Engaging the African Debate

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Resources, Cities and Leadership

Tonight I fly home from Nairobi after a week spent attending events in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. In Dar es Salaam it was the Local Climate Solutions Conference organised by ICLEI attended by about 350 people mainly from African cities from across the continent. I was asked to do a keynote address to a special session for Mayors and Councillors. In Nairobi I was part of an engagement with African policy managers (mainly from Environmental Ministries of African Governments) organised by UNEP and the International Resource Panel. During the same week African Governments met in Addis to deliberate their position on the Sustainable Development Goals, finally agreeing more or less to extend the Millenium Development Goals rather than approving the idea of replacing them with SDGs. What struck me, though, is the significant change in the calibre and quality of political leadership at local level and of national government officials on the continent. As my friend Kevin Urama put it, ‘our

Ministers are no longer the morons that we used to have’. This change for the better over the past decade or so is obviously cause for great hope and optimism. It probably reflects the rising quality of University education on the continent, the improved salaries for people who work for government and the expanding middle class that includes a small group of capable people who are more interested in public service than financial accumulation. Many people I met gave me a sense that they (and presumably their networks) have a real hunger for creative, alternative perspectives and knowledge-sets about more sustainable alternatives than traditional modernization strategies imply.