Local Authorities Against Privatisation Of Essential Services in Africa

By Ruth Nabakwe
Paris, France

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 1, 2002

African Local authorities officials attending a one day meeting in Paris have warned against the privatisation of essential services such as water, electricity, transport and other social amenities saying the move risked compounding poverty levels that African governments were struggling to reduce.

The officials were concerned about the impact of globalization on local authorities where phenomenon such as privatisation were according to them gaining ground and, "being pushed down their throats" without the necessary consultations with them yet they were the immediate contact persons with the grassroots population and understood the needs and financial limitations of an increasingly impoverished African populace.

"This issue of privatisation is gaining ground at a time when local authorities are being called upon to take up a number of development issues as representatives of the people at the grassroots but it seems to me that local authorities must ask themselves whether they are ready to absorb this concept of privatisation of essential services," the President of the Ghanaian National Local Authorities Association Akwasi Asare Ankomah said.

The concerns of local authorities come at a time when they were increasingly under pressure from increased urbanization and population pressures to respond to the needs of the people yet their capacity to do so was being systematically eroded by privatisation of essential services that were traditionally in their docket at affordable rates for ordinary folks.

"My worry is that as we talk of reducing poverty we are again privatising services whose costs would be beyond the poor to afford, as local authorities we must take a stand on these crucial issues if we are to remain relevant to the people we are expected to serve," Ankomah observed.

Others were concerned that even as African countries were urged by the World Bank, IMF and donors to privatise these essential services, the developed countries of the West whose populations purchasing power was not comparable to that of their counterparts in Africa had these basic services of water, electricity, rail/bus transport services including education "heavily subsidized by their rich western governments''. Some saw this as a double standard of sorts that must be questioned.

"Did developed countries achieve their current levels of development by pursuing development paradigms that they are today proposing to Africa?," a local authority official from Zimbabwe Bwerazuva James wondered.

His remarks were shared by the President of the Francophonie Universities Agency (AUF) Jean Du Bois de Gaudusson who earlier asked why the Western notion of governance should be imposed on African countries without taking cognisance of the African realities.

Others agreed that such moves had contributed to the collapse of the state in Africa and the consequences trickled down to local authorities who could hardly respond to the need of the population on the ground as they even lacked the capacity to do so with dwindling resource allocations from central governments.

The Cameroonian coordinator of the Benin-based Municipal Development Partnership (MDP) Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi expressed concern that debate on the real concerns of people such as on privatisation issues was lacking at central government level and the times when any debate existed it appeared to be exclusively between ‘’governments and the IMF’’ with local government authorities not consulted yet he said they were the bridge between central government and the grassroots.

He called for more involvement of local authorities in decision making on crucial issues that impacted on the grassroots.

The local authorities one day meeting organised under the auspices of the Benin -based Municipal Development Partnership, brought together local authorities drawn from various African countries as well as representatives of bilateral and multilateral organisations. The meeting sought to identify the contribution of local authorities on governance in Africa as well as identify mechanisms to boost decentralized partnerships and cooperation between local authorities in Africa and bilateral/multilateral development partners.

Created in 1991 with two offices in Benin (for the West and central Africa) and Zimbabwe (for East and Southern Africa), the Municipal Development Partnership was borne out of the need to strengthen the role of the local authorities in ongoing African efforts to adjust to globalization and democratisation.

The implementation of regional integration and decentralization policies in African countries was expected to reinforce the capacity of local authorities as catalysts for growth and economic development on the continent.

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