Bilal, S. 2015. Territorial development. GREAT Insights Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 4. June/July 2015.
Too often, development approaches adopt a specific thematic or sectoral focus. In doing so, they tend to abstract from the territorial dimension and localisation level of development. A more transversal approach, taking into account the various levels of interventions – supranational (global, continental, regional), cross-border, national and subnational (country’s regions and local, urban, rural) levels, is however necessary to better apprehend the transformation dynamics and development potentials at stake.
Africa is confronted by a number of challenges, but also opportunities, that require a greater attention to such territorial development and dynamics. A booming population, a still dominant agricultural sector and a rapid urbanisation process are some of the key features that have accompanied the strong economic growth performance of many African countries. In such a context, how can structural transformation strategies that are both inclusive and sustainable best be pursued? How can both the basic needs of a fast growing population (nutrition, health, education, housing, water & sanitation, access to energy, etc.) and preparation for the future be responded to? What infrastructures are needed? How can the rapid urbanisation process and concentration of population in a few mega-poles and areas be addressed? What are the linkages and development for rural areas?
These challenges also call for institutional and governance reforms and a better understanding of the underlying power and interesting dynamics at play. In this respect, particular attention has been placed on decentralisation processes and the national-local governance interplay. Development cooperation actors, and the European Commission in particular, have also traditionally supported such initiatives. But new approaches have been called for, putting greater emphasis on local development and ownership, the connection with national authorities, transparency and accountability, citizenship and public-private partnerships. Beyond such valuable principles and considerations on local management capacity and leadership, it is essential to account for the political economy forces that shape policies and their implementation, in territorial development as in other public policies. Best practice examples and technical remedies cannot suffice.
In an increasingly globalised world, where regional cooperation and integration initiatives abound, the local level is no longer insulated from international dynamics. Development strategies can often no longer be effectively conceived and implemented within national boundaries. Consider for instance migration flows, international trade flows and value chains, climate change, conflicts or health scares, which have impacts and development implications within and beyond national borders. A comprehensive approach to territorial development must thus go beyond the local, subnational level. Cross-border, regional and international interactions, formal and informal, have become an important part of development strategies and realities, in particular in Africa. Growth poles and development corridors, or the issues of land management and food security, are some examples.
Territorial approaches to development and spatial inclusion offer the opportunity to address the challenges and take advantage of the potential benefits from local and regional disparities and diversity. By adopting a multi-sector and multi-dimension approach to structural transformation, it can address place-based development challenges, adapted to specific contexts, while harnessing local resources and initiatives with national, regional and international ones. It also provides a way to better take account of and address income and poverty disparities within and between countries, and foster spatial inclusion.
This is no easy task. It calls for an integrated approach, requires strong cooperation and coordination (multi-actors and multi-levels), and thus fit-to-purpose intuitional and governance frameworks. Such processes can easily be derailed and captured by vested interests and some ruling elites. Most of all, it requires thinking politically.
Joining forces with the AfDB, OECD Development Centre and UNDP, who have just released the 2015 African Economic Outlook on Regional Development and Spatial Inclusion, we have gathered a number of insights on the multiple facets of territorial development, including an exclusive highlight of the must-read AEO2015.
Dr San Bilal (Editor), Head of Economic Transformation and Trade Programme, ECDPM
This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 4, Issue 4 (June/July 2015).