What Drives Urban Service Delivery Performance in Africa?

IDG News, April 2014 -  In Africa, the urban population is expected to increase from 414 million today to over 1.2 billion by 2050.This rate of urbanization is higher than in any other region and reflects that millions of people in Africa recognize the potential of urban areas every year by moving from the countryside to cities and towns.

The degree of success with which a country is able to harness the power of urbanization serves as an important bell-weather for its ability to achieve inclusive and sustainable development. Urbanization has traditionally been seen primarily as a rise in congestion and the concentration of poverty in urban slums. Indeed, when the public services and infrastructure are not managed well and urban areas are politically neglected, cities can indeed become centers for concentrated poverty, traffic congestion, decaying infrastructure, urban blight, and hotbeds for social tension. In contrast, when cities have the space to steer their own affairs and when the right institutions are in place, they can serve as centers of economic, social and political development. This realization has given rise to a new optimism in the realm of the global urban development agenda, with an increasing number of development actors supporting urban innovation in order to achieve more inclusive, smarter and more resilient cities.

Urbanization in Africa reflects this wide range of experiences: while some cities are under-resourced and are failing to deliver basic urban services, other cities are reaching out to their constituents and proactively and successfully addressing the service delivery needs of their communities. This raises an important question: what explains the differences in urban service delivery performance across Africa?

There is a growing recognition that while the inadequacy of finances is an important contributing factor to weak urban services, injections of international and domestic resources alone will not resolve the shortfall in urban service delivery. Other gaps also constrain cities: weaknesses in functional assignments, political systems, administrative controls, local fiscal systems and accountability mechanisms may all contribute. However, in order to identify which of these, or other, factors are the most important constraints on urban service delivery a stronger evidence base is needed.

To fill this knowledge gap, the Urban Institute is engaged in an assessment of urban service delivery for solid waste management, water supply and urban sanitation across Africa. This study applies UI’s newly developed Urban Service Delivery Assessment Framework to 18 cities in 6 African countries (Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia). In doing so, this study builds on previous research undertaken by UI on urban service delivery in South Asia, which found that urban service delivery performance in South Asia was considerably constrained by institutional factors outside of the control of urban authorities themselves.

Once data are collected for a sufficiently large number of cities across Africa, the ambition of this study is to compare the experiences of urban service delivery across Africa and to investigate the extent to which expenditures and different institutional dimensions contribute or detract from urban service delivery performance.