With over 36,000 participants from 167 countries, and high levels of security given the presence of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, and other global leaders, the start of Habitat III was always going to be a little chaotic. Umbrella sellers did a brisk business as participants queued for hours in the hot Ecuadorian sun to register for the conference. In the end the detailed preparation, the large teams of enthusiastic young volunteers and the warm welcome from the city and people of Quito meant that the conference was a great success.
The month of September 2016 saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosting the fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund for HIV, TB and Malaria, in Montreal Canada. It appears to have been a clever choice for a host. Under his leadership and influence a record $12.9 billion was raised in the effort to further resource the eradication of the three diseases by 2030. Commonwealth countries were amongst those who responded generously to the global need.
There is an old joke that “in democracy it is your vote that counts, but in feudalism it is your count that votes!” Today, on the International Day of Democracy, we need to remember that the transition from feudalistic and other non-participatory forms of governance to democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Commonwealth. Women in the UK were granted the right to vote in 1928, and young people aged 18-21 years only in 1969. In many of our Commonwealth nations, democratic systems were only established in the 1960s. In my own country, South Africa, where I grew up witnessing the hardship and suffering of people within an unjust system, a fully democratic state was only created in 1994.
Having adequate resources and capacity is critical for local government to deliver local needs and priorities whilst cultivating its role in helping to respond to national, regional and global targets – including the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the reality is that very often local government is inadequately funded and lacks the capacity not only to deliver services efficiently but also to respond to these ‘unfunded mandates’ as a community leader and driver of development locally.