France’s “city diplomacy” with South Africa has been spotlighted in SACN’s latest City Diplomacy Papers

Governance and Human Rights

France’s city diplomacy with South Africa, and that of other European countries, have been featured in a 2022 paper by the South African Cities Network.

City diplomacy is not a new concept, but cities are playing a more substantial role in international diplomacy because of rapid urbanisation, global migration and climate change. It should not be seen as competing and/or undermining the national governments’ diplomacy but rather as a complementary effort to further enhance the relations between countries. This has led to foreign diplomatic missions focusing on cities and supporting local initiatives and projects that can be implemented in a visible and tangible manner.

Effective city diplomacy must first and foremost serve the core purpose and objective of local government, i.e., to improve the lives of citizens. Although still a developing practice, it generally involves activities such as building city networks, sharing experiences and best practices through dialogue and learning exchanges, cooperating among international private and public organisations, and creating networks of mayors and local government bodies. As currently practised, it manifests in several key dimensions, including (but not limited to) development, economy, climate change/resilience initiatives, and sports, arts and culture.

This article offers a closer look into local cooperation as a pillar of France’s diplomatic and cooperation policy with South Africa. Cooperation between local public entities from France and South Africa is an increasingly important instrument for the cooperation between our two countries. It includes all cooperation relations aimed at increasing the attractiveness of cities, regions, and provinces, and at encouraging more solidarity between both countries.

This form of cooperation is developing against the backdrop of the commitments made in Ouagadougou by the President of the Republic in 2017 and the recent dynamics launched by the New Africa-France Summit in 2021, which promote cooperation in sectors such as sport, biodiversity, culture, entrepreneurship, viticulture and tourism.

South African and French cities and provinces share similar challenges (sustainable urban transformation, digital, education), for which exchanges of good practices are much needed and appreciated.

With a focus on city diplomacy, France is looking at its existing strategy to see to what extent local cooperation could be used to further the agendas of urban sustainability and the climate and energy transitions, and to see where new, potentially less formal partnerships, which include a wider variety of stakeholders, can be formed.

The 20-year-long successful cooperation between the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region (France) and the Western Cape Province (South Africa) illustrates what such local cooperation may look like. This cooperation in the sector of wine-making mainly involves professionals from previously disadvantaged communities and young people.

Another example is the recently academic exchanges on common research topics between universities (marine science research project between the University of Reunion, IRD, IFREMER, Nelson Mandela University, the South African Environmental Observation Network, the South African Space Agency).

The local cooperation between France and South Africa is promoted through various instruments and channels. Every year, the French Delegation for the external action of local authorities at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign affairs, opens several calls for proposals to support cooperation on sport, gender equality and youth (up to 50% of each project’s budget).

Find out more about our current local cooperation here!

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French Institute of South Africa


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