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Local government

“Sharing experiences helps get things right”

by Götz Nagel
Several municipal governments engage in development cooperation. Such activities are not shaped by ministerial guidelines. Rather, they are driven by personal commitment. InWEnt contributes to the success of grassroots initiatives. [ Interview with Götz Nagel ]

Development activities by towns and municipalities have increased considerably in the past years. Why is that so?
The tsunami in December 2004 provoked an unprecedented level of concern. Many Germans know Thailand or Sri Lanka personally, they have spent vacations there. The huge number of casualties and the extensive damage affected them in a more personal way than reports of famine in the Sahel, for example, ever did. Many Germans wanted to do something – and towns and municipalities are, after all, the administrative level closest to the citizens. As a side effect of this global disaster, municipal development cooperation gained new momentum after a first major take-off in 1992.

You are referring to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the Local Agendas 21, I guess.
Right; that was when awareness was raised of the need to bring economic development, environmental protection and social security into line. Ever since, the international community has been using the term “sustainability”, which is about future generations being entitled to living conditions that are at least as good as those we have today. In this context, the UN’s Local Agenda 21 was important because it aims at making sustainability happen at the local level. Many towns and municipalities drafted local agendas, which met with a great response from the people. Interest in partnerships with municipalities in Africa, Asia and Latin American grew too. Debates about the pros and cons of globalisation were another contributing factor. Today, many people are familiar with the motto “think globally, act locally”.

But do municipal partnerships really serve development?
Yes, they do, but you must not confuse this kind of partnership with run-of-the-mill official development assistance. Municipal partnerships are typically kept alive by the personal commitment of individuals whose enthusiasm inspires others. Take as an example Lauingen, a small town in Bavaria. The former mayor was a political maverick who, on his own initiative, sought contact with Lagos, Nigeria’s business capital. In the context of an Agenda partnership, partners from Lagos asked Lauingen to assist their waste disposal by means of the transfer of environmental technology and expertise. As a result, employees of Lago`s city council were sent to Lauingen for a stint in municipal waste disposal. InWEnt supported that measure, by the way.

And the results can really be measured?
Absolutely, success is seen in a number of indicators. Lagos has set up a department for waste disposal and recycling. Early this year, the city held an international conference on climate protection in which experts from that department were involved. Business ties have materialised – including with a Bavarian waste-water company. The former guests, moreover, are still in touch with their former hosts in Lauingen, both on a personal and professional basis. Moreover, the municipal cooperation has led to a higher-level partnership between the States of Bavaria and Lagos.

I imagine that local council-members in Germany like to be seen with the biggest partners possible. They are probably more interested in twinning with Lagos, Dhaka or Rio than with Kano, Chittagong or Manaus, for instance. But the smaller cities actually deserve more attention because they often grow at a quicker rate, and the living conditions are even tougher than in the megacities.
Yes, there is this kind of megacity appeal. And on top of that, you must consider the logistical advantages of megacities, in terms of international airports and hotels, for instance. We must not expect too much spirit of adventure from those who bear local-level responsibility in Germany. On the other hand, your question also points to the role of our federal states in international cooperation. Partnerships of German states with regional governments overseas often result in ties between mid-sized and small communities, and such ties bypass the major metropolitan agglomerations.

Please give an example.
The partnership that connects North Rhine-Westphalia with Mpumalanga, a province in South Africa, for example, is very fruitful. Local contacts and initiatives were fast established in its context.

What role does the Service Agency Communities in One World, which
InWEnt operates on behalf of the German government, play?

The Service Agency informs, advises and networks local actors from politics, ad­ministrations and civil society who want to become engaged internationally. To a considerable extent, it also provides interested parties with further training, for instance, by helping to organise events or giving advice on sources of funding. There is an enormous level of interest, and you can tell it is genuine when you consider that access to the Service Agency is made possible through the umbrella organisations of Germany’s municipal governments. Moreover, we are currently noticing that the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa is beginning to make itself felt. South Africans are quite interested in how things worked out when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006. And German sports enthusiasts, as I’m sure you can imagine, are only too happy to discuss these matters.

In what sense is a huge sports event relevant to development?
One must look beyond the event itself. Such a major event requires a great deal of effort and provides opportunities to re-think many matters. Questions arise, for instance, when new stadiums and transport facilities are built. Among others, they include:
– what materials should be used,
– how much water will be consumed,
– how can we reduce short-term construction costs and long-term operating costs, and
– what will happen with refuse and waste water?
Sharing experiences with municipalities that have hosted similar events helps to get things right. And the German side benefits too. After all, international exposure is an important advantage these days. And in terms of intercultural management, South Africa is actually ahead of us. The “Rainbow Nation” is made up of many different ethnic groups. In addition, many migrant workers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other places are pouring into the country.

Can you rank how adept Germany’s various federal states are in terms of developmental activities?
It is certainly no coincidence that the two largest federal states, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, are especially active. Furthermore, the States of Hamburg and Bremen are quite ambitious, which is certainly due to their large ports. These cities have always been in touch with partners from overseas.

InWEnt has a Regional Centre in every German state. Is that how you spurn regional governments in the right direction?
(Laughs.) No, the federal states have to draft their policies themselves. But it is true that our Regional Centres support the regional governments with advice and practical support. They offer access to the entire spectrum of our professional ex­pertise and our diversified networks in the business sector or among our alumni, for instance. The partners at the state level focus primarily on trade, rather than on narrowly-defined development cooperation. However, cooperation in higher education can also be quite exciting. For example, our Regional Centre in Baden-Württemberg is currently coordinating a cooperation project with Malaysia. It is about engineering and science. The German Development Ministry is not involved at all.

So who funds these activities?
The Malaysian government does. Every year, it sends up to 50 students who earn a degree after a full course of studies. Interestingly, the women’s share of 30 % is quite high. Malaysia is a Muslim country, and an emerging economy as well. They urgently need competent staff. This programme does not make headline news, but I am sure that the long-term impact will be considerable.

In what way?
In many ways: politically, culturally, mentally, economically ... In Baden-Württemberg, female students from Malaysia experience how our universities practice democratic participation. At first, the students find this approach strange, they are used to more authoritarian styles of leadership. But then they begin to reflect and reassess things. That is something we always strive for at InWEnt: we do not impose our will on our partners; we offer them new, unfamiliar perspectives – and most often, we manage to convince them of something new.

Questions by Hans Dembowski.