Working with our African Brothers and Sisters

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Councilors, Mayors, Officials and Partners working together in Morocco to improve the quality of local government throughout Africa

On Wednesday when I opened the two-day training programme for Mayors, Councillors and LGA reps in Morocco I said, “It’s a great privilege to be here again to work with my African brothers and sisters”. I then went on to say, “Of course it’s always polite to use such an expression but I really do mean it”.

As we worked long hours through those two days I really did know that I had meant it. I have nothing but admiration for those who work in local government in Africa and other places where such huge problems have to be met with so few financial and physical resources.

  • I listened to Mayors where 90% + of their roads are, what we would call, un-adopted, and how they struggle after violent storms to reshape roads so they are passable.
  • I heard them talk of schools which have to be used on a shift system where there are next to no resources or equipment (or sometimes roofs)
  • They maintain clinics where doctors and nurses battle for hours each day with a number of people that would overwhelm our services here.
  • I heard about the struggle to bring clean water and sewage services to make long journeys with buckets unnecessary.

But they were not cowed by their challenges and problems. They showed a huge mental resource and determination to find innovative and affordable solutions. They took pleasure from the things that they had achieved. Many of these achievements being where they are able to engage their communities in joint actions. Using small amounts of money with voluntary effort to build extra classrooms or clean and green waste areas.

They fight things which, by and large, we do not have to fight; the scourge of corruption, even worse levels of female participation in democratic elected life than our Country; and poverty on a scale in many places that we cannot even begin to fathom.

Some of the problems are common to us and indeed local and regional governments the world over. Central governments that refuse to decentralise; waste money on pet projects not the ones that meet the real needs of communities and laws which hinder appropriate local action.

It was a particular pleasure to meet people from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. That is, of course, because all those three countries now have sizeable numbers of their citizens who live and work in the Liverpool City Region. I was telling them how I did not need to travel to Africa for a Yam Festival, Chief Angus Chukemaga arranges one every year in our city. Although we do have to import the yams. I listened to their concerns about the number of medical staff from Kenya that have left their Country to work in places like the UK. That has left them desperately short of doctors and nurses themselves.

So, there are differences and they are in a worse situation than we are in many ways given the shortage of resources but essentially they are doing the same job as we do. Looking for the long-term future of their area with appropriate development and employment creation whilst getting the bins emptied and the street lights working.

So, the training programme was to help them develop their own version of what do so successfully in the UK. Provide mutual support through peer review and peer support programmes. Actions where councils and their Mayors; councillors and officers learn from the best in the business and where the best in the business provide practical support where they possibly can.

But I think we could do more than that. I believe that other UK councils should follow the lead of Liverpool where through the Liverpool Commonwealth Association some African countries have begun to work with us to the mutual advantage of both ends of the relationship. There is a lot we can learn from each other. Their ingenuity can well spark off innovative ideas of how to deal with our own similar problems. We can find ways to provide distance learning programmes which help in the professional development or our staff. We can create relationships between diaspora communities to further trade; educational and cultural links.

Above all DFID could do more to help. We have a sizeable aid budget but I question how well it is used. By and large DFID engages with national governments. By the time UK aid money gets to the front line there is often not too much left! If they engaged with some of their work through the Local Government Association as do the national governments of Countries like Canada; Sweden and Holland our aid £ would go much further.

You may well wonder what the point of this blog is (you might often wonder that!). It has two aims:

  1. To remind councillors and their staff in local government in the UK and elsewhere that we are part of a worldwide movement which does make real differences to people’s lives; and

 

  1. To publicly pay tribute to all those who give up their lives to provide a public service as a councillor Mayor. Nowhere is it easy; nowhere is it personally profitable; nowhere can we meet all the challenges we face or do all that we would like to solve them.

So, when the couch potatoes sneer at us they should realise what we give up to serve. We should remember that political differences whilst being part of our life should not be all of it. Together we serve the people of the World well. I pay tribute to my fellow local government politicians wherever they are for the work they do every day to make lives better for their communities.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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