DON'T MISS : Talking Africa Podcast – Mozambique's insurgency: After Palma, what comes next?

Bring on the binmen and bus drivers

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Monday, 23 November 2009 16:05

With government budgets under strain and

private companies reluctant to invest without guaranteed returns,

citizens are increasingly taking matters into their own hands

Generators provide the dawn chorus each morning in Lagos. The soundtrack to Nigeria’s throbbing megalopolis, their hum and splutter are the city’s lifeblood, powering its army of entrepreneurs through their daily hunt for fame and fortune. And they are a resounding example of the ‘do-it-yourself’ spirit with which most city-dwellers in Africa approach the problem of how to ensure a steady supply of electricity, water and sanitation.

Such micro-level privatisation of municipal services across Africa’s expanding urban centres marks a historic failure of authorities to provide basic services to their urban poor. In Kinshasa, young boys plod the streets selling half-litre containers of water for CDF50 ($0.11) to slum-dwellers who cannot rely on the state utility. According to UN-Habitat, 86.5% of the urban population in Angola lived in slums in 2005, as did 94.2% of Sudan’s.

Discontented citizens have tried taking matters into their own hands. In Kenya, bolstered by the experience of the exclusive Karengata district in Nairobi, which secured a court order in the late 1990s sanctioning its refusal to pay taxes to a disorganised city council, residents associations are becoming increasingly politicised and powerful, providing everything from rubbish collection to street lighting and setting up parallel governing structures to the local council.

In South Africa, township protests over the lack of water, electricity and other services reignited in July, and President Jacob Zuma was forced to acknowledge at a meeting of mayors in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township that the country must do more to “bridge the gap and close the social distance”.

HOUSING: Launched in 2004, Morocco’s Villes sans Bidonvilles (Cities without Slums)
aims to provide housing for 212,000 people by 2010. By April 2009, 31 towns
had been declared slum-free and 70,000 new housing units were being built
WATER: Water privatisation in Mozambique has shown results: from 2002 to 2007
there was a 35% increase in the population served by Aguas de Moçambique.
In Beira, the number of hours that water was supplied per day rose from nine to 24TRANSPORT: Almost 45,000 jobs are being created in Johannesburg as the city
prepares for the 2010 World Cup. In addition to the Gautrain rail link between
Johannesburg and Tshwane, the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transport system was launched in AugustWASTE MANAGEMENT: An NGO-led strategy to improve waste collection
and help stem the spread of disease in Cotonou, Benin, has carved the capital into
regions controlled by local NGOs who are paid for collecting rubbish with wheelbarrows

How to extend basic services to city dwellers who are unable to pay for them – and with limited municipal resources – is one of the biggest preoccupations of African city councils. According to the World Bank’s Infrastructure Diagnostic 2008, spending on utilities, transport and rubbish collection in Africa usually absorbs 10-20% of the household budget. Its analysis suggests governments would need to spend a capital subsidy of 1-2% of GDP for an average of ten years to connect all their citizens to water and electricity.

Despite widespread commitment by African governments towards decentralisation, the budgets that city councils have to draw from often do not match the rhetoric of political devolution. It is often central government, through its ministries or state-owned companies, that provides basic services and decides which private companies win tenders for municipal services.

Cherry-picking ?

Although little data exists on how the spread of private service-delivery is affecting Africa, Edgar Pieterse, director of the Centre for Cities in Africa, says experiences in Argentina and Colombia show their introduction does not bring down prices. The poor are worse off, and if they can’t pay and are disconnected, getting back into the system is difficult and more expensive. Private companies in South America “cherry-pick” the neighbourhoods that can afford the services, then “spike the price for those services and essentially leave the poor neighbourhoods disconnected,” says Pieterse.

Multinational involvement in African service-delivery has been tainted by scandal – from a subisidary of British firm ?Biwater’s mismanagement of ?water and sewage services in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to controversies over the awarding of tenders for Nairobi’s and Mombasa’s waste management contracts to Italian firm Jacorossi, which also manages Cairo’s waste. Private investors can be reluctant to take on the risk of providing services when they are unsure how many citizens will use or pay for them, says Nick Rouse, managing director at Frontier Markets, which manages the $501m Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund. He says projects that involve the public sector tend to raise the question: “Will these people pay?”

Although rare in Africa, ?municipal bonds are beginning to offer options to bring in domestic investors to fund urban infrastructure. Johannesburg plans to raise up to R6m between 2004 and 2010 through a range of municipal bonds, and Kigali is planning to launch its own in 2010.

For urban transport, bus rapid transport (BRT) systems are the decongestion solution of the moment, as African ?cities strain at the seams with the cars, trucks and motorcycles of their expanding populations. In Lagos, infamous for its traffic jams, a 22km BRT-lite launched in May 2008 now carries around 200,000 commuters every day for N100 ($0.66) a trip on its signature blue buses. In an unusual move that helped prevent local hostility to the scheme, the BRT is part-operated by the National Union of Road Transport Workers which controls the existing danfo and molue mini-bus routes in Nigeria.

Costly cape town?

But such urban transport projects can be ambitious and expensive. In October, the City of Cape Town admitted that the budget for its planned Integrated Rapid Transit System – including flyovers, dedicated bus lanes and cycle paths – had shot up from R1.4bn to R4.2bn, due to higher than planned start-up costs.

Now that citizens across the continent have become used to doing things for themselves, it will be harder for governments to move in and take over. But ?Pieterse explains that the range of intermediaries, or ‘strong-men’, who control informal areas are often active in local politics as councillors or mayors. “Because there is a direct benefit for them in perpetuating the informal system, they’ve got a vested interest in having more formalised urban upgrading programmes fail, because it means loss of a revenue stream for them,” says Pieterse. One benefit: The lack of services has helped foster urban Africa’s feisty entrepreneurialism. l?Housing

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options