African intermediary cities as actors in urban migration governance. A blog mini-series by Janina Stürner-Siovitz (4)

Third post: How do African local authorities make use of transnational action to address the city-migration-governance paradox?

by Janina Stürner-Siovitz

It is important to highlight that at the time of writing, only few local authorities in Africa are directly engaging in questions of migration. Nevertheless, research shows that in the last years a growing number of African local authorities have started participating in transnational projects and networks that provide them with various opportunities:

First, cities share practical knowledge on responding to migration issues and closely related topics such as social cohesion, housing, water and waste management, youth engagement, economic development, etc. Municipal peer-exchange on good (and sometimes bad) practices is an important component of initiatives such as the Mediterranean City-to-City Migration (MC2CM) project, the African-European Mayors’ Dialogue on Growth and Solidarity, and the Inclusive Urban Development and Mobility project connecting intermediary cities in East Africa. As the outbreak of COVID-19 has reinforced local authorities’ need for practical information on local crisis management, city networks took the initiative to develop online formats for peer-exchange. For instance, the MC2CM project commissioned a study and organized a peer-learning webinar for city representatives from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea on migrant and refugee-sensitive COVID-19 crisis management. More broadly, UNHCR’s Office of the Special Envoy together with the Mixed Migration Centre in North Africa are collaborating on a study on city and local-level protection initiatives along the central and Mediterranean migration routes, following recommendations from its 2021 Roadmap for Advocacy, Policy Development, and Programming.

Second, cities set transnational municipal standards to strengthen the legitimacy of their calls for agency, funding, and partnerships. In the African context, the Charter of Local and Subnational Governments of Africa on Migration is a pertinent example of standard setting intended to harmonize local, national, and international action on migration for the benefit of migrants, refugees, and local populations. In the first part of the charter, signatory cities commit to respecting the rights of migrants and refugees, promoting social cohesion, and advocating at national levels for safe and regular migration channels. In the second part, cities take a clear stance against different practices of national migration management – looking specifically at Europe. Signatory cities reject policies that criminalize migration, criticize the conditioning of development cooperation on migration management, and emphasize that action to address root causes of migration should be planned in cooperation with local authorities and be in line with regional integration dynamics. So far, over 30 African local and regional authorities have signed the Charter. However, to implement municipal standards, local authorities need partners and funding.

Therefore, the third area of action focuses on advocacy and local pilot projects. During the GFMD-African Union Regional Consultations 2020, local authorities highlighted that poor national policy guidance, limited municipal capacities, and the lack of resources and (reliable) data strongly limited local authorities’ possibilities to address urban migration in proactive ways. City representatives therefore called for partnership approaches that would allow them to directly cooperate with humanitarian and development actors as well as improve access to technical support and funding. Similar calls were raised at the last Africities Summits, the flagship event of the city network United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa). Since 2015, the summit dedicates an entire day to discussions and workshops on migration. During the last two summits, city representatives used these fora proactively to engage in dialogues with national and international representatives. Questions of multi-stakeholder cooperation have also been raised by city representatives participating in September 2021 for the first time in the Rabat Process, a regional migration dialogue bringing together representatives from African and European governments. To demonstrate what local authorities can achieve with improved access to funding and partnerships, local authorities developed multi-stakeholder pilot projects on migration issues, for instance, in the framework of the Cities Alliance Cities and Migration program or within the MC2CM project.

Overall, local authorities willing to engage in questions of urban migration tend to face the greatest difficulties in contexts where national migration frameworks are absent or where national governments keep legal competencies on migration (and related issues such as housing, water/waste management, education, etc.) completely centralized without opportunities for local input. Therefore, city representatives strive to contribute to national and international migration policy processes, highlighting that “national and regional migration policies need to be designed in coordination with all stakeholders, including local and regional authorities.” On the occasion of the AU-EU summit on migration in 2015, African local authorities called upon national decision-makers to include them as rightful partners in the Africa-Europe political dialogue. At the Africities Summit in 2018, local authorities discussed municipal positions on the Global Compact for Migration, which was adopted by the United Nations in the same year. They highlighted that local authorities as migration frontline actors needed to play a role in pan-African as well as international negotiations. In the words of the Mayor of Freetown:

If we want to deal with migration issues effectively, the voice of cities must be heard on international platforms. At a time when more than 55 percent of the world’s population live in cities, governments and international frameworks cannot afford to make choices without consulting city leaders.

All four areas emphasize the need for multi-stakeholder action to address the city-migration-governance paradox. However, knowledge and cooperation gaps still remain between local, national, and international actors to effectively address mixed migration in African intermediary cities. Future research should therefore focus on opportunities, challenges, and risks of collaborative urban migration governance.

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