Who is Africa’s best mayor?

On the 6th of March, Africa’s best mayor was supposed to have been awarded the “President José Eduardo dos Santos” prize in the Angolan capital of Luanda during the first ever African Mayor Awards ceremony.

Created by The Global Network of United Cities and Local Governments-Africa (UCLG-A) with support of UN-Habitat, this award aims to honour and acknowledge the leadership and contribution of mayors of large, medium and small cities across Africa to their communities. In order to take home a trophy, a certificate and a cash prize, Africa’s best mayor has to represent “exemplary qualities in leadership and vision, innovative thinking, management capabilities and integrity, social awareness, foster economic growth and development, ability to provide security and to protect the environment as well as the will and ability to foster good relations between communities from different cultural and social backgrounds.”

However, the event did not take place and no “best mayor” was awarded. According to the African Mayor Awards’ fancy website, the ceremony will now take place on the 30th of April.

Two possible reasons come to mind to explain why the award for Africa’s best mayor was not handed out in March. Firstly, one might think that perhaps a suitable winner was not found. According to sources who were supposed to have been part of the event, no short list of candidates was circulated prior to the 6th of March. Admittedly, being a mayor of an African city is not an easy task, considering the governance challenges that come along with sustained urban growth. It has been for this reason that the Mo Ibrahim prize prize for achievement in African leadership has only been awarded three times since 2007. Yet, African mayors have shown to be able to perform well in the past. In 2008 Helen Zille took home the prize for the world’s best mayor, which was awarded by the World Mayor Project. Last year this prize was won by a Canadian mayor, but two African mayors featured in the final shortlist of 26 nominees: the mayor of Victoria, Seychelles and the mayor of Mangaung, the metropolitan municipality that governs the city of Bloemfontein, in South Africa.

A second reason for the award not being given could be related to the economic crisis that Angola has been suffering for the past months. In January, the government of this oil dependent nation was forced to make significant budget cuts after global oil prices plunged from about US$80 to US$40 per barrel. This may have put off private companies invited to the event, which was to be held in parallel to the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum (the first which was held in Cape Town in 2013). Official promotion material shows that the participation of private companies in the forum was subject to the payment of hefty prices. The government’s budget cuts may then have diminished companies’ prospects of landing big government contracts, causing them to pull out.

Whatever the reasons for the postponement, Angola remains an unlikely setting for the award of a prize to a mayor. Mayors in Angola have little space to develop their own leadership and vision, as they are appointed by provincial governors, who are in turn nominated by the President. Although municipal elections in Angola have been enshrined in the country’s constitution since 1992 they have never been held. Continuous postponements have led academics to question whether there is political will to decentralize and make local government more transparent and accountable. In his last State of the Nation address, the Angolan President himself suggested that it is unlikely that local elections will take place before the next legislative elections of 2017. Having Angola host the African Mayor Awards is then like a country hosting an international soccer tournament without having its own soccer team.

Despite the delay, and Angola’s questionable position as host for this event, the African Mayor Awards are now set to take place at the end of April. We may find out after all who is Africa’s best mayor.

 

Sylvia Croese holds a PhD in Sociology from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, where she is currently a post-doctoral research fellow. She has written and conducted extensive research in and on Angola as a researcher and consultant and has an interest in issues related to China-Africa relations, housing and urban development, local governance and electoral politics.

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