by Kizito Sikuka
One of the success stories of the contemporary Chinese socio-economic transformation is its local administrative system which gives local governments some autonomy to take charge of their development agenda.
Each local government in China is expected to take a central and active role in developing its own economy.
For example, towns and cities are given greater authority to control certain public services such as land and credit allocation since local governments are the closest to the people.
This system has created “positive” competition among Chinese towns to outperform each other economically – ultimately – transforming local governments from mere agents who carry out the objectives of central government to being major economic actors in their own right.
In fact, this approach has ensured that development is incremental as it starts at the local level and grows to other parts of the country.
Once the towns reach certain levels of development, they are expected to assist the less developed cities to also attain economic growth.
The situation is slight different in most African countries where local governments due to various challenges seem to play a secondary role in developing their economies.
Cognisant of the important role of local administrative systems in promoting sustainable development, China and Africa have identified local government as a priority development area in their strategic partnership.
According to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018) adopted by the summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2015, China and Africa agreed to work together in strengthening the capacity of local governments to contribute towards socio-economic growth.
“The two sides (China and Africa) will promote exchanges and cooperation between local governments, and support the establishment of more sister provinces/cities relationships, as well as the institutionalization of the China-Africa Forum on Cooperation between Local Governments,” reads part of the FOCAC Johannesburg Action Plan.
Significant progress has been made to promote cooperation between Chinese and African local governments, particularly in twinning of provinces and cities.
Africa has a lot to benefit from these twinning arrangement as Chinese towns have clearly demonstrated that they can actively contribute towards sustainable development.
Twinning of towns provides a number of opportunities including trade and tourism, as well as the exchange of information and expertise in urban planning, architecture, municipal improvements, transport, communications and urban governance and culture.
Collaborating between towns also has the capacity to create strategies that are geared towards promoting sustainable development and addressing urban poverty.
Furthermore, the establishment of twinning arrangements between some of the leading industrial parks in China and African cities with industrial aspirations would help to accelerate the industrialization agenda of the continent.
Industrialization is at the top agenda of most African countries including those from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who want to transform their economies from predominately based on trade in primary products to trade in manufactures.
In this regard, twinning with Chinese towns that have industrialized their economies would attract the necessary investment needed to transform African cities into manufacturing centres.
In Zimbabwe, the city of Harare has entered into a twinning arrangement with Guangzhou city, regarded as the regional centre and communication hub of China, which has a similar arrangement with the city of Durban in South Africa.
In addition, Harare province has a twinning arrangement with Zhejiang province, also in southern China.
The city of Gaborone in Botswana is also twinned with Zhejiang Province, while a number of other cities in Africa have also twinned with various Chinese towns.
It is critical for local governments in Africa to take advantages of these twining opportunities to improve service delivery, as local governments are important pillars of governance in the provision of basic services such as roads, water, sanitation and housing.
China has proved that local governments have a role to play in promoting sustainable development, hence Africa should learn from the Chinese experience.
Most important, China has shown commitment in assisting Africa to develop its economy.
To further cement relations and promote cooperation between Chinese and African local governments, the two sides have established the China-Africa Forum on Cooperation between Local Governments.
The Forum was established in August 2012 within the frameworks of FOCAC. Since its inception, the forum has met twice with the last meeting held in Beijing, China in 2015.
At the last meeting, the forum agreed to continue working together in sharing experiences of development, as well as strengthen cooperation in infrastructure development, trade, investment, and agriculture and people-to-people exchanges.
China and Africa share a longstanding relationship. Increased China-Africa cooperation in the last few decades has opened up a new window of collaboration and partnership, boosting trade better the continent and the Asian nation.
The latest figures indicate that trade between the two had reached US$220 billion in 2014 while China’s direct investment in Africa topped US$30 billion in the same year. sardc.net