A proverb says “You can’t pick up a stone with only one finger”. It is illusory to expect public action to manage public assets by itself. Partnership between actors is at the heart of modern governance, whether in providing public services such as water, waste management, security, education, health, etc. or in economic development.
African societies have their own traditions of partnership. The modern theory of governance and practices developed in the countries concerned may shed new light on the subject. To this must be added, in many countries, the widespread presence of ‘development partners’ who also participate directly in the provision of public services. And yet, far too often, partnership modes are not clearly defined and many actors–particularly city dwellers in poor neighbourhoods, farmers, fishermen, actors in the informal economy, etc.–and not sufficiently organised for their voice to be heard. Nor is their competence recognised, even though they are the breadwinners for the majority of Africa’s people.
Instead of an abstract speech on partnership that would lead to a consensus with no practical application, the conference will draft a charter for partnership between actors based on concrete cases and actual experience.
With the ideological crises that characterised debate in the first decades of independence, and as a result of societies’ loss of confidence in their political leaders, somewhat charismatic and providential leaders with generally vague programs have appeared across Africa at election times. In terms of political debate, societal projects that have been put together quickly without consulting populations–and that will never be implemented–do a poor job of hiding leaders’ rivalry, thirst for power and competition for access to public assets. The multi-party ‘representative democracies’ imposed by former colonial powers and international institutions, far from bringing authentic, deep-seated democracy to African countries, have at times impeded it. We were told that democracy would bring peace. But in Africa it has often been the cause of violence and wars. Elections–which are rarely honest and whose importance is rarely understood by the entire population–and application of the ‘majority rules’ concept mean that with just 51% of the vote one can grab 100% of the power and, with it, money from the exploitation of natural resources. This “winner takes all” principle is foreign to African societies, which have developed tried and true methods for consensus building and sharing.
Africa needs to find another way to develop political perspectives. Programmes cannot be designed by the apparatus of political parties, which are sometimes nothing more than tools for seizing power at the service of leaders only interested in coming to power so they can take advantage of public assets. Societal projects and the resulting political programmes should reflect the desires of the entire society. Suitable methods are needed to achieve such a goal.
During the conference, we will have the opportunity to examine the initial results of the Malian Assembly of Citizens, a novel attempt to construct a political project “from the bottom up” and to examine under what conditions, on the city and State level, the culture of consensus can be rehabilitated and made the rule in public decision-making instead of the exception.
African society is developing on the fringes of formal institutions and even despite them in some cases. Without the vitality of African civil society, which is incredibly dynamic and inventive despite poverty and crises, Africa would be worse off today. Yet this civil society is not always clearly seen and appreciated because African elites and development partners focus their attention on institutional structures. It seems like civil society only comes into existence when institutionalised non-governmental organisations are there to represent it! In addition, these official representations of civil society are often in reality tools of those in power and development partners.
For farmers, fishermen, city dwellers, informal sector entrepreneurs, women and young people to take part in public affairs and have their voices heard, all these sectors need access to a good understanding of issues on the national and international levels. Their leaders need proper training, and the entire society needs access to excellent information on the management of public affairs (use of taxes, development aid and revenues from the exploitation of natural resources, etc.) and the most successful and pertinent international experience.
The conference will allow us to compare various situations in which civil society has been involved in designing and evaluating public policies and to propose tools to provide the necessary training and information.
The competency and devotion of local, regional and national public service agents is a decisive factor in determining the legitimacy of governance. A society cannot be well-managed without the assistance of well-trained civil servants devoted to the public cause and capable of engaging in respectful dialogue with other sectors of society and colleagues in other administrations. Technical and judicial training is not enough. Setting up an inter-African network for training in governance to share in the development of a bank of case studies, as well as initial and on-going training courses, has become a priority. Such training will help students better understand the challenges that African society must meet in the next fifty years, the conditions required for in-depth reform of States and 21st century principles of governance. This inter-African training network should bring together the association of African cities UCLG-Africa, centres and institutes that train territorial civil servants and existing national schools that provide training in administration.