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close this bookThe Courier N 160 - Nov - Dec 1996 - Dossier Habitat - Country reports: Fiji , Tonga (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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View the documentLivable cities and rural rights
View the documentTowards a global concept of urban development - an interview with Daby Diagne
View the documentHabitat II: taking stock
View the document'A house to call my own'
View the documentMegacities
View the documentLagos under stress
View the documentA Eurocrat in Istanbul
View the documentThe exploding city
View the documentAdequate housing in the EU: rights and realities
View the documentCities of the Third World
View the documentWhen conservation is at odds with the local population
View the documentA new 'eco-centre' in West Africa: Two Presidents amid the dust
View the documentThe RDP challenge
View the documentTargeting South Africa's poor
View the document'Guardians of Eden'

Towards a global concept of urban development - an interview with Daby Diagne

Deputy mayor of the city of Louga, Daby Diagne is also President of the Finance Committee of Senegal's National Assembly, General Secretary of the Association of Mayors of Senegal and President of the World Federation of United Cities. He is the ACP-EU Joint Assembly's General Rapporteur on urban development and The Courier had the opportunity to interview him in September at the Assembly's meeting in Luxembourg.

· You have just submitted an initial report on urban development to the Joint Assembly. In it, you recommend that the Community adopt a specific and consistent global policy in this field, notwithstanding the fact that successive Lomonventions have contained a number of significant provisions relating to the subject. What is the reasoning behind your recommendation?

- There are several reasons. First, there is the fact that, in the past, cities were often viewed solely in terms of infrastructures and sectors. Experience shows that this approach is not effective. Specialists are increasingly opting for a more global 'city' concept. The Commission must therefore adapt itself to the new situation. It is true that it has financed infrastructures and launched health and clean-up programmes, but the problem is that this has been done in a somewhat unsystematic way without being linked to long-term regional development or a zonal policy. There is now an increasing need for an integrated regional development approach.

· Do you think ACP countries are aware of the importance of cities?

That's another question altogether. Obviously, the ACP countries are in the process of changing their views on this subject and a number have appointed ministers to look after urban affairs. The reality of city life has to be taken into account. The rate of urban growth in the ACPs far exceeds that in other parts of the world and it is in the towns and cities that one sees the most glaring instances of poverty and under-development. People have therefore been forced to take the 'city' phenomenon into account in the ACP countries.

· The political will must exist for a policy to be successful. Do the ACP countries have a genuine will to implement an urban policy?

- I don't think it is possible to speak of a uniform trend in all ACP states. However, in certain regions - for example in West Africa, which I know well - a municipal culture is beginning to take shape. There is a growing political will, which is illustrated by the discussions on decentralisation, and people are increasingly recognising that central government cannot do everything by itself. One can find regional development and planning policies designed to create the fabric of mediumsized cities. Not everyone has them but it is something we are seeing more and more of.

· ACP countries face complex challenges and there are people who say that the actions of the European Community are too dispersed owing to the number of sectors it is involved in. Doesn't your recommendation simply add to this problem?

- On the contrary. I regard my recommendation as being pro-integration and therefore pro-globalisation - which is not the complete opposite of a sectoral, diversified approach. I believe it would allow the Union's activities in certain fields to be better interlinked. I am thinking here of water, health, clean-up operations and infrastructures - all of which are major problems for society. Naturally, a more global concept will require greater dedication, and if there are additional resources, so much the better, but, in my view, the situation could be improved even with what we currently have available.

· The rate of urbanisation in Africa is higher than elsewhere and the living conditions of city dwellers - particularly those in the shanty towns - are becoming increasingly difficult in terms of health, education, environment and so on. What, in your opinion, would be the optimum strategy for reversing the decline, at least in the short-term?

- First of all, I think we have to make a distinction here. Let's take the actual rate of urbanisation. Contrary to what is generally thought, this is lower than in the rest of the world. In other words, Africa has fewer towns and cities than the rest of the world. It is the rate of growth in the urban population that is higher. Populations are becoming increasingly concentrated in the cities, with the drift of people from the countryside. In addition, the phenomenon is being fed by demographic trends. You ask me if there is anything we can do to halt this. There are actions that can be taken to restore some balance. For example, we could make investments in the rural environment to keep people in the countryside, and we could implement suitable agricultural policies.

But we must not labour under too many illusions, because life in towns and cities will be an inevitable characteristic of the next century. Economists and urban planners have been considering the phenomenon for a long time now - perhaps 30 or 40 years. It is something that cannot be halted, because it is a fact of civilisation. So, what should we do? Above all, we should devote our efforts to regional development, achieving a balanced distribution of human resources, and a more equitable exploitation of natural resources. Power has to be decentralised so that people do not abandon their roots but face up to local challenges. And we have to implement urban policies which are satisfactory in terms of investment, management and popular participation. In simple terms, urbanisation has to be managed. We cannot hope to reverse the trend overnight, particularly in the case of a continent like Africa where everything happens quickly. Africa is enormous and its population has not yet reached its maximum levels. We have to take all this into account.

We must acknowledge that scientific progress and improvements in the field of health have contributed to population growth, and a reduction in mortality rates. This means that urban civilisation is a reality that we have to manage. There is a risk of uncontrolled growth in urban centres. When infrastructures are lacking, when there is no water, when hygiene cannot be guaranteed and when there is no work, a country's security is threatened.

· You have mentioned democracy end the decentralisation of government This also requires adequate financial resources. Where do you think the ACP countries will find the money to implement decentralisation strategies?

- Democracy involves a search for freedom - freedom of opinion and expression, independent of material or financial problems. The problem with decentralisation lies in administrative method. It is not purely a matter of money. In the first instance, it is a question of choosing the right approach. It has been demonstrated that without any extra resources, one can still act differently by delegating and decentralising. And success is much more likely because the people are involved in the process. Admittedly, it requires an internal reallocation of resources. A proportion of everything that was formerly centralised has to be allocated to development and to basic needs.

To answer your question more directly, there is a great deal of talk of this alternative method of governing. It is inspiring new hope and a thirst for something better. It is even being viewed as an 'ideal' solution - which it cannot be entirely. However, by decentralising human and economic resources, and by allowing people to participate, hope can be inspired at local level. This should make for better administration and support, which is an improvement in itself. Of course, this may make people more demanding. Will it satisfy their requirements? As I have already said, internal resources will have to be reallocated, but resources must also come from outside. One cannot make an allout effort for decentralisation without doing something to improve international cooperation. This cooperation, however, must be adaptable, and the state must retain its pre-eminent position and its role as guarantor and arbiter. But in addition, local communities should have access to international cooperation either directly or indirectly through their organisations, municipal structures and so on.

· In this context, what role do you see for international organisations - not just in terms of financial resources, but also of human resources?

- I think what we now need to do is build up a pool of skills in each municipal area. The developed countries have experience in this field. We have to take their processes as a model without necessarily copying their experience. This is something which will be discussed. Secondly, in the context of relationships between towns and cities, I believe it is possible to make access to experts more flexible and that this can take place very quickly, with the provision of training and fairly basic technology transfers. General training is also extremely important. In order to build up a pool of skills in towns and cities, local government must form a dynamic, management-oriented team. The approach has to be one of business-like management and objectives have to be targeted using private-sector methods, although public-service requirements always have to be borne in mind. A great deal, therefore, can be done at international level, in terms of support for networks of associations and committees of locally elected representatives, enabling them to discuss matters.

We could, for example, carry out a comparative study of legislation in a particular area, thereby gaining access to other types of experience. Internationally, aid can be given to associations to help them buy equipment and attain a degree of freedom of manoeuvre vis-is the authorities. In the field of decentralised cooperation, the international community can help elected representatives to implement their projects through partnerships, conducting studies, and providing personnel. Cooperation is possible in all spheres - implementation, management, financing and so on. I believe that a new type of cooperation will gradually come into being. It is not a question of creating 'white elephants', but rather small and medium-scale projects which are of genuine use to the population. And I am not talking here about acts of charity, such as the donation of medicines, but sustainable projects.