This year, the Commune of Maroua I in Cameroon conducted a voluntary local review on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the wake of the country’s voluntary national review 2022.
Created in April 2007, the Commune of Maroua I is one of the three boroughs of the city of Maroua in the north of Cameroon. It covers an area of 660 square kilometres and has more than 200,000 inhabitants belonging to various ethnic groups such as Peulhs, Guiziga and Mofou.
The purpose of Maroua’s voluntary local review (VLR) was to determine how and to what extent the SDGs are taken into consideration by the commune, as well as their level of implementation. The VLR was also intended to verify that the development vision of the commune’s authorities corresponded to the aspirations of the population and that it was implemented through a participatory planning approach in the expansion of local public policies. It was also a learning process of how available data collection tools could be used by the commune to inform the disaggregated indicators of the SDGs.
To determine these factors, the commune focused its assessment on four SDGs (SDG 2: hunger, SDG 3: health, SDG 4: education and SDG 10: reduced inequalities). These goals were chosen because they could best highlight the focus on the interventions in relation to the multidimensional vulnerabilities that can be observed in its area of competence.
DTAs: decentralised territorial authorities
DTCs: decentralised territorial communities
NDS: national development strategies
SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals
UNDP: United Nations Development Programme
VNR: voluntary national review
VLR: voluntary local review
The implementation of the SDGs at the local level
Elaborated in 2017, the national contextualisation and prioritisation document of the Sustainable Development Goals is the reference tool that has marked out the contours of the implementation of the SDGs in Cameroon.
The decentralised territorial communities (DTCs) – a category to which the commune of Maroua I belongs – are among the main actors identified in this document to drive forward the implementation of the SDGs. The DTCs will play a major role in the structural transformation of the country, which was reaffirmed in the National Development Strategy 2020-2030 (NDS30).
One of the key considerations for the implementation of the NDS30 is to increase the share of resources transferred to the DTCs to at least 15 per cent of state revenue; this involves the responsibility of transferring investment operations and accelerating the establishment of the local civil service. In addition, to improve public policies, the NDS30 encourages DTCs to develop an efficient statistical system with regional and local networking. In this sense, it will be a question of developing a system for the transmission and sharing of information from the decentralised territorial authorities (DTAs).
Overall, the objectives of the NDS30 are aligned with the SDGs. The priority objective aimed at reducing poverty and underemployment contributes to the achievement of the four SDGs selected by the Commune of Maroua I. The sectoral objectives in the health and education sectors also contribute to the achievement of SDGs 2, 3 and 4.
Law N°2019/024 of 24 December 2019 on the General Code of Decentralised Territorial Authorities gives a clear role for DTCs in the achievement of the SDGs. The code specifies in article 147 that “the commune… has a general mission of local development and improvement of the living environment and conditions of its inhabitants.” It is in this sense that 63 competencies have been transferred to the communes, including economic development, the environment and the management of natural resources, land use planning and development, urban planning and housing, health and social development, and educational, sporting and cultural development.
A matrix of the anchoring of the competencies transferred by the state to the communes with the 17 United Nations SDGs gives a better view of how the DTCs can act for the SDGs. With regard to the regions, article 259, paragraph 2 states that “the region is invested with a general mission of economic and social progress. As such, it contributes to the harmonious, balanced, solidarity-based and sustainable development of the territory.”
The advantages that the DTCs present in the achievement of the SDGs, thanks to citizen participation, justify their integration and involvement in the official multi-stakeholder platforms for dialogue and consultation on the SDGs. For example, the communal development plan is developed with a strong contribution from the population. The sessions of the municipal council are also open to the public, which facilitates the monitoring and evaluation of projects. These assets also allow for project partnerships to be created with the DTCs, such as those carried out within the framework of the implementation of the United Nations Framework of Cooperation for Sustainable Development in Cameroon 2022-2026.
By drawing up its first VLR, the Commune of Maroua I has placed the SDGs at the heart of its development programme. Thanks to the planning tools – in particular, the PRO-ADP – the collection of data, monitoring and local evaluation of the SDGs made it possible to assess the actions taken by the commune, the sectoral public administrations and civil society organisations. The initiatives carried out have helped to reduce the vulnerabilities of a population considered to be one of the poorest in the country. However, the 2019 Voluntary National Review (VNR) highlighted the very low level of consideration given to communes in national reviews of the SDGs and also the mismatch between them and local realities.
Similarly, the lack of evidence-based and inclusive data is a major challenge for communal authorities to improve the relevance and effectiveness of public policies designed to benefit the population. These authorities should also better integrate the SDGs into strategic planning documents such as communal development plans and other programmes. To do so, they could draw inspiration from the practical manual for integrating the SDGs into communal development plans developed by the National Programme for Participatory Development with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) support in July 2020.
To ensure regular monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs and the implementation of reforms that could result from them, the communal authorities should set up a platform for exchange, consultation and dialogue on the SDGs. This will bring all stakeholders together and take inclusiveness into account, as well as the specificities of social groups that are often left out. The VLR, which is better framed and closer to local realities, should be organised regularly to improve the effectiveness of the SDGs so far as it would make it possible to identify the main weaknesses and provide inclusive solutions.
Positioning of decentralised local authorities in the implementation of the SDGs at the local level
The entry of decentralised local authorities into the VNR process is a new innovation compared to 2019. The 2019 VNR demonstrated enormous difficulties in the appropriation of the SDGs by administrations and communities at national and local levels, as well as the low level of actions relating to the SDGs.
The Commune of Maroua I carried out its VLR in order to comply with international and national recommendations on the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the SDGs. This is a good practice that joins other positive trends in the localisation of the SDGs, such as the VLR carried out by the Yaoundé Urban Community in 2020.
Therefore, the VLR of Maroua I is an important tool for promoting inclusive local development. The responsibilities and proximity of the commune to the local communities allows it to better gauge needs and act directly to find solutions to the multidimensional problems encountered.
Within the framework of the VLR, the challenge for the Commune of Maroua I was to evaluate the impact of local public policies, actions and projects that were piloted in favour of the population in accordance with the requirements of the SDGs. It was also a question of seeing to what extent these promoted the inclusion of groups generally left out (such as women, young people, people with disabilities, indigenous populations, refugees, internally displaced people and older people).
The methodology and contribution of the data collection tool
In addition to prior meetings and consultations, the administration of the PRO-ADP data collection tool was the main methodological framework. The PRO-ADP tool was designed to fill in the specific data of the different sectors concerning the SDGs in an inventory before analysis. Thus, the quantities, areas, targets and specificities grouped by theme were referenced before being analysed and compiled.
The process of monitoring and evaluating the SDGs in the Commune of Maroua I began in November 2021. The communal authorities’ adherence to the process followed a meeting organised by Sightsavers to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the data collection tools and human resources available within the commune to collect disaggregated data that represents all social groups within the community.
The results of the analysis revealed that the data collection tool (PRO-ADP) developed by the National Programme for Participatory Development is available, but there are gaps in terms of disaggregating vulnerable groups. In this regard, Sightsavers organised a capacity-building workshop in March 2022, with technical assistance from Arc-en-Ciel and the Commune of Maroua I, to train communal focal points on disaggregated data collection. The collection of data from the workshop proved to be a credible means of assessing the commune’s action.
The first phase of data collection lasted from April to May 2022. It collected information on four SDGs (SDG 2, SDG 3, SDG 4 and SDG 10). The results of this collection were analysed and consolidated during a workshop organised in Maroua from 17 to 18 May 2022, which brought together 40 participants. It was conducted in a participatory manner and included sectoral public officials in charge of the selected SDGs, civil society organisations, community and traditional leaders, as well as other stakeholders in sustainable development.
The working method consisted of plenary presentations followed by discussions and the formation of working groups to address the selected SDGs. During the meeting, it was noted that the administration of the data collection tool presented practical and technical difficulties in the field. These included the lack of a direct link to some of the SDG indicators and insufficient disaggregated information. For example, on SDG 3: health in relation to people with disabilities. In this respect, the information collected during the data collection was insufficient to inform some of the SDG indicators. This had an impact on the inclusiveness of the data collection.
For the upcoming reviews, better framing and training should be carried out with the support of the Ministry of Decentralisation and Local Development, as well as the National Programme for Participatory Development, leading to a complete revision of the tool.
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Conclusions and lessons learned
The VLR highlighted the low level of ownership of the SDGs by the commune’s officials, the poor alignment of current data collection tools at the local level with the SDGs, the lack of formal integration of the SDGs into the communal strategic documents and the very superficial knowledge of the local populations about the SDGs. These shortcomings had consequences for the monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs in an inclusive, participatory and multi-sectoral manner. Urgent measures were recommended, notably to increase awareness and training on the SDGs, improve data collection tools, provide the commune with specialised human resource on the SDGs and a permanent platform for multi-stakeholder exchange, so that the SDGs are better integrated into the commune’s interventions.
Concerning the principle ‘leave no one behind’, the actions taken by the commune try as much as possible to reach all social components in a context where the majority of them present multiple vulnerabilities. However, in the absence of strategic documents formally aligned with the SDGs and likely to respect the requirements of inclusion, the interventions of the communal authorities affect less positively the most disadvantaged and forgotten people, such as people with disabilities, refugees, internally displaced people and children living on the street. The commune is dealing with both the impacts of armed violence perpetrated by the extremist group Boko Haram and climate change, as well as those induced by a low level of development. Therefore, the communal services offered to the population and the socioeconomic assistance projects must be more inclusive and participatory in order to stop the aggravation of the gaps and inequalities between the different social groups.
Next steps and recommendations
Under the direction of Sightsavers, the communal authorities of Maroua I, together with civil society organisations and other actors involved in the implementation of the SDGs, will intensify and strengthen their interventions for the full achievement of the goals.
Joseph Oye is Sightsavers’ senior NTD adviser, based in Cameroon.
Aissata Ndiaye is Sightsavers’ senior global advocacy adviser, based in Senegal.
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