The Delivery of Public Goods in a Rapidly Expanding African City: Financing Policies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Monday, April 23rd, 2012
The issue of the delivery of urban water and sanitation services in African countries is one of the continent’s greatest development challenges. The purpose of this essay, focusing on Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is to critically analyze the nature and implications of that city’s recent growth spurt on the ability of local government to meet the basic needs of all its citizens, particularly needs for water and sanitation services. The essay finds that while financing water and sanitation services is a major problem, problems of infrastructure and management are of equal if not more importance. In the short-term, this will continue to be a problem as the rate of informal urbanization proceeds at the same pace as official planning. This represents a classical principal–agent problem. Planners and managers might devise well-thought-out and logical plans for the development of both a market-based urban economy and infrastructural capacity, but the realities of population growth and new, unplanned settlement thwart their best efforts.
Providing public goods to rapidly expanding and poor populations in urban areas is a common challenge faced by countries in the developing world. Unplanned population growth, rural to urban migration and the displacement of the urban poor make this a particularly acute governance problem, especially if market-oriented development strategies do not include proper safety nets for the poor. Rapid urban growth in this context generally brings with it a number of problems, such as unemployment, underemployment, inadequate health care, deteriorating and poor infrastructure in the housing sector, environmental degradation and an inability of the urban governments to provide public goods and services in a predictable and effective manner. In contrast to what are termed private goods—which are provided to those who can afford particular services, or by some other exclusionary criterion—public goods such as adequate housing, water and sanitation, are, in the context of urban communities, supposed to be available to all, even those who are unable to pay.
In developing countries where the urban poor are numerous, governments sometimes introduce what they claim are “pro-poor” policies designed to improve living conditions and reduce poverty. Under ideal circumstances, certain individuals and households pay according to a commonly understood scale, based on income, and none are excluded. The challenge then for those who govern is to find efficient and effective ways to provide public services to all, although not everyone can contribute to paying for them. Often in developing countries this challenge is not met. At a very fundamental level the cause of this shortcoming relates to poor urban governance. Dennis A. Rondinelli has found that despite inadequate financial resources available for the delivery of services such as water and sanitation, the most serious problems for urban governments in developing countries are administrative.
The lack of local financial resources is often due to the fact that local governments do not have the capacity to collect all the revenues that they are legally allowed to collect or to manage expenditures. Moreover, their revenue-generating powers are most often limited by the central government. This creates a conundrum: cities in developing countries are expected to provide basic services, yet they often suffer from low institutional, technical, and infrastructural capacity, and meager finances, making provision of those services difficult.
Finding solutions to this situation has consumed those interested in identifying appropriate development strategies for urban governance in Asian, African and Latin American countries. The solution is often assumed to be administrative decentralization, the proverbial “magic bullet,” which transfers responsibilities for providing urban service delivery to subnational entities, particularly local governments.
Urban governments are then expected to not only deliver such services but also to be self-financing in this activity. However, in many cases urban authorities do not have the kind of fiscal autonomy or tax base needed to independently finance social services.
The issue of the delivery of urban water and sanitation services in African countries is a matter in urgent need of attention. This is true in all regions of the continent, particularly in megacities and in cities that have recently been characterized by accelerated urbanization. For example, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has been characterized since 1991 by rapid urban growth, in part due to the government’s market-oriented development strategy. It now faces serious challenges related to the delivery of public goods, particularly to the urban poor.
The purpose of this essay is to critically analyze the nature and implications of Addis Ababa’s recent growth spurt on the ability of local government to meet the basic needs of all its citizens. Water and sanitation services are arguably the most underdeveloped areas of urban governance in the city. This essay, focusing on the performance of the urban government of Addis Ababa in the delivery of water and sanitation services to the city’s inhabitants, is concerned in particular with meeting the needs of the urban poor. Addis is a rapidly growing urban center mainly because of the symbiotic relationship the federal government sees between its agriculturally based development strategy and its commitment to a dynamic, urban, market-driven economy.
The discussion that follows is divided into four sections. Part one sketches the broad contours of the development of Addis Ababa and its recent rapid expansion, and addressed issues of poverty alleviation, migration, population relocation, housing, transportation and unemployment. Part two deals with city government’s role in the delivery of water and sanitation services, and the impact of government on the provision of such services. Part three deals with Ethiopia’s urban development strategy for Addis Ababa in the areas of water and sanitation. Part Four focuses attention on the difficulties of implementing this strategy.
The Addis Ababa Context
The city of Addis Ababa is more than one hundred years old, founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1886.
For most of its history the development of the city was unplanned, growing in a spontaneous and unstructured way.
By the time of the Italian Fascist invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s, Addis Ababa had a population of 300,000. However, since the overthrow of the Marxist regime in 1991, the city’s growth has dramatically escalated.
According to the Ethiopia’s Central Statistical Office, by 2020 the country is expected to have an urban population of around 30 per cent of the total population.
Most of this growth will take place in the capital, Addis Ababa. As dramatic as urban growth has been, urban development has paled in comparison to improvements made in the countryside. In part this is due to the government’s explicit pursuit of an agriculturally based development strategy. However, in spite of this growth, per capita GNI has remained steady at about $330.
In order to understand the situation in Addis Ababa today one has to understand the impact that the Marxist regime, which ruled from 1974 to 1991 had on the destruction of the old order.
During this period, Ethiopia was transformed from a semi-feudal society to one based on a particular version of “scientific socialism.” One aspect of this change was the elimination of all private property and the nationalization of both urban and rural land. There was a serious attempt to level society and to uplift the impoverished. There was also a first attempt at urban planning in the city, which materialized as the Addis Ababa Master Plan.
New boundaries for the city were drawn during the era of the Marxist regime, but, significantly, the plan was not approved until 1994, three years after the government headed by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power. In 1998 Addis Ababa introduced a new “5-Year Action Plan.”
The most recent plan for the city’s development was inaugurated in 2001.
To date, Addis Ababa’s most notable achievements have been large infrastructure projects, such as a ring road and a new dam. It is important to note that such projects, although located in the city, were largely designed and implemented at the federal level. The national government claims that its main objective is to pursue an agriculturally based development strategy. At the same time, it claims to be just as committed to achieving national urban development.
To meet these goals would require, first, an increase in urban employment, which would reduce poverty levels and increase income equity. Second, the creation of urban employment would need to be designed to compliment rural development.
Evidence of Addis Ababa’s current rapid economic growth can be clearly seen in the urban construction industry.
New roads, hotels, condominiums, high-rise apartment buildings, and office towers have sprung up in the past six years as never before. Much of the capital for this expansion is being provided by foreign investors from China, Korea, India and elsewhere, but some of it is also provided by investors from the Ethiopian diaspora who see the opportunity to make significant financial gains.
While this urban expansion gives the impression of rapid modernization and development, cities such as Addis Ababa suffer from serious problems, including rising unemployment and poverty, and poor governance. Moreover, overcrowding and sub-standard housing construction are the rule rather than the exception.
Rapid Urbanization, Population Displacement and Governance
Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 179th out of 194 countries in terms of GDP per capita ($1,015). But even this number overstates the resources of many people who live on just over $1 per day. Around 40 percent of the urban population of the country lives below the poverty line. More than 70 percent of the urban population lives in slums, which are widely dispersed throughout the city and host residents from middle and lower class levels.
Among the poor in these slums, more than 40 percent live in homes with only one room, 42 percent of which lack toilets and 39 percent of which are without kitchens.
The government of Ethiopia sees urban transformation through sustained economic growth and empowerment opportunities for the poor as central to its overall development strategy. But it does not seem that planners anticipated the possible negative consequences of this approach. New urban sprawl, for example, has in fact expanded the reach of poverty, as low-income families in poor accommodations are pushed to the periphery of the city.
Another problem grows from rural to urban migration, as rural living in abject poverty look for economic opportunities, which they assume they will find in the city.
The dynamic growth of the market in Addis Ababa does create demand for laborers in the construction and service industries; but, many more people find it impossible to secure employment in a very competitive labor market.
Unemployment hovers close to 50 percent. In order to eke out an existence, those who find themselves unemployed and in poverty most often turn to uncertain work as day laborers or petty trading of the lowest variety. In other cases, the poor are pushed to the periphery, far from jobs and from transportation services, which hinders their mobility from their homes to the city center.
The EPRDF regime, rather than scrapping the urban housing policies of its Marxist predecessors, simply adapted them to its own purposes. When it came to power, the Marxist regime nationalized all rural and urban property. The idea was to eliminate social inequalities that were a product of the imperial era, and to improve the plight of the poor through socialist policies.
The short-term effect was the construction of some simple but more functional showcase homes on the outskirts of the city on land that had been the property of members of the royal family and nobility. However, these were not well constructed, and their number hardly adequate to meet demand. The situation of the urban poor in fact became worse. With land belonging to no one, squatters moved onto what had become state urban land.
Presently, individuals can obtain legal rights to use land through 99-year leases, but they cannot have deeds of ownership. Squatters have no legal claim to land, but are often informally permitted to occupy land with the knowledge of local government offices or kebeles.
In order to open up more land in the city center, one of the approaches the government has used is the demolition of certain residential communities, many of which are inhabited by poor populations. Residents are then relocated to peripheral areas. Some of those relocated are granted replacement homes, but in order to be considered for such an opportunity residents had to have owned the homes that were demolished. Relocated populations could be placed in one of four categories: 1) owner-occupiers; 2) public tenants (those renting from the government); 3) sub-tenants; and 4) tenants of privately owned homes. The owner-occupiers are supposed to be compensated for their demolished property and given land in the relocation area on which to construct new homes. Those classified as public tenants are supposed to be given access to comparable accommodations in the resettled area. Sub-tenants and tenants of private premises, however, are given no compensation at all.
Consequently, the latter two categories represent simply a relocation of the housing problem from the center to the periphery as these displaced people most often become squatters, further exacerbating the housing problem.
The development of squatter settlements in Addis Ababa has emerged as a major challenge to urban managers. Squatting takes place not only in the periphery but also in the city proper as families, who are not necessarily poor, seek out places to live that are close to where they might find gainful employment. Many of these are middle-class families who rely upon employment in government or the private sector.
In 1998, faced with the mushrooming of squatter settlements, the city introduced Regulation #1. One of the main provisions of the regulation states that a housing plot that was not legally occupied between 1975 and 1996 will obtain legal status if its location and size fall within the terms of the master plan. Plots are allowed to be no larger than 175 square meters. However, the public did not agree to the conditions of Regulation #1, which defined criteria for those squatter settlements regarded as eligible for legal status. Consequently, the 1998 decree failed to halt squatter expansion and the government found itself in a quandary. The city administration, not wanting to evict new squatters, simply accepted the situation as a fait accompli. This in turn placed a heavy burden on the government to provide more and more services to these squatter communities, straining management and infrastructure.
The Provision of Public Good and the Limits of Governance
Ethiopia is a federal republic, consisting of nine states (seven of which are nearly ethnically homogeneous) and two chartered cities, Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa. The urban area of Addis Ababa is divided into ten sub-cities; these are further divided into approximately one hundred kebeles, or neighborhood associations. Each kebele has between 40,000 and 50,000 residents. Kebeles are the lowest level of administration and are expected to provide the most basic social services to those within their jurisdiction, but their structures and organization are often undeveloped. With limited financial resources at their disposal, kebeles can only cover predictable recurrent expenses, and can most often only monitor, rather than manage, the water and sanitation situations in their communities.
The federal government controls most revenues and revenue-generating capacity, issuing block grants to help finance development in the states. States and special cities have some authority to generate revenue, and are expected to self-finance many of their social services. However, the tax base of Addis is so narrow that this method of income generation has been problematic. Proclamation number 3, issued in 1994, was intended in part to create a steady stream of revenue for urban authorities so that they might improve municipal services. In reality, however, the city government has not been able to generate the revenue expected mainly due to problems of implementation and tax collection.
This is understandable given the horizontal, rapid expansion of the population and of newly settled areas of the city over the past seventeen years. This trend places particular strain on urban administration, and is further compounded by the dire—and growing—plight of the urban poor.
Addis Ababa has always suffered from an insufficient supply of potable water, and very poor sanitation infrastructure. Although the Addis Ababa Water and Sanitation Authority is the city’s main supplier of potable water, its piping system is most developed in the heart of the city where wealthy Ethiopians and foreigners reside. Slums, squatter areas, and the rapidly expanding poor communities on the outskirts are poorly served if served at all. A 2007 UN-HABITAT survey found that only 21 percent of the homes in the city have access to what is termed “improved water provision,” that is, “reasonable access to safe water supplies via household connections, public standpipes, bore holes, protected dug wells or a protected spring or rain collection sites.”
Twenty-three percent of the city’s residents have access through their own taps, 64 percent via public taps, and about 5 percent have access to good water from protected well-springs. Almost 8 percent have access only to unsafe water.
The situation of urban sanitation is much worse. Only about 9 percent of households have their own flush toilets. Seventy-one percent have access to pit latrines, but almost 20 percent must relieve themselves in fields or other vacant open spaces.
Even in those areas that have recently been developed under the auspices of the government, and in spite of serious attempts to plan for adequate water and sanitation services, the gap between carefully laid plans and the situation on the ground remains wide. For example, in a 2008 study, Gabre Yntiso found that the residents of a new community in Gurara reported a serious drinking water shortage. In the communities where they were relocated from, residents either had tap water access in their homes or were within a 15 a minute round-trip walking distance from a standpipe. In the new community, 75 percent had tap water in their homes or were within walking distance or short taxi ride of a standpipe. The remaining 26 percent had to travel a good distance to get water, and many of these people reported having to draw water from rivers and streams. In the entire resettlement area there are only two water connection points joined to the city’s pipeline. Moreover, water is available either once a week, once every two weeks, or in some cases only once a month.
A 2005 WaterAid survey found that the number of hours per day that functioning water taps are open is generally short. Throughout Addis Ababa there are more than 1,400 public taps. Eighty-two percent were functioning at the time of the survey. Sixty-eight percent of the taps were being managed by kebeles
and the remainder were managed by private vendors. Significantly, 53 percent of the taps served between 10 and 30 households each; 16 percent served fewer than 10 households each, and 10 percent served more than 60 households each.
Only about 59 percent of the taps are open up to four hours per day, and almost a quarter are open for one hour or less a day.
Most often, the poor living in squatter communities or slums must get potable water from public standpipes. This comes at a price. For those who control many of these water points this serves as a business.
Since the water points are not uniformly regulated, water tap operators can mark up the cost of water according to their own whims. It is not unusual for those who must buy water from these sources to pay more than eight times the buying price.
Finance, Implementation and Implications
The EPRDF regime has devised a capacity-building strategy for urban development and municipal governance. Goals include more careful attention to urban planning than ever before; the mobilization and efficient management of financial resources; and improvements in the regulation of urban service delivery.
Since 1991, the regime has been faced with serious challenges in making urban areas an integral part of the overall poverty reduction and development strategy. These challenges have included inadequate financial resources that can be devoted to urban service delivery; dire shortages in competent and well-trained urban government administrators; and a severe shortage of skilled labor. Even where skilled and trained administrators are available, the wages paid by city governments to such employees are often not competitive with private sector employers.
The national government claims that it is committed to having government get closer to the people and in the process empowering even the poorest in the population. This is the idea behind federalism and decentralization. However, with decentralized management comes a requirement that the lower levels of authority provide more financing for their own services. The problem in the case of Addis Ababa, as in the case of other decentralizing administrations, is that even though the city accounts for more than one third of the combined revenue of all of Ethiopia’s states, the finances of Addis have most often not been sufficient to allow for expanded services, innovation and capital improvements.
Most of the taxing authority in Ethiopia rests with the national government, and lower levels of government are characterized by increasingly lower levels of revenue-generating capacity. Moreover, urban governments like Addis Ababa are prohibited from borrowing from private sources for the purpose of delivering local services.
One revenue option for the city government, albeit a limited one, has been the administration of urban land leases. However, the income from this source has been much less than expected. In part this is due to the rapid expansion of squatter and other informal settlements. City managers are simply not able to keep up with the demands placed on them to arrange for the registration and taxing of the new communities in their jurisdiction.
Best estimates indicate that only about 50 percent of Addis Ababa residents are served by the city’s water system. Related to this is the fact that the needs of poor communities tend to be ignored by city planners. It is clear that one of the reasons for this is that the poor do not represent a significant source of revenue for the government. For this reason, even if the delivery of water and sanitation services in the city were privatized, it is unlikely provision for the poor would improve. Slums do not offer much in the way of cost recovery for private investors.
In recent years the city government has relied upon donor funding in order to increase its water and sanitation services. International NGOs are involved in providing expanded infrastructure for water and sanitation including pipelines, meters and water-use monitoring systems.
A 2009 WaterAid report stated that, throughout the country, NGOs invest as much as 64 percent of the capital expenditures needed to fund the provision of water and sanitation. Local communities pay for about 33 percent, while only 3 percent of funding is provided by local government. Clearly, then, this has helped somewhat in addressing the shortfall in financing, but it is not nearly enough to be an integral part of a broad poverty reduction and development strategy.
To be sure, financing water and sanitation services is a major challenge for urban governments like Addis Ababa; however, as is the case in many other developing countries, at a fundamental level this is as much a management problem as it is a financing problem.
Rules and regulations relating to urban water and sanitation delivery services in Addis Ababa are nascent. Several agencies have overlapping jurisdictions in this area and there are customary coordination problems. In addition to the financial shortages, city government is not able to implement its policies according to the letter of the law because of a lack of administrative capacity. There are shortages of skilled personnel in terms of engineers, planners and technicians. In the short term this will continue to be a problem, as the rate of urbanization proceeds organically and simultaneously with planning by the authorities.
A fundamental challenge faced by urban governments in developing countries is the effective provision of public goods and services at a nominal cost. Cities in developing countries are expected to design, implement, finance and manage their own social service systems. However, they invariably find themselves without enough dependable financial resources to support such systems. At the same time, they must deal with limitations in the areas of technical and administrative capacities. In the case of Addis Ababa, rules and regulations issued by the federal government limit both the revenue-generating and taxing powers of city government, as well as its borrowing authority, and it is unable to finance much more than recurrent projects.
Because by definition the poor cannot afford to be substantially taxed in order to pay for urban services, local government must, with the support of the national and regional governments, encumber such costs. This sort of support is not possible given current relationships between the federal and Addis Ababa governments. Innovation and capital development projects, because of the city’s resource limitations, are rarely possible. This inhibits improvements in the provision of water and sanitation services. Runaway urban expansion further exacerbates this problem. Challenges in the housing, transportation, health and education sectors all have ripple effects that bear upon local government’s ability to meet other critical needs such as water and sanitation. In order for this situation to improve, the Addis Ababa city government will have to increase their capacity to generate new revenue, which would provide the resources to improve their technical and administrative capacities, particularly in the area of water and sanitation services.
Edmond J. Keller is Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Director of the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa and former Director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at the University of California-Los Angeles. He specializes in comparative politics with an emphasis on Africa. Keller received his B.A. in Government from Louisiana State University in New Orleans, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Thanks are due to Aline Hankey, Jakquelyn Taylor-Sullivan and Adria Tinnin for their very helpful research assistance and to Tegegne Teka and Steve Commins for their useful comments and suggestions.
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