It is very good to be back in Uganda and to meet up with so many old friends. I would like to thank our hosts, on behalf of myself, and I am sure everyone here, for their very generous hospitality. I am very conscious you have been There is no conflict between the needs of the urban poor and those living in rural areas. It is a big mistake to try to choose one or the other. listening to others talk for most of the day. I do not therefore intend to make a long speech. I am aware that there is a tradition – at least in the UK – of after-dinner speeches consisting of a string of jokes . I am afraid I do not intend to follow that tradition. I hope you will forgive me, if in the limited time available, I try to put a serious argument to you.

I strongly support the major thesis of this conference, that to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we need to go to where the poor are and to decentralise. But I wish to change the suggestion that has been made in some of the papers, and some of the speeches, that this means we must focus on rural areas. There is no conflict between the needs of the urban poor and those living in rural areas. It is a big mistake to try to choose one or the other. I will come back to this point.

So I believe in decentralisation – getting closer to where the poor are – and in including them in If we look back to the period when Europe urbanised and industrialised, there were slums, child labour, disease and squalor. But the poor got organised in trade unions and then in their demands for the vote. And it was these pressures that led to progress in the provision of sanitation and housing and decent conditions at work.decision-making, and in decisions on priorities. But I do not believe in local government for its own sake. Local government can be, like central government, corrupt, inefficient and captured by elites that serve very own interests. I am afraid this is a reality the whole world over.

So a campaign for local government does not get my blood racing; and I have never met people in need, in the UK or elsewhere in the world, demanding more local government. The issue that does get my blood racing, and is the reason for my involvement with the Cities Alliance and my presence at this conference, is the very rapid urbanisation of the poor. I believe that this is a massive challenge and opportunity that could lead to a big lift up for the poor and improved economic development in the poorer countries. I also believe that local government that rises to this challenge could be a major part of the solution to poverty.

If we look back to the period when Europe urbanised and industrialised, there were slums, child labour, disease and squalor. But the poor got organised in trade unions and then in their demands for the vote. And it was these pressures that led to progress in the provision of sanitation and housing and decent conditions at work. Progress was not achieved simply out of the goodness of the hearts of ruling elites, it was largely driven by fear of riot and disease. History never repeats itself exactly but I think there are major lessons to learn at a time of rapid urbanisation in the developing world from very similar experiences in Europe in the mid-19th century.

I would like to give you a few facts to underscore this argument:

  • For the first time in human history, humanity is half urbanised

  • Two billion new urban residents are expected in the next 20 years

  • Much of the growth will be in small- and medium-sized cities

  • Cities account for 70% of global GDP

  • No country has grown to middle-income status without industrialising and urbanising

  • It is estimated that one third of the urban population of developing countries is living in slums

  • Virtually the whole of the world’s population growth over the next 30 years will be concentrated in urban areas

  • Today 85% of new employment opportunities in developing countries come in the informal economy

  • Africa is currently less urbanised than elsewhere, but is now experiencing some of the highest urban growth rates in the world​

Please bear with me as I give you just a few more facts:

  • Half of humanity is under 25

  • 85% of the young live in developing countries, which means that the future of humanity is concentrated in developing countries

  • Young people are more likely to move from rural to urban areas – women make up 60 to 80% of the informal workforce

  • Women-headed households occupy the worst housing in terms of space, the availability of water and sanitation and security

  • Of the billion people designated as very poor in the world, over 750 million live in urban areas

So my conclusion is, poverty is urbanising, slums are growing and the people of the slums are some of the most vigorous, creative and entrepreneurial on earth. They carry great potential for economic development but all this potential could be wasted if the slums are left to become slums of despair dominated by disease, disorder, criminality and riot. Remember that in 1848 there were revolutions across Europe at a similar point in its history of urbanisation. And this was the time when Karl Marx wrote the Communist manifesto.

As I said earlier, I want to challenge the suggestion that is made in some of the papers circulated for the conference that to meet the MDGs, we must focus on rural areas. It is a very serious mistake to assume that there is a conflict between the interests of the poor living in rural areas and those living in slums. Urban development creates a market for rural production which improves incomes and encourages more efficient agriculture and improvements in productivity. The towns also provide a place where the landless can find work for themselves and improve their lives. And in practice there is great movement of people between the towns and rural areas, family members lived in both locations and help each other out. On every occasion when governments have focused on rural development in order to prevent urbanisation, they have failed and simply being rewarded with more slums. The truth is that if we can get the cities right, it will be good for the poor, good for economic development and good for the rural areas. In addition it is easier and cheaper to deliver services in urban areas be they health, education, renewable energy, transport systems and water and sanitation using the best modern technology.

The lessons Cities Alliance has learned over the last 10 years are that:

  • All attempts to stop and limit urban growth fail, no matter how brutal

  • Slum clearance, mass evictions and movement of the poor to the periphery, destroy livelihoods and create embittered populations

  • Insecurity of tenure prevents the poor from investing in their own housing

  • Lack of recognition of the rights of the urban poor lead to slums of despair with all the dangers and suffering that brings

  • Government investment without community backing tends to fail

  • Community projects without government involvement cannot get to the necessary scale

My conclusion is that this is the challenge for local government. It is only by working with the urban poor, in the locality, that the Poverty is urbanising, slums are growing and the people of the slums are some of the most vigorous, creative and entrepreneurial on earth. They carry great potential for economic development but all this potential could be wasted if the slums are left to become slums of despair dominated by disease, disorder, criminality and riot. necessary development can be undertaken. It is impossible to improve the life of slum dwellers, and unleash their contribution to economic development, without working with them. We need new partnerships between government, slum dwellers, the private sector, NGOs and donors underpinned by clear strategies for development in the urban areas.

To achieve properly managed terms and cities we need new town planning and urban management tools capable of responding to the local challenges. If local government can take the lead on this it will bring major benefits to all and earn a strong voice and position in the governance of the future.

I hope you will be persuaded to take up the challenge.

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