Coalition advocates reform in urban policies, resources allocation to councils

[FILES] This is Lagos before urban renewal projects came to the rescue in Oshodi.

Global experts have enjoined African governments to review their National Urban Policies (NUPs) to address structural impediments and lay the foundations for inclusive urban expansion.

They pinpointed out that 18 NUPs drafted in Sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria are full of the standard policy jargon.

The technical capabilities, legal frameworks, financial instruments, and political will to deliver on these complex policies appear to be lacking.

However, progress in implementing them has been slow, suggesting political and administrative disincentives for devolving budgets and power.

This was the submission of the Coalition for Urban Transitions, a major global initiative to support national governments to accelerate economic development and tackle dangerous climate change by transforming cities.

It provides an independent, evidence-based approach for thinking about how to manage urban areas, and the accompanying process of economic, social, and environmental transformation, to maximize benefits for people and the planet.

The Coalition is a special initiative of the New Climate Economy and jointly managed by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

It brings together major institutions spanning five continents including research institutions, city networks, international organizations, infrastructure providers, and strategic advisory companies and is guided and championed by an urban leadership council.

The experts disclosed that if NUPs are to be meaningful and implementable, they have to coordinate government, donor, civil society, and private sector efforts to ensure that the urban transition in Africa realizes its potential benefits and avoids risks.

“NUPs need to go beyond donor-funded tick-box compliance with the African Charter or UN-Habitat requirements.

They must create governance arrangements that can address local contexts by establishing common goals, clear roles and balanced power relations among the stakeholders that influence urban development.”

NUPs emerged from Habitat III in 2016 as the policy instrument through which national governments can engage and shape an urbanizing world.

They are particularly important in Sub-Saharan Africa, where urbanization is rapid and local governments are typically weak.

NUPs can bring greater coherence and legitimacy to authorities and agents in cities and—critically—recalibrate the balance of power shared by different levels of government, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), civil society and the private sector.

According to the group, the effectiveness of NUPs hinge on their capacity to reflect the lived realities of African urban growth, including political tensions, informal settlements and economies, and acute shortages of public funds.

“NUPs need to go beyond infrastructure and finance wish-lists if they are to address the barriers to functional multilevel governance in urban Africa. Although each country is different, there is a common need to strengthen national governments’ political and legislative commitment to cities and coordinate the formal and informal rules of the game.”

In a position paper ‘Developing Prosperous and Inclusive Cities in Africa – National Urban Policies to the Rescue?, the coalition revealed that African countries will be able to realize the potential urbanization dividend only by establishing enabling multilevel governance arrangements that are ONE: Committing to increase the capacities of and resources allocated to urban governments—and codifying those commitments in law.

“The importance of NUPs lies in their ability to outline mandates and responsibilities across tiers of government. National governments are typically best placed to oversee matters such as sectoral alignment in the national economy and the stewardship of water basins and national power grids.

“Local governments may be or solid waste management—but they need support to develop the requisite capacities and manage the associated budgets. The appropriate balance of mandates requires regular recalibration, particularly as new technologies emerge that alter the nature of public goods and the best locus of coordination.”

TWO: Creating a culture of rights and social justice. NUPs provide an opportunity for national governments to articulate natural rights (such as rights to water, sanitation, and shelter) and legal rights (such as rights to citizenship, suffrage, and peaceful protest) that can provide the foundation for a social contract.

Tanzania’s land management policies—in which the president has important powers to acquire land for public use but legal protections are in place for landholders and occupiers2—illustrates how national policies can balance public and private interests.

They argued that establishing an urban rights culture can validate the contributions of grassroots organizations, informal livelihoods, the media, and academia in forging new development pathways and vibrant cities.

“It can also facilitate the social participation and economic contribution of marginalized urban residents, such as women and youth.

To date, national governments have displayed little willingness to engage alternative voices in anything other than confrontation.”

THREE: Collecting data and assimilating evidence that demystify all aspects of African cities, including the informal sector. NUPs in Africa can help make informality more legible to planning efforts and investors.

The process of designing, implementing, and reviewing NUPs offers an opportunity for decision-makers to collect and share evidence from multiple sources, formal and informal.

This requires closer engagement between government agencies, academia, private sector and civil society actors, all of which generate relevant evidence that needs to be brought to bear on urban decision making.

The paper authored by Anton Cartwright, Ian Palmer, Anna Taylor, Edgar Pieterse, Susan Parnell, and Sarah Colenbrander noted that NUPs need to establish multilevel governance over planning, construction, and operations to ensure that transport is affordable and accessible to low-income households, financially sustainable from the perspective of transport operators and local governments, capable of connecting commuters with work, services and leisure opportunities as well as afer for commuters and pedestrians than existing modes of transport, which kill more commuters per travelled distance than in any other region.

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