In November 2007 the city Harelbeke in Belgium and Eenhana Town Council agreed to cooperate within a city link through the signing of a Memorandum of Partnership And Cooperation.
One is a city that has been there for the past hundred years while the other was born a decade ago, yet the work remains similar. The only differences are the needs and other expectations.
The main goal of the partnership is to exchange information and experience to strengthen the administrative power in North and South.
A city link is an officially and politically supported cooperation agreement between two local authorities where the mutual administrative capacity building and the strengthening of local democratic processes are central.
After an extensive search Harelbeke chose Eenhana from fifteen candidates.
Eenhana is a small town with lots of growth opportunities in the North of Namibia. The board is working hard on urban development: roads are built, shacks are replaced by stone houses through various projects, a historical site is finished and it is working on the construction of a sports complex.
Eenhana is headed by a female mayor Councillor Julia Shikongo. Her seven council members are assisted by a team of six managers and 46 staff members.
After official visits and consultations in Eenhana and Harelbeke, the decision was made to work on several policy areas: environment, local economy and human resource management.
A tourism, cultural heritage and youth policy is underway.
Due to the city link, cooperation between local organisations is being developed: for example: a mail project with youngsters of Eenhana and Harelbeke, children who works with city link boxes from Eenhana and Harelbeke and the development of a youth Red Cross Eenhana together with Red Cross Harelbeke.
This cooperation is a project of both cities together and a goal is to involve as many people as possible.
The city of Harelbeke is situated on an area of 29km2. Harelbeke is situated on the West side of Belgium.
Harelbeke centre is on the right bank of the river ‘Leie’. Three large (almost parallel) axes intersect the centre: the river (The Leie), the N43 regional road and the railway.
Harelbeke is situated in the highly urbanised and industrialised axis Menen-Kortrijk-Waregem. Harelbeke has little to no wooded area, but on the territory Harelbeke has an important natural and recreation domain: ‘De Gavers’.
In 1264 Harelbeke received permission to organise a weekly market. Now, the local market takes place every Thursday and remains one of the busiest markets in the region.
In 2012 the population exceeded 27 000 and is expected to surpass the 30 000 mark within the next ten years. Harelbeke expansion is reflected in the many additional housing projects currently underway.
Since September 2011, Harelbeke has a renovated Town Hall, with a new reception area that connects the older parts of the building with each other. Not only the appearance has changed, the city organisation has been reorganised: the service for the citizens is now divided in a front- and back office.
The CEO of Harelbeke, Carlo Daelman explains his experience and the opportunities abound in this relationship.
“I have been in the position for the past five years now. I find the job very interesting and varied. One minute you’re working on very large projects, for example: the renewal of the market and the next moment you’re dealing with an individual question from a citizen. It gives a good feeling when you can be a part in the solution of both. The function of the CEO can be compared with an airbag system. You are the bridge between the local government and the administration team. I see that the development of Eenhana is happening in a quick tempo. In Harelbeke we focus on improving or renewing existing services while Eenhana still is implementing some services. What is important in our twinning is that we give information about the mistakes made in the past so Eenhana doesn’t need to make the same mistakes.”
In Namibia, council elections are held every five years and the council is open to the public where traders can participate in local development and policy making through the Local Authority Development Committee.
In Harelbeke, the local government is elected every six years and residents participate in policy making through the classic advisory boards.
“In preparation of new policy planning, there is always a participation project. In the past we had ‘the babble box’ and ‘the question of 1 million’. In the current phase of policy planning we have New Harelbeke (2012) campaign, and soon the Tour of Harelbeke (autumn 2013) in which the new local government will submit the policy emphasis to determine what the local interpretation can be of the policy priorities,” says Daelman.
Eenhana is grateful for the city link which it says has brought massive changes to its development.
Ndevashiya says, “Due to city link: a digital database, the development of the local market, the development of an environmental policy are among some of the major achievements obtained. There are also facilitating projects such as one where local organisations get to know each other’s culture and way of life through collaboration. The mail project with young people of the secondary school in Harelbeke and Eenhana, the development of a Youth Red Cross Eenhana in collaboration with Youth Red Cross Harelbeke are some of the issues we cherish in our relationship. Soon the Youth Councils of both towns will engage on a higher level. ”
At management level Harelbeke is impressed at the similarities, possibilities and opportunities that have already been deployed and wants more citizens of both cities to be aware of the benefits they can get from this relationship.
The big difference between being CEO of Harelbeke and Eenhana is situated in time; Daelman says Harelbeke is eager to advise Eenhana accordingly so that “As fast paced development takes place, they do not make mistakes which one does not see at the moment but can have catastrophic consequences. Years back, Harelbeke made the mistake of polluting the ground water that much so we are not able any more to use it as drinking water and now it is costly for us to get clean water. We feel it every day.”
Focus is now on the major projects currently being developed by local associations, groups and schools. Eenhana is working out a newsletter regarding what is happening in the city link.
“The more people are involved, the stronger the political and economic support,” says Daelman. PF