The Commonwealth Local Government Forum focuses on the Localisation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals Agenda in Southern Africa

The Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), a membership-based organisation established in 1995, and representing about 200 members across the 53 Commonwealth countries, convened its Southern Africa Regional Conference on the 25th - 26th June 2019, in Lusaka, Zambia. Based on the Dullah Omar Institute’s work on multilevel governance and local government in South Africa, the region and beyond, the institute has a long established association with CLGF, dating back to 2005. In its capacity as a member of CLGF’s International Research Advisory Group, the DOI participated at this Regional Conference.

Members of CLGF are drawn from state ministries responsible for local government, local government associations (LGAs), local authorities, as well as associate members from universities, civil society and professional organisations. Within the Southern Africa region, CLGF’s members include Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. The organisation focuses on strengthening local democracy across the Commonwealth member countries; localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and building sustainable cities. Part of CLGF’s work is to mobilise resources and provide technical and financial support to its members. In some instances, support is extended to non-members such as Zimbabwe. The organisation is currently implementing various programmes in Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe within the Southern Africa region.

CLGF also promotes knowledge sharing platforms for its members, including the hosting of an international conference biennially, as well as the hosting of regional conferences on a periodic basis.  The recent Southern Africa Regional Conference was attended by ministers, mayors, officials, academics, civil society, the private sector and international development organisations. Running under the theme ‘Promoting local governance and local economic development: towards localising the Sustainable Development Goals’ the Conference provided an opportunity for CLGF’s members and partners to reflect on issues of common interest, as well as to deliberate on appropriate actions to further them.

The previous Regional Conference was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2016. At the time, the SDGs were relatively new, having been adopted in 2015. As such, the 2016 Conference focused on the importance and relevance of the SDGs in the region. The 2019 Conference, on the other hand, was more reflective, focusing on achievements and opportunities going forward. Accordingly, the objectives of the 2019 Conference centred on the effective localisation of the SDGs; local government’s role in applying local economic development (LED) as a tool for reducing poverty; gender mainstreaming and women’s political leadership;  and opportunities for ongoing regional dialogue and knowledge sharing.

In his opening remarks, the Honourable Minister for Local Government in Zambia, Mr Vincent Mwale, emphasised Zambia’s strong commitment to decentralisation and reflected on the specific actions the country has taken towards this end, such as the establishment of the Decentralisation Secretariat.

Reflecting on achievements to-date in the specific area of LED in the Southern Africa region, participants noted that a significant number of countries are actively working towards a common conceptual understanding of the LED approach; and further, that countries have increased efforts to institutionalise LED at the local level. Participants also noted some major challenges facing local government such as ‘half baked’ decentralisation processes, limited data disaggregated to the local level and limited research in the area of LED. With respect to opportunities, participants noted that increasingly, countries in the region are opening up to embracing and supporting LED institutionalisation. Recurring themes dominating conference deliberations were the following:

a) The important role of research in building a robust knowledge base for the region.

The main observations were that in the specific area of LED, with the exception of South Africa, there is minimal research conducted. The Conference reflected on the need to ‘tell our stories’. As such, the need for strong partnerships with academic institutions was identified, as was the need to train officials to build a strong knowledge management base.

b) The importance of a gender-centric local government agenda.

CLGF noted the positive trend towards increasing women representation in high levels of decision making across the Commonwealth, from 16.8 percent in 2004 to 21.1 percent in 2016. It was, however, concerned about the fact that only a third of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries have met the Commonwealth 30 percent target of women representation at all levels of decision-making. At the local government level, CLGF reported that only 12 countries across the Commonwealth met or exceeded the 30% target for women in office. These revelations ignited robust discussions, with reflections on how countries can continue to mentor, champion and promote women leaders in local government. The Conference also considered that the SDGs target is to ensure equal opportunities for women leadership at all levels of decision making in terms of the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments, local governments and managerial positions.

c) Strengthening collaboration and local governance regional networks.

The apparent vacuum created by the absence of a formalised local government political forum at the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) level was also highlighted. It was reported that currently, ministers responsible for local government in the Southern Africa region do not have a formalised structure where they meet and deliberate on issues of common interest. In the context of the global agenda on localising the SDGs, the absence of such a forum was viewed as a major gap.

d) Continued efforts towards decentralisation in various countries.

In this regard, participants reflected on the need to continue efforts to decentralise.

The Conference came up with a number of meaningful resolutions. Although resolutions taken at CLGF conferences are not binding to members, they provide a compass to all on areas of importance in local government. The Conference committed to:

  • build a cross-sectoral knowledge base for local government to draw on, including through partnerships and peer to peer support;
  • actively support gender equality and mainstreaming of gender into all activities;
  • deepen partnerships for delivery, including strengthening the coordination between CLGF members in the region;
  • continue to reinforce exchange and learning across the region;
  • continue to explore innovative methodologies for financing, service delivery, outreach and engagement; and
  • strengthen advocacy at all levels, including towards SADC.

Conference resolutions are available at  

by Phumla Hlati, Doctoral Researcher

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