It is my delight to welcome you all to Abuja as we gather together at this all important regional meeting in preparation for the 3rd United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, the HABITAT III Conference. Even though I am inclined to single out my fellow Ministers from across Africa for special recognition, I must add that I am particularly encouraged with the impressive turnout of all categories of delegates to this conference. Indeed, I consider your enthusiastic response to our invitation as further testimony of growing goodwill and resurging confidence in the current administration in Nigeria, under the dynamic leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.
2 Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is in recognition of the daunting challenges and implications of human settlements planning and development worldwide that the United Nations General Assembly instituted in 1976, a bi-decennial cycle of Conferences to re-direct fresh attention towards sustainable urbanization and to device common agenda for managing the urban phenomenon. Today, we are at the tail end of implementation of the Habitat Agenda fashioned at the second Habitat Conference of 1996, and are at the threshold of evolving a New Urban Agenda for Habitat III Conference in October 2016, which is eight months away.
- Each cycle of HABITAT Conference seeks to establish a unique set of actions that would tangibly promote sustainable urbanization amongst all nations as well as regions across the world and whose implementation would be binding on all. As a matter of necessity therefore, every fresh agenda is comprehensively discussed and negotiated through well defined process of broad-based stakeholder engagements at different levels. Specifically, this process includes three main Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) Meetings which are further complemented by multi-level reporting, presentation of issue/policy papers as well as thematic and regional meetings. Under the coordination of the HABITAT Secretariat, the ultimate goal of the process is to maximize participation, attract intergovernmental consensuses and garner all viewpoints critical to deepen the principles and tools embedded in every fresh agenda for sustainable urbanization.
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we have in the scheme of actions arrived at the Regional Meeting for the Africa. As we engage ourselves, our goal should be to clearly define and infuse unique peculiarities and distinct settlements development challenges of Africa in the New Urban Agenda being fashioned for the entire world.
- Distinguished Delegates, the schedules of preparatory activities towards the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador is in full swing and the African Region has a unique priviledge of concluding its regional conference ahead of Europe (to be held in Prague, Czech Republic in March} as well as Latin America and the Caribbeans (scheduled for Toluca, Mexico in April 2016). I surmise that this schedule impose on us delegates the onerous burden of ensuring smooth, conclusive and mature negotiations at this Conference such that we can provide positive recommendations to successive regional conferences. I anticipate, in consonance with the expectations of UN HABITAT, that our regional conference would produce far reaching policy recommendations and a clear-cut set of declarations that would enrich the New Urban Agenda and bring visible profit to Africa.
- The signs of a Renaissance in the African response to the urbanisation challenge and the opportunities inherent in them for inclusion, sustainability, and unprecedented growth were clearly visible at the meeting of African Union Ministers of Housing and Urban Development, declared open by my brother, the Honourable Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing in Nigeria, Hon. Baba Shehuri , and chaired by my brother, Mbogo Ngbabo Seli from Chad yesterday.
The contributions by Ministers from across Africa were not only lively but their unanimity of purpose was heart warming and inspiring.
- As we engage ourselves in this Conference therefore, one of the goals which should be clear in our minds is to utilise our commonality of purpose to define the unique peculiarities of human settlements’ development challenges of Africa and infuse same in the New Urban Agenda being fashioned for the world.
- Beyond this Regional Conference and eventual finalization of the New Urban Agenda at the forthcoming global Conference in Ecuador; I will like us all to remain fully focused on the universal set of objectives which we must continue to pursue.
- The theme of these important deliberations is “Africa’s Priorities for the New Urban Agenda” and the aim is to chart a clear path towards a sustainable urban future for Africa and Africans. From the onset I want to be clear – For all our cities and towns to be places of opportunity and prosperity – to be crucibles for change – we need to first chart the course ourselves.
- Indeed no city can grow properly without robust infrastructure solutions. Without good roads and bridges, affordable housing and decent schools. Without constant electricity, clean water and clever town planning. We must therefore see the utilisation of infrastructure as critical tools of containment on one hand, and management on the other hand as we deal with the realities of decades of urbanisation and its challenges.
- It is the responsibility of the Ministry that l superintend to develop some of the critical infrastructure that are needed to support our growth in collaboration with my colleagues in other Ministries. But it is not enough to talk. We have talked enough. The time to start making decisions has since come upon us. First we must define what quality and standard of life we want for ourselves. We must set those standards. Nobody can do that for us.
12 . There are universal minimum standards for things like road traffic and healthcare, which we should embrace, but we as Africans, need to consider how we define the maximum standards achievable – not minimum. Africa must reach for the best the world has to offer.
- One consideration I would very strongly urge upon this gathering if we must deal with urbanization decisively and sustainably, is a RESOLUTION to SLOW it DOWN, and I will explain.
- One of the key solutions to creating sustainable cities and urban areas should happen hundreds of miles away from the city in the rural areas. We need to see Agriculture and farming as tools for sustainable urbanisation – essential for cities and towns to evolve properly. After all, it’s the people in rural area that will produce the food that the people in the city will eat. Rural areas need to be supported. Our farmers need to be encouraged and supported to stay and grow food, employ local people, and provide food security for all. The best investment in public goods, including public health, education and infrastructure has traditionally been around the cities and the big towns. Let’s take a closer look at that, and turn it around.
- Our President has left no one in doubt about this Government’s commitment to Agriculture, not only to diversify our economy but to take the real economy to those who have struggled on the margins of our society and headed for the urban centres.
- Yes, a focus on agriculture can have a direct impact on the flow of people into cities already buckling under the strain of ever-squeezed resources.
17 . Before I conclude, permit me to dwell on the word ‘safe’ in Sustainable Development Goal 11 calls which calls for all of us to work to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. I do so with regard to the related issues of inclusion and Gender. There’s an inherent narrative we have – not just here in Africa but the world over – which infers women need to be protected because they are weak and vulnerable. I think this does a disservice to half our population. Women are strong. It’s not women who are inherently vulnerable or weak. It’s unsafe environments that breed vulnerability. Not just for women and children but for all of us. So we need to work towards creating environments that are safe, where opportunities exist for all.
- So in closing I’d like to finally call on all of us as Africans to use the opportunity to work more closely together. African cities are our cities, so it’s up to us to lead the way in defining the future for them. Let us seize this moment to share ideas and experiences with ourselves and with our friends from outside the continent. No progress happens in a vacuum so we all need the support of the international community in our quest for development. As Africans we MUST work together to understand our common challenges so that we can better collaborate with our partners from around the world.
- As we seek the support of the International community, it seems that there can be no better forum to speak about the need to reinforce, support and increase the capacity of the UN-Habitat as an institution that provides technical support to all of us, to develop in the way we have chosen rather than in the way that is chosen for us.
- Once again I warmly welcome you all to Abuja and look forward to our next few days together. I will now invite Mr. President to deliver his charge and declare this conference OPEN.
Being the Address Of Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN Minister of Power, Works and Housing at the 3rd United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, the HABITAT III Conference in Abuja