How can we empower local governments as leaders of development? Before answering this important question, I wish to first address why local governments should be leaders of development strategies.
We have heard it many times before: the future is local. Developmental challenges are most evident at local level. Take, for example, my own municipality of Eastern-Cape Emalahleni Local Municipality in the South-East of South Africa. My country might meet some of the Millennium Development Goals targets as a result of the national average, but we still have much to do to tackle extreme poverty in my own area. I am really worried about opportunities for youth and for vulnerable groups in our municipality. The issue of unemployment, as well as the need for housing, is particularly problematic in my Emalahleni.
Local governments must respond to the development challenges of our citizens. Our municipality’s task is to think about innovative ways of job creation and food security. We need to localise our production, to ensure that for every product we produce, we are able to process it locally. A value chain within the municipality needs to be created.
These are absolute priorities for Emalahleni municipality. But sustainability is an issue. Projects are being started and concluded, but continuity is hardly ever ensured. I can even say that the funding itself is not the main issue for development in my municipality, but it is crucial to ensure that we, as a municipality, and with the support of our development partners, train our inhabitants and maintain skills within our territory. As a municipality, we cannot employ all inhabitants, so many capable people with entrepreneurship skills leave if we don’t provide them with opportunities. Our integrated development planning needs to initiate projects that can create sustainable jobs. If we manage to localise the production, we can create opportunities for entrepreneurship that will not depend on employment by the government.
Local governments take a leading role in development strategies
Local governments are on the frontline of dealing with development challenges and identifying solutions to these challenges. It is therefore only natural that they should lead development strategies for their areas.
In Emalahleni municipality, for example, it is important that we ensure education in relation to the economic demand of the area and at the same time, work on the region’s ability to attract businesses. This can also be done in partnership with development partners and our central government, but we at local government level need the capacity to create dialogue with these stakeholders.
In order to empower local governments to seize their role in development strategies, I think it is crucial to strengthen their capacities. Cross-sectoral concerns can be addressed by consultations between the national, provincial and city level officials in the areas of health, environment, housing, and others to ensure co-ordination. I believe that this vertical co-ordination and co-operation currently gets too little attention in South Africa. Strengthening local governments is crucial to achieve the development goals. A top down approach by central government can result in development policies that are ill-adapted to local needs and contexts.
How to strengthen capacities
There are various ways to strengthen local government capacity. Programmes implemented by the national government can strengthen decentralisation, possibly supported by international donors. Individual support can also come from partner local governments in the region or other parts of the world.
Emalahleni municipality is supported through the Local Government Capacity Programme, managed by VNG International, the international co-operation agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG). This type of co-operation, in which Dutch municipal experts from the City of Dordrecht (Netherlands) partner with experts from our municipality, complements other relevant support. The co-operation focuses on local economic development, a very important matter for my municipality, as I mentioned earlier.
I have found that this type of peer-to-peer decentralised co-operation has a high degree of relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability in comparison to other development co-operation programmes. The themes and issues addressed in the co-operation initiatives are based on the key priorities for the municipalities involved and on long-term relationships, which are based on trust, transparency and good dialogue.
I think it is very important that this instrument of local government development co-operation be recognized as one of the ways to reach the post-2015 development goals.
United Cities and Local Governments
The global organisation of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), along with the local government associations of Canada (FCM) and the Netherlands (VNG International) have set up a group of UCLG Champions on Development Co-operation. This group of mayors from different continents aims to boost recognition for the role of local government development co-operation at all levels. I, as mayor of the municipality of Emalahleni in South Africa, am part of this group. My electorate and my municipal council understand and advocate for the important role that local governments play in development.
Within the steering committee of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, I believe we should focus on the way in which we ensure that local governments be seen as full partners in the definition of national development strategies. This should also be subject to monitoring of the Global Partnership. Also, I am sure that our challenges are shared by many other local governments. Let us share approaches, to ensure effective solutions for better development.
Nomveliso Nyukwana is mayor of Emalahleni Municipality, South Africa, since 2011, after serving many years as a councillor. Since 2012 she has been appointed as UCLG Champion on Development Cooperation for the global organization of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). The UCLG Champions are supported by the UCLG Capacity and Institution Building Working Group, which has its secretariat within the International Co-operation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG International). For more information contact email@example.com.