African capital cities such as Harare and Dar es Salaam sent their mayors to meet with their European counterparts in Strasbourg this month as E.U. cooperation strategies increasingly focused on decentralized development.
The link between local governance and cooperation was at the center of dozens of sessions at the European Development Days, the continent's top annual development event, which was attended by local authorities from several African countries as well as state and regional leaders.
During the Nov. 15-17 forum, government representatives at all levels stressed the need to tackle development issues locally as urbanization keeps attracting millions of rural residents to Africa's major cities. Several partnerships were signed between European and African cities.
A cooperation agreement on education between the city of Kossighin, Burkina Faso, and Braine-le-Comte in Belgium was one of approximately 100 local-level "twinnings" signed in the Alsatian capital.
"Development happens at a local level. It is in our cities and towns that the needs of citizens become more apparent," said Adam Kimbisa, mayor of Tanzania's capital city, at the forum's opening ceremony.
Kimbisa highlighted his administration's struggle to provide housing, sanitation and water while people from rural areas move to Dar es Salaam in an attempt to escape poverty.
"When they come to the city, they are literally expecting some green pastures. Do we provide these green pastures? Not at all," he said, adding that Dar es Salaam's population has grown from 2.8 million to 4.5 million within a few years.
"This is a people bomb," Kimbisa said. "Someone, somewhere, sometimes has to do something."
The importance of tackling development issues at a local level was also stressed by African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping, who said he expexts living conditions on the continent to worsen in the coming years.
While central governments still play a crucial role in tackling emergencies and crisis, the importance of local powers can no longer be underestimated, according to Ping.
"In a context of food, oil, financial and economic crisis, there is no doubt about the necessity of a massive state intervention, but it is important to remember that it's thanks to local governance and decentralized cooperation that states and public powers still have a role to play," Ping said.
Among the African leaders who called for greater attention to decentralization, Mali President Amadou Touré spoke of his country's recent history as an example of how this process can help others overcome conflicts and even wars.
"Decentralization is an incomparable factor of social cohesion, peace, security and stability to Mali's people," Touré said.
Touré highlighted the first rebellion of Mali's Tuareg that erupted in the early 1990s. Back then, a peace agreement followed by decentralized aid to the Tuareg population was crucial in avoiding a separatist war, he said.
"To us, decentralization is the backbone of Mali's democratization process," Touré said.
Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda attended the Strasbourg forum with Zimbabwe's new prime minister and former opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, whose presidential election victory earlier this year was not acknowledged by ongoing President Robert Mugabe. For the French and E.U. event organizers, the Zimbabweans' plight for help for a country ravaged by political repression and famine seemed particularly poignant given Mugabe continues to refuse foreign aid.