Local government is “the indispensable vehicle through which our socio-political and developmental agenda is driven”, City of Joburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau said at the opening of the seventh Africities Summit in Johannesburg on Sunday, 29 November.

Africities 7 gets under wayAfricities 7 gets under way at the Sandton Convention Centre on Sunday, 29 November. (Photo: Africities Summit on Facebook)The summit got off to a great start at the Sandton Convention, with political leaders calling for a paradigm shift in how local governments tackle development programmes to improve the quality of life of their citizens, particularly the “restless” youth population and the rapidly growing middle class.

Several speakers emphasised the importance of empowering citizens. Strong local government leadership, political will and accountability would also help local governments to deal with challenges, they argued.

Addressing more than 5 000 delegates from across Africa and beyond during the opening ceremony, Mayor Tau called on local government leaders “to collectively harness opportunities to ensure that as local governments we are able to collaborate, robustly engage and actively seek African solutions to African problems”.

More than 5 000 delegates from across the continent and the diasporaMore than 5 000 delegates from across the continent and the diaspora are in Johannesburg for the five-day gathering. (Photo: Africities Summit on Facebook)Noting that 2015 had been an important year for municipalities across Africa, Mayor Tau said the commitments made at the financing summit in Addis Ababa, and the adoption this year of 11 Sustainable Development Goals focusing on cities, underscored the critical role played by local government.

“This summit should enhance our role by strengthening the capacity of organised local government to formulate developmental policy for Africa,” he said.

The five-day event presented an opportunity “to promote, protect and act as a catalyst” for decentralisation, local governance and local development in Africa, Mayor Tau said.

“It is our collective responsibility as organised local government to mobilise all national governments on the continent to ratify [the AU Charter]. This will serve as a basis for a strong and capable sphere of local government in Africa.”

He said African cities needed to build strong local government associations committed to citizen participation, transformative development, good governance and unity.

A number of other high-profile leaders addressed Sunday’s opening ceremony:

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe Radebe said the AU’s Agenda 2063, parts of which South Africa had incorporated into its National Development Plan (NDP), was the blueprint all countries should follow because it prioritised development. He argued that policy changes were needed to guide development programmes to embrace a growing youth population and the middle class.

South African Local Government Association President Thabo Manyoni called on local governments to implement sustainable development programmes to benefit all citizens. He said the Summit was an opportunity to address rapid urbanisation, rural development, youth unemployment, poverty and climate change.

African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs Aisha Abdullahi said that as part of Agenda 2063, the AU was considering the introduction of a continental passport to enable free movement and increased trade. Other priority initiatives included projects in energy, roads and the empowerment of women and the youth.

UCLG-Africa President Khalifa Sall said there was development at local level was the “great hope” of Africities 7. “We’ve to think globally and act locally. We cannot do this without the support of national governments, though. They have to trust cities to do this”.

The summit runs until Thursday, 3 November.

Source: www.joburg.org.za