UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka on Thursday told a Commonwealth symposium on local democracy that Africa was facing a considerable urbanisation crisis and that administrative powers had to be better decentralised to tackle the problem.
Addressing more than 200 participants gathered to discuss the theme, Local Democracy, Good Governance and Delivering the MDGs in Africa, she said: “We can realise the Millennium Development Goals in our cities if we make a political resolve. A recent study by UN-HABITAT suggests that many countries in Africa are not on track to meet the slum upgrading and water and sanitation targets of the MDGs.
“A few countries are, nonetheless, making good progress. They are doing so through innovation. Several countries, particularly in West Africa, are engaging in slum upgrading programmes. In East Africa, a number of cities have discarded the rigid master planning approach and are developing participatory Strategic Urban Development Plans by fully engaging the urban poor,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said.
The symposium, held from 26-28 April 2006 at the Speke Conference Centre, is organised by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) in conjunction with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the government of Uganda and the Uganda Local Government Association.
Participants, including many ministers of local government, mayors, council leaders and senior council officers, discussed decentralisation in Africa and the support that national governments, donor agencies and international organisations, such as the Commonwealth, can give to local government to strengthen local democracy and boost local services development to help deliver the MDGs.
In a keynote address, Mrs. Tibaijuka also lauded the work of CLGF and expressed the hope that this symposium would help implement the CLGF Aberdeen Agenda on local democracy and good governance endorsed by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their Malta summit in November last year.
“We at the UN consider the Aberdeen Agenda a very important way to accelerate work on the MDGs,” she said. “The African experience demonstrates the inseparable link between the achievement of the MDGs and the human settlements agenda. Close to 70 percent of Africa’s urban population lives in informal or slum settlements. This figure is 46 percent for Asia and a little over 30 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean. The vast majority of these slum dwellers have no access to decent shelter, water and sanitation, and health and education. Unless urgent action is taken to improve the living conditions of the urban poor and to prevent the future formation of slums, by 2020 this figure could easily increase to 400 million people, on the African continent alone.” Other keynote speakers in the opening session included Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ms. Florence Mugasha, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, President, United Cities and Local Governments Africa, and Captain John E. Otekat, Chairperson of CLGF. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was scheduled to address the conference on Thursday 27 April. I
Participants planned to chart a new blueprint on the way forward to strengthen local democracy to help achieve the MDGs in Africa.
Separately, Mrs. Tibaijuka held bilateral talks with Mr. Mark Burton, Minister of Local Government from New Zealand.