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Published on 02/05/2016

Study days: “cooperating in urban environments”

In the run-up to the Habitat III summit on “sustainable cities” in Quito (Ecuador) in October 2016, Groupe initiatives organised Study days in Dakar from 30 March to 1st April 2016 to discuss “Cooperating in urban environments: what strategies should International Solidarity Organisations (ISOs) implement to contribute to inclusive urban policies?”. GRET contributed significantly to these days and takes a look back at the main lessons drawn from them.

The discussions brought together approximately thirty participants – representatives from NGOs affiliated to Groupe initiatives (GRET, Iram, GRDR, Gevalor, Ciedel, Geres, ID and Essor), from the municipality of Dakar, from specialised consultancy firms and from Enda-Graf Sahel. The study days were organised in four sessions: working on the city/with the city/for the city; does consultation facilitate inclusion; how to implement sustainable solutions and take fairness into account; what should be the position of ISOs and what expertise is necessary to co-construct urban policies? GRET presented two of the eight projects analysed to illustrate these themes:

  • the implementation of a sustainable sanitation service in the Guet Ndar district of Saint-Louis du Senegal, considered as one of the most densely populated districts in West Africa with 25,000 inhabitants. In a context of sanitation and environmental risks due to the lack of improved sanitation services, the Agence de development communale (Municipal development agency) and GRET are leading a joint project for total inclusive sanitation in the district (Acting project in French);
  • urban development and reconstruction of the Baillergeau district in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, combining post-earthquake reconstruction and the development of a vulnerable district. Following the definition of a development plan for the district, GRET is putting the most structuring elements of the plan in place and facilitating ownership and respect of the inhabitants (Areba project – in French).

Two “main contributors”, Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, general secretary of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) and Guillaume Josse (Groupe 8) joined in the collective discussions. Firstly, a unanimous proclamation: citizenship is a common asset, as is access to water, energy, health and education. Construction of urban citizenship is vital for projects in urban settings and requires consultation/participation/mobilisation of the broad range of stakeholders that make up the towns (inhabitants, local authorities, the State, the formal and informal private sectors, etc.). For example, the Civil Forum launched an initiative for “citizenship certification” in 60 towns in Senegal. Secondly, working in urban environments necessitates including the logic of local players in co-construction methods, especially by taking into account the political agenda of elected representatives and complex interactions between stakeholders. It is necessary to accept the idea that ISOs cannot control all the parameters and that they are just one player among many in the construction of towns.

The question of how to operate when public project management is deficient remains. Finding pertinent mediators whose legitimacy is based on a “democracy of ownership” rather than on a formal democracy? Or wait until there are initiatives led by the base – as the Igbo proverb says “the pot starts boiling from the bottom up”. Co-construction is a good concept. But sometimes it is more an ambition than a reality, an approach necessitating reciprocal commitment from both ISOs and those commissioning projects and managing the territory, before committing to inclusive urban development initiatives.

The results of the Study days will be compiled in a list of recommendations, a publication in Groupe initiatives’ Traverses collection and a summary will be presented to the French Development Agency and various international solidarity players, notably during the preparation of Habitat III.