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“Meetings at eye level”
– by Jürgen Nimptsch
Why does the City of Bonn maintain partnerships with cities in developing countries?
We not only want to be a good place for development agencies, we also want to contribute ourselves to making global development socially fair as well as economically and environmentally sustainable. Therefore, Bonn’s City Council adopted a Concept for International Contacts in 1999. It is geared towards project-based cooperation with cities from newly industrialised and developing countries. In this context, Bonn currently maintains partnerships with La Paz in Bolivia, Cape Coast in Ghana, Bukhara in Uzbekistan, Chengdu in the People’s Republic of China, Minsk in Belarus and Ulan Bator in Mongolia.
How does Bonn support the partner cities?
The main focal areas of our cooperation are cultural events, youth and youth-expert exchange, sharing of experiences in municipal activities concerning issues like the environment and climate protection, the promotion of sustainable tourism, training of administration professionals and so on. In these fields, we cooperate closely with the development agencies that are based in Bonn and our partner cities. For example, the exchange of environmental experts between Bonn and Chengdu is now underway for the third year with support from InWEnt. We are not doing the work of the development agencies in our partner cities, of course. Rather, we want to make a small yet meaningful contribution to the exchange of experiences in order to boost municipal authorities.
What do you consider your greatest success to date?
There have been many successes. Just a few days ago, I returned from a visit to Bukhara, where I visited a school which cooperated with a school in Bonn in a two-year project to save energy and use renewable sources. Today, the school in Bukhara not only has modern teaching materials which were developed by the teachers and students from both cities; on top of that, it has its own solar system to generate solar power and feed electricity into the public grid. Half of the revenue goes back to the school, which will use the money for new projects. In Bonn, we have run this “fifty/fifty” model for a long time, so we have lots of good experience. In Buchara, it was a pleasure to see how proud the students are of this project which, by the way, has gained recognition far beyond Bonn and Bukhara. It has received many awards. We want to exhibit the project with students from Bonn and Bukhara at the international World Expo 2010 in Shanghai in September. If you want to find out more about the project, check out http://www.spice.bonn.de
What role does climate protection play in your municipal partnerships?
Climate protection is always a central topic. I already mentioned the school project with Bukhara and the exchange of environmental experts with Chengdu. We are carrying out pertinent projects with other partner cities too. We are convinced that it is the municipalities that are affected most directly by the impact of climate change, and that is particularly true of municipalities in emerging markets and developing countries. For that reason, the City of Bonn has organised mayors’ conferences on topics such as climate protection, early warning of natural disasters and the protection of biological diversity for years, in cooperation with the Service Agency Communities in One World at InWEnt and the umbrella organisation ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. I am personally involved as deputy chairman of the World Mayors Council on Climate Change (WMCCC) and as a member of the Covenant of Mayors to address climate protection, an initiative of the European Commission. Moreover, the City of Bonn supports numerous climate-protection projects and measures at the local level. We regularly give account in our municipal sustainability report.
In development circles, good governance is a key concern. What does that mean for city partnerships?
Good governance starts at local level. Towns and municipalities make up the administrative level that is closest to the citizens. Municipalities can be leaders in matters such as promoting transparency and public participation, for example. As the mayor of Bonn, the subject of public participation is particularly close to my heart. The idea of the participatory budget, a Brazilian invention, has been used in more and more German municipalities in recent years. That shows that we can learn from the South. At this point, I would like to express my appreciation to InWEnt’s Service Agency Communities in One World for its dedicated support and advice. They have helped local governments like us on the subject of participatory budgeting over the years. I consider meetings at eye level to be another strength of municipal cooperation. When mayors, administrators and citizens meet on equal footing, the result is greater acceptance, trust and reliability.
How do the citizens of Bonn support the partnerships?
There are close links between our partnerships and the citizens. For each partnership, we have a local association in Bonn to consolidate civic engagement. The citizens’ support for the partnerships is quite diverse and ranges from citizens’ trips and meetings to cultural events and public presentations to the execution of joint projects. In this way, the associations contribute to giving our partnerships a “face” and help bring the culture and traditions of the partner cities to life. Every year, for example, the German-Uzbek Society celebrates the traditional Navruz Festival in Bonn, which is attended by several hundred guests. A large number of schools in Bonn, moreover, maintain partnerships in our partner cities and make sure that those partnerships will carry on to the next generations.
Are migrants relevant?
Bonn is a multicultural city. People from more than 170 countries live in Bonn, and many of them are from developing countries. Many migrants support people in their home countries through development projects, by transferring money and know-how and by putting people in touch with one another. These people build bridges between industrialised and developing countries. They have developed skills which are important both for integration in their adopted cities as well as for exchange with countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. One World initiatives also perform an important function. Therefore, we want to involve migrants even more in our municipal development cooperation. Last year, the City of Bonn took part in a model project run by the Service Agency Communities in One World on intercultural capacity building in German municipalities. The aim was to promote cooperation between migrant organisations, One World initiatives and other relevant actors. We want to foster networking opportunities. That such networking is meaningful and useful is evident in the work of the partnership associations, in which a large number of people from our partner cities are actively involved.