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Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa

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The role of intermediary cities in Africa will be at the heart of the debates during the Africites-9 meeting in Kisumu, Kenya. This differentiated approach to the role of medium-sized: between territorial structuring and socio-economic specificities is analyzed by the Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa). Interview.

“Intermediary cities are in direct contact with the real economy of African countries”

AFRIMAG: In its 9th edition, this is the first time that the Africities Summit will be held in an intermediary city, notably in Kisumu in Kenya. Why this choice ?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi : It is important to situate this question in the perspective of the structural transformation of the continent. Urbanization is what most objectively manifests this structural transformation. The change in settlement pattern is the consequence of the division of labor between the population living in rural areas and the population living in urban areas. It is the sign of the evolution of the processes of production, consumption and exchanges. This evolution is at the source of the emergence of a local economy articulating the rural hinterland to the urban center which is the market place and the service hub of the rural areas it serves. This is the framework of the formation of any human settlements in all the countries of the world. We thus find everywhere, including in Africa, a human settlements continuum that starts from the village to the metropolitan region, passing through the rural center, the small town, the intermediary town, the big city and the metropolitan areas.

Intermediary cities are an essential link in the framework of human settlements because they play an key role in the formation, structuring and animation of local and national markets that are sheltered as far as possible from the impact of flows of the globalized economy. In this sense, they are the points of support and organization of national economies, and the first link in the process of transformation and industrialization of local productions.

AFRIMAG : How do you explain this focus of the Africities Summit on African intermediary cities ?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi : It should be noted that intermediary cities represent 30% of the population and 40% of the continent’s GDP. They are the stratum of the continent’s urban framework with the fastest demographic growth. In other words, the state of intermediary cities provides information on the state of economic, social and cultural development of each country and of Africa as a whole. The choice of intermediary cities for this 9th edition of the Africities Summit underlines the concern of the Africities political committee to carry on the reflection that began in December 2012 in Dakar at the 6th edition of the Africities Summit, which invited to build the development, integration and unity of Africa from its territories.

The Kisumu Summit proposes to materialize this ambition starting from the intermediary cities, but also to give it a very factual dimension insofar as it is a question of exploring how the intermediary cities of Africa must contribute to the implementation of Agenda 2030 of the United Nations and Agenda 2063 of the African Union.

AFRIMAG : What role do you think Africa’s intermediary cities could play in Africa’s development and structural transformation ?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi : Intermediary cities are those that are in direct contact with the real economy of African countries, unlike the large cities and metropolitan regions that connect these countries to globalization and whose future is largely influenced by the way they are integrated into the globalization value chains. In reality, intermediary cities are those that drive national economies and the development of the internal market, while large cities and metropolitan regions are more open to the influences of external markets and are therefore highly dependent on the fluctuations of these markets for their development. Intermediary cities are therefore strategic places for any autonomous and sustainable development of the continent. If we are serious about the structural transformation of Africa as set out by the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and if we draw as we should, all the lessons from the health crisis, the geopolitical crisis and the climate crisis that are looming, then any reflection on the search for a path of genuinely sustainable and resilient development for Africa should start from the intermediary cities. These cities are the most in touch with the deep reality of Africa, and the least embedded in the globalized economy highly dependent on fossil fuels. They are less directly affected by the constraints of the globalized economy than large cities.

It is in the intermediary cities that we have the best chance of succeeding in the transition to a low-carbon development model, less dependent on the world market, and more concerned with the self-reliance of the territories in terms of food or health security, to name just that. They are the essential points of support for the realization of the promises of the African continental free trade area (AfCFTA) because the establishment of economic and industrial activities without which inter-African trade will not be able to take off depends on their attractiveness. Because intermediary cities are in close connection with the rural hinterland, they foster the possibility of more harmonious relations between human activities and settlements and the natural environment. They are also the best places where to succeed in the hybridization between the two sources of legitimacy the African populations affiliate themselves with in their practice of governance within the territories in Africa, namely, the references resulting from traditional customs and values and the references stemming from the norms and values of the modern state. Through this hybridization it is possible to install a peaceful climate between the traditional authorities and the territorial public authorities, and to contribute in this way to rebuilding trust between the populations and the leaders. We can therefore see how much promoting the unity, integration and development of Africa from intermediary cities is crucial for the future of the continent.

 

AFRIMAG : What are your expectations for this major meeting in Kisumu, which brings together local authorities as well as financial institutions, civil society organizations and development partners on a continental and international scale ?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi : The Africities Summits are a moment of strategic reflection which the leaders and elected representatives of local and territorial governments in Africa invite the other stakeholders to associate in. The elected representatives of local and territorial governments in Africa share the conviction any development is local, otherwise it does not exist. In other words, it is from the local level, in direct contact with the lives and needs of local populations, that development policies and strategies must be designed and implemented. From, and not exclusively. Because the elected officials and leaders of local and territorial governments in Africa are also attached to the principle of subsidiarity according to which any problem must be solved as close as possible to the place of life of the populations concerned if it can be solved effectively at this level; otherwise it must be dealt with at the appropriate level of governance in order to provide the desired solution. Elected officials and leaders of African territories are therefore in favor of collaborative and cooperative governance involving all stakeholders, national governments, civil society, academia, public and private companies, development partners. All together, we must seek in Kisumu, to better understand the challenges that Africa is facing in this period of health crisis, geopolitical crisis and climate crisis. This calls for a real rethinking of development strategies based on the reality of intermediary cities which are a good image of the development situation of the continent. During the first three days of the Summit, a series of debates will be organized which should lead to proposals for action and recommendations addressed to national governments, local and regional governments, and development partners. Some of these debates will be held within the framework of special days of great significance for the development and future of intermediary cities and Africa as a whole. These are: Climate Day and Diaspora Day (May 17, 2022); Digital Day; Culture Day and Africities Trade and Investment Forum (May 18, 2022); Women’s Day; Youth Day; Urban Planning Day (May 19, 2022).

All the recommendations produced during the first three days will be considered during the political segment of the Summit which is held on the last two days. The political segment of the Summit includes: the meeting of ministers; the meeting of mayors and leaders of local authorities; the meeting of regional economic communities; the meeting of development partners; the icing on the cake and for the first time in the framework of the Africities Summits, a conversation will be held between young local authorities from Africa and former heads of state of African countries who are honorary members of UCLG Africa. This conversation will focus on the ways of a future for Africa in a world in turmoil (20 May); and the tripartite dialogue roundtable between ministers, mayors, and development partners (21 May).

All together, we must seek in Kisumu, to better understand the challenges that Africa must face in this period of health crisis, geopolitical crisis and climate crisis. It is a question of contributing to a real renewal of thinking and development strategies based on the reality of intermediate cities which reflect the development situation of the continent. During the first three days of the Summit, a series of debates will be organized which should lead to proposals for action and recommendations addressed to national governments, local and regional governments, and development partners. Some of these debates will be held within the framework of special days of great significance for the development and future of intermediary cities and Africa as a whole. These are: Climate Day and Diaspora Day (May 17, 2022); Digital Day; Culture Day and Africities Trade and Investment Forum (May 18, 2022); Women’s Day; Youth Day; Urban Planning Day (May 19, 2022).

All the recommendations produced during the first three days will be considered during the political segment of the Summit which is held on the last two days. The political segment of the Summit includes: the meeting of ministers; the meeting of mayors and leaders of local authorities; the meeting of regional economic communities; the meeting of development partners; and the tripartite dialogue roundtable between ministers, mayors, and development partners.

The political segment should in principle lead to the adoption of a roadmap defining the actions to be undertaken over the next few years and specifically over the three years following the holding of the Kisumu Summit, with the aim of improving significantly the capacities of intermediary cities in Africa to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the African Union Agenda 2063.

Sommaire<< Stéphane Pouffary, Managing Director of ENERGIES 2050Pr. Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Governor of Kisumu County, Kenya >>
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