Thousands of mayors and officials from Africa gathered in Kenya Monday for the opening of the week-long Africities summit, which is to look at how local authorities can best implement the United Nations' millennium development goals. Cathy Majtenyi attended the opening session in Nairobi and files this report for VOA.
Speakers opening the event noted that an increasing number of Africans are moving into urban areas, with more than half of the continent's population expected to live in cities by 2020.
This movement, in turn, puts more and more pressure on water, sanitation, housing, roads, and other systems that in many cases are seriously underdeveloped, speakers said.
U.N.-Habitat's executive director, Anna Tibaijuka, told the gathering some 72 percent of Africans live in slums, most of which lack basic services and infrastructure. She issued a strong challenge to local governments and their partners to improve the lives of people living in those areas.
"When the majority of African people still find themselves in slum conditions, it poses a serious challenge and draws our attention to the linkage between human settlements and the goals that the international community committed itself to achieve some six years ago," said Tibaijuka. "For the people of Africa, you are the closest institution that mediates the bulk of their every day lives. Indeed, you are the ultimate custodians of the Millennium Development Goals. Achieving the MDGs in Africa requires, therefore, local governments and the key stakeholders to take the challenge of urbanization more seriously."
The summit, organized by the pan-African body Municipal Development Partnership and other groups, is expected to bring together some 5,000 delegates to discuss problems in African cities such as poverty, crime, and inadequate shelter.
Discussions are expected to focus on devolving power from central governments to local councils and how to better fund municipalities.
Kenyan minister for local government, Musikari Kombo, urged the gathering to look for creative ways to deal with the continent's growing urbanization trend. "One such practice, which most African countries need to appreciate, is the creation of more cities in the rural settings instead of encouraging the growth of megacities," he said.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki described how his government plans to tackle the problem of rapid expansion of the capital Nairobi and other urban centers in Kenya, beginning with the election of mayors and deputy mayors. "We will soon be announcing the establishment of a Nairobi Metropolitan Region Development Board for the proper planning and administration of the city of Nairobi," said Mr. Kibaki. "The board will coordinate planning, environmental management, enforce compliance, and promote the metropolis as a regional hub for investment and services."
The summit is taking place six years after the United Nations unveiled its eight millennium development goals that aim to dramatically reduce poverty, illiteracy, disease and food insecurity by 2015.