The multi-level internationalisation of Johannesburg

Cities’ power at the international level lies in their capacity to influence the production of norms and urban practices. Urban strategies appear to be increasingly linked to geopolitical concerns, as pointed out in a recent article published by Elisabeth Peyroux, studying the case of Johannesburg.

City-to-City networks have been the keystone of Johannesburg’s international strategy in the last 30 years. Yet, if those were during the 1990s and 2000s mostly inscribed in a context of international solidarity to promote the newly democratic South Africa, they have incrementally become a management tool to promote Johannesburg’s international strategy.

Johannesburg progressively emancipated itself from the central government and developed its own international strategy: principally via its Central Strategy Unit (CSU), and through its marketing platform known as Jike (Johannesburg Innovation and Knowledge Exchange). It managed to maintain its municipal autonomy, despite the Municipal International Relations Policy Framework adopted in 1999 by the central government, and upon which most of the city’s international strategy is also inspired.

The evolution of Johannesburg’s strategy is actually not very different from other large metropolitan areas; neither are the activities that serve to enforce its internationalisation, like city to city networks. Rather, Johannesburg’s singularity is probably to be found in its capacity to play on different scales of governance, and to link its city agenda to geopolitical concerns.

According to Peyroux, this internationalisation is happening on three scales: in the African Continent, in the BRICs and the Global South, and the international scale.

Johannesburg first consolidated its leadership on the African continent, playing a central role in regional integration under the impulse of the NEPAD. Further than mere technological transfers, Johannesburg has even mentored some cities like Lilongwe in the development of its metropolitan strategy.

Johannesburg has also benefited from new partnerships with BRICs countries over specific matters: ICT with China, housing with Brazil, and even textiles with India. Johannesburg has thus positioned itself as a catalyst of South-South city relations, more importantly as means allocated to North-South partnerships have been reducing since the 2008 crisis.

Last but not least, Johannesburg also plays a role on the global stage through city networks like C40 or Metropolis. It won award for its Green Bonds initiative from C40 Cities at COP21 in Paris.

In times when more and more global issues are formulated as urban questions (Lungkvist, 2014), Johannesburg therefore demonstrates its ability to insert into new platforms of global governance, where cities have an increasing role to play, as well as its ability to “re-size” global questions — such as climate change — in the pursuit of its internationalisation.

Article [in french] available from Echo Géo, Vol. 36, June 2016 [open access]

Photo: Roger Gordon


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher EchoGeo
Author(s) Elisabeth Peyroux
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