat, UCLG 2015). This approach consists of implementing the 2030 Agenda to achieve concrete results at the local level through the establishment of various innovative mechanisms, such as the creation of platforms. The concept is understood in a global way and does not only concern local communities and governments: it includes all the actors participating in the local development ecosystem (including representatives of public authorities at national and regional level , civil society, the private sector, academia, etc.).

Haven implemented in January 2016, the SDGs include a set of 17 universal goals and 169 targets. They are based on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired at the end of 2015, and aim to complement them (particularly in terms of the fight against poverty, or health, education, food security and nutrition), while integrating new concerns (focusing on a wide range of economic, social and environmental objectives). There is now a consensus that the 17 objectives set relate to areas that largely fall within the scope of competence of local governments, and that their achievement depends on the involvement of a wide range of local actors. These new Sustainable Development Goals present major challenges for the African continent, given the low human development experienced by Africa, the large number of fragile and/or conflict-affected states, the importance of rural exodus and often limited economic development.

Role of local governments in the localization of the SDGs

Over the past three decades, marked by a general trend towards decentralization, local governments have been given more powers and responsibilities, and have gradually been seen as key players in promoting local development. According to numerous studies, local public investments do in fact make it possible to generate greater economic efficiency than public investments implemented at a centralized level (by national agencies for example), in particular because decision-making at the local level tends to better reflect the local preferences of citizens: it therefore allows a better allocation of resources. The growing role of local governments also operates in a context where people’s expectations of democratic progress are high, and where representative democracy is essential through the generalization of elections, but also through more direct forms of citizen participation. planning and decision-making (eg through the development of participatory budgets), especially at the local level. Due to their growing responsibilities, local governments will, in many cases, be directly responsible for achieving a large part of national governments’ SDG commitments. They will also play a central role in coordinating the action of all actors in the local development ecosystem with a view to achieving the SDGs. A United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) motion, adopted in December 2015, stressed that « the localization of the 2030 Agenda is not about implementing a global or national program at the local level, but rather about creating the conditions adequate at the local level to achieve the global goals”. Localization is therefore highly dependent on improving the skills, capacities and resources of local governments, and is essential for initiating effective governance

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