During the World Bank’s 2022 Fragility Forum, the Strong Cities Network’s Executive Director, Eric Rosand, had the opportunity to converse with three local leaders and explore the important role that mayors and the cities they lead can play in helping to strengthen democratic values, build community trust and social cohesion, and respond to the needs of their citizens.
Here, we have included ten key takeaways from this event, which spoke to the many challenges present in this endeavour, the leading role cities are playing, and the possible solutions they may offer others. A recording of the session, together with other Fragility Forum sessions, is available to watch in full on online here.
Mohamed El-Seoudi, Mayor of Saida, Lebanon
Munira Hamisi, Director for CVE and Community Engagement, Governor’s Office, Mombasa, Kenya
Balaba Funny Kanojerera, Deputy Mayor of Blantyre, Malawi
1. Ensure locally-led approach to identify the local drivers of extremism, hate and polarisation. Conducting local mapping is an essential first step to addressing root causes of these challenges and to understanding other issues of priority concern to cities and their communities. This can be done through the application of technology and data tools as in the case of Blantyre (Malawi) or through county engagement forums as in the case of Mombasa (Kenya), in which practitioners from sectors across a particular county or region meet on a regular basis to share information, challenges and approaches, and liaise with local and national security forces; or through local prevention networks as in the case of Saida (Lebanon), local coordination mechanisms that work alongside local communities to build social cohesion and targeted responses to concerns of violent extremism. This effort can be bolstered by horizontal coordination mechanisms to ensure continual and bilateral flow of information and experiences with other districts and municipalities.
2. Utilise available networks and resources. Local mapping can also be used to identify and understand the various civil society, law enforcement, psychosocial, community and other networks, entities and initiatives accessible in a particular municipality. While a basic step, this is one of the most important to building a “whole-of-society” response to local threats, and cities need to be able to leverage and support their existing resources and networks to achieve this. In the case of Saida, they successfully used existing networks of hospitals and healthcare providers to coordinate the city’s COVID-19 vaccinations, using weekly meetings and information-sharing mechanisms to coordinate responses and prioritise districts and neighbourhoods as needed.
3. Security sector reform is critical, and a necessary first step to rebuilding bridges between communities and local government. In many parts of the world, the security services, which are often controlled by the national government, are a prime source of dissatisfaction among local populaces and a push factor to joining or otherwise supporting violent extremist groups. National police and armed forces are among the most frequent violators of human rights through the unlawful use of arrests and detaining, and in the more extreme cases torture and murder. The use of force has been used politically to intimidate opponents, target religious minorities, and crack down on crime, but the means by which this has been achieved has often alienated communities. Mombasa’s Peace Committee offers one possible solution which by facilitating good working relations between the police and local communities was able to organise a gun amnesty and establish a youth reform programme.
4. Address basic needs as a priority. Unless basic needs of citizens, such as food, housing, sanitation and economic stability, are met, armed and violent extremist groups will continue to exploit these openings and use them in their propaganda and recruitment drives. They also present a strong push factor present for people to engage with, join or otherwise support armed and violent extremist groups, who often present themselves in direct opposition to local or national authorities as communities which look out for the needs of the poor, oppressed and marginalised. Through a World Bank-funded programme Mombasa County was able to provide support to vital fishing communities which provide economic stability and income to the county.
5. Support local businesses. Local businesses are the lifeblood of a city, and with the right support, can become firmly established and grow to help support local institutions through charitable arms and helping the local economy to develop. Blantyre for instance, has worked through a national Economic Empowerment Fund to sponsor young entrepreneurs and help them develop businesses.
6. Engage marginalised and minority groups and ensure that all groups or communities are able to participate in the political sphere including youth and women. Incorporating these groups from the beginning as part of reform and local action plans can go a long way to making people feel included, represented and heard, which in turn will help create a feedback loop of accountability and inclusion that will only strengthen social cohesion and prevention efforts.
7. Build good relations with and solicit support from national government. Developing the necessary ties and coordination mechanisms with national government can greatly strengthen local prevention efforts by ensuring they are embedded within a broader system of coordination between service providers, security, and healthcare; that national government are sufficiently informed of the needs and challenges facing local communities; that lessons learned are implemented beyond the particular local context; and that financial, administrative and logistical aid reaches the local level. Although it should be the responsibility of the national government to facilitate this relationship, a willingness on the part of local government to engage with its national counterpart and define its own role within the local prevention landscape may help to kindle and strengthen this relationship.
8. Develop a local action plan. A local action plan should ideally be produced in conversation with their national counterparts, complementing their aspects so the two communicate and dovetail. The numerous County Action Plans across Kenya, are good examples of this. It should also be noted that, while those involved in developing national action plans should consult with and incorporate local perspectives to ensure they are adequately represented, local authorities should not necessarily to wait on this to develop their own action plans.
9. Review programmes and policies regularly. Political and economic climates and threat environments can change rapidly and action plans, whether local or national, should adapt and respond to changing landscapes as necessary. For example, Mombasa’s County Action Plan has been reviewed and amended since it was implemented in 2017, and is due to be reviewed again at the end of its five-year implementation plan. To aid in this monitoring and evaluation phase, it is recommended that an external party conducts a professional audit to ensure strengths and shortcomings are accurately and impartially reflected.
10. More collaboration is needed. This applies at every level, from local through to national and international cooperation. In Saida, and other municipalities in Lebanon, due in part to the failings of the national government, the local government has been establishing and strengthening links with civil society and community groups to act as basic service providers to communities for several years now. In Kenya, the Strong Cities Network (SCN) has organised workshops to allow lessons learned from designing and implementing county action plans since 2017 to be shared among local authorities, while teams from Tanzania, Zanzibar and Somalia have come to learn from the Kenyan approach. Internationally, the SCN, with support from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and The Netherlands, have helped organise bilateral exchanges between cities from different countries, including Mombasa and Kristiansand in Norway, and between Jordanian, Lebanese and Dutch municipalities. The challenges of extremism and polarisation affect the world, not only the countries they originate from.