Together with 21 other municipalities, Falun has received funding to develop and strengthen local democracy through development cooperation.
The overall aim of these ICLD projects is to develop local democracy and reduce poverty. Health care and local governance, as well as culture, education and the environment and climate issues, are the most common areas of cooperation.
Falun has been cooperating with Tsumeb since 2008, when the then mayor of Tsumeb, inspired by the Swedish municipality’s successful partnership with Kimberley in South Africa, got in touch.
It started with educational cooperation.
“There was an established cooperation project between the upper-secondary school in Falun and a school in Tsumeb which had been working well since 2000. That cooperation is still partly in place, through annual Model United Nations exercises that Tsumeb takes part in”, says Linda Varga.
Falun and Tsumeb have now received funding to conduct a study that will form the basis for cooperation on urban planning.
Is urban development a democratic issue?
“Yes, generating participation by municipal residents about how a city or municipality should develop both physically and socially is very much a democratic issue. It’s also about taking account of the needs of different citizens. Who are we developing the city for? How do we meet the needs of children? Security, accessibility and new methods of citizen dialogue are important in creating trust in the municipality among the general public.”
“Both Falun and Tsumeb are experiencing rapid growth, in the case of Tsumeb both officially and unofficially, and this needs to be taken into account.”
The preliminary study hasn’t started yet, so there are no results to analyse, but Linda Varga is taking an ongoing project, ‘Participation and Voice’, as an example of the cities’ many similarities:
“During the preliminary study it was very clear that we have the same problems, but different strengths. These include the challenges of the exclusion of young people and xenophobia.” According to Linda Varga, what makes this work exciting and unique is that the municipalities’ structures have different strengths.
“In Falun and Sweden, we have extensive measures in place and a safety net for young people. Specialist youth support, internships, apprenticeships, and municipal adult education are examples of structures to reduce exclusion. In Tsumeb there is no public employment service, no developed social services and other structures. Despite this, there is enthusiasm, dynamism and a will among young people that we can definitely learn from and should aim to emulate.”
Key to the project are different ways of increasing participation in local decision-making processes, as well as finding forms for greater influence over important issues.
“There are no quick solutions. I’ve been involved in this project for 4.5 years and am still learning lots every time I’m there and every time they visit here. It will require lots of participants pulling in the same direction for us to succeed.”
There is a decentralisation process underway in Namibia, which will take time and will need to be adapted to local conditions. The process in Tsumeb has in part moved on to social networks, with the local council increasingly communicating with young people using the app WhatsApp.
“They’ve missed out the stage of having desktop computers and are using smartphones. In this respect, we’ve got lots to learn about dialogue with young people,” says Linda Varga.
Young people in Falun and Tsumeb are currently working on establishing joint social media channels. The hashtag #Copperheartsandminds is intended to be used to share one another’s everyday issues and challenges.
“It’s a good way to involve and inspire one another and help one another develop,” says Varga.
How does the work function in practice when you meet with Tsumeb?
“I visit Tsumeb once a year as the steering group’s coordinator and project manager. The group in Tsumeb comes here once a year, and were here most recently in March. The money we receive from the ICLD mainly funds the travel that’s involved. The different individual projects plan the travel themselves, but the project groups usually consist of four to five people traveling to one another once or twice a year.”
Democracy and urban planning are an important issue in Falun and Tsumeb. Both cities’ have an interesting case for examining and further developing the links between democracy and urban planning in a future project.
What are your expectations of the study and the subsequent project work?
“I hope the preliminary study can find shared challenges that we can work on so we can identify relevant issues in each municipality and take inspiration from one another’s strengths. Where we live is important to people.”