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Services management: Time for privatization

The donors' management beliefs are often accompanied by some reservations as to the value of large-scale investments. However, the transport plan in the first UDP advocated the improvement of the already well-developed urban road network (improvements of streets, completion of the highway between Cocody and the Banco plateau, a traffic plan for the Plateau; fig. 8.3). Similarly the 1975-1978 urban water and sanitation plan (2.5 million CFA francs) financed by the Fonds national d'assainissement (40 per cent) and the World Bank (60 per cent) has enabled the installation of the first stage of a substantial sanitation network (including the main sewer from Abobo to the Cocody bay) and a special sanitation programme (1977-1982, 10 million CFA francs) to improve drainage on the Petit-Bassam island by building a canal at Koumassi. Nevertheless, the lagoon waters are heavily polluted by chemical and organic materials, and are threatened with eutrophication (de-oxygenization) (Guiral, 1984). Above all, it is the privatization of marketed services to which attention is drawn. This is nothing new, as clean water distribution was entrusted to a private company, the Société de distribution d'eau de la Côte d'Ivoire (SODECI), as far back as independence through a concessionary contract. SODECI's share capital belonged in part to the Société pour l'aménagement urbain et rural (SAUR. Bouygues group, 46 per cent shares) and in part to some 900 local shareholders (45 per cent), the remainder belonging to the Fonds commun de placement (5 per cent), the state (3 per cent), and private French shareholders (1 per cent). Supplied through a network of boreholes mainly located to the north of the lagoon to exploit the edge of the Continental groundwater layer (Saint-Vil, 1983), 86 per cent of households have access to clean water according to the 1988 census (by direct connection to dwellings, taps on plots, or nearby private water supply points), while others supply themselves from wells and/or from itinerant or sedentary sellers. Water management has remained centralized (in 1988, 65 per cent of the SODECI's turnover came from Abidjan) with the government determining tariffs (for households and industrial users) upon submission by the SODECI, whose jurisdiction goes from supply to billing.

In 1990, the Compagnie ivoirienne d'électricité (a subsidiary of SAUR-Afrique, 65 per cent, and EDF International, 35 per cent) obtained a 15-year concessionary contract for the management of the power network (electricity production, supply, and distribution, and management of assets), while the infrastructure still belonged to the EECI, a parastatal company that was until then the sole actor, but from then on dealt only with investments for renovation and expansion. Supplied by the power station of Vridi, which is intended to use gas from deposits off the shores of Jacqueville when they are exploited, and is essentially powered by the Côte d'Ivoire dams (Ayamé I and II, Kossou, Taabo) and to a smaller extent from Ghana (Akosombo), the city's consumption accounted for 59 per cent of national consumption in 1986 (Attahi, 1991). In 1988, 67 per cent of Abidjan households used electric light.

Therefore, neither the city nor the districts have any control over the expansion and management of the centralized water and power networks, which depend on negotiations between government and the concessionary companies. In view of the technical requirements, in particular in terms of personnel, it is unlikely that the local authorities could take over these services in the near future. But this lack of control over the planning and development of building plots has some advantages. Legislation on decentralization empowers the districts to initiate new plot developments, but in Abidjan the DCGTx assumes this task. In other cities, it is difficult to provide plots with water and power because the concessionary companies, whose interests and expansion programmes do not necessarily coincide with those of the local authorities, initiate projects only in those areas where existing settlement guarantees that they will recover their costs. In the Abidjan metropolis, the DCGTx has no problem in initiating land development with integrated services because all decision-making bodies are at hand.

The city and the districts do not, either, control the main public transport system, the Société de transports abidjanais (SOTRA), whose buses and ferries in 1981 provided for 63 per cent of all commuters (52 per cent using buses only). During the 1970s, vast investment in public transport services changed trip patterns to the detriment of individual cars and metered taxis (which provided 52 per cent of trips in 1974), while privately owned minibuses (gbakas) were relegated to the outskirts. However, the changes in public service fares owing to structural adjustment measures and the financial problems of the SOTRA led in the 1980s to a retreat of the centralized network in favour of private minibuses and illicit taxis (woro-woro), which in 1994 had come back into the very heart of the city. Because the city allocates operating permits and levies taxes on privately owned public transport, it could seize this opportunity, in these times of public service reductions, to establish its authority over activities that are essential to the functioning of the city and that have thus far been contested by private owners and the state. Is this desirable? As in the cases of water and electricity, there is nothing to guarantee that substituting the city, in its present form, for centralized concessionary companies, which ensure unified tariffs in all districts and manage their networks city-wide without having to try to maintain a delicate balance between the interests of 10 districts, would be an improvement for city dwellers.

Room manœuvre for the 10 districts

The 1980 administrative reform defined the conditions for the transfer of jurisdiction to the district authorities, as local legal entities that are financially autonomous under the Ministry of Home Affairs and are managed by a municipal council elected by universal suffrage. These transfers were completed in several fields: education (preschools and primary schools, teachers' housing, school canteens, and facilities attached to state schools), health and hygiene (training, animal and other product controls), and local cultural and social facilities. The districts are responsible for household refuse collection, management of water supply points as well as parks and gardens, and a network of streets classified in 1984 as falling under local authorities.

To fulfil these obligations, they have three sources of funds: a state subsidy given as a global operating endowment; taxes levied at national level and returned in part to the districts; and local taxes. Unable to forecast the state subsidy, which is in principle computed by the ministry in relation to population, and because the local return on national taxes has been systematically curtailed (100 per cent of main licences in 1980 as against 35 per cent in 1992), mayors can look only for means to increase local taxes in order to establish services to replenish local finances as fast as possible. All possibilities have been considered, from a systematic census of economic activities to the improvement of local methods of levying taxes. Owing to the unequal distribution of the most lucrative services (such as the large marketplaces), of economic activities, and of local taxes, there are great disparities between the resources, and hence the investment capacities, of the 10 districts, with no system of adjustment among them (table 8.6).

For investment purposes, the municipal councils can borrow from a local authorities' fund set up with 71 per cent financing from the World Bank and 29 per cent from the state. The fund was meant to finance, first and foremost, district servicing projects that could bring in rapid returns (markets, bus stations) and that cost from 10 million to 190 million CFA francs. Districts can also look for foreign partners and have established many links with European and North American local authorities. Local development and the ideology of "near is beautiful" - "old wine in new bottles" according to Stren (1991) - are the new fetishes (Jaglin and Dubresson, 1993) and provide a means, for some actors, to circumvent the state, which they do not consider to be qualified to promote urban development.

Table 8.6 Budgets of the 10 district (communes) of Abidjan in 1990

Commune Population, 1988 Budget, 1990 (CFA francs '000) Revenue budget (CFA francs/person) Capital budget (CFA francs/person)
Plateau 11,647 2,213,876 164,200 25,633
Treichville 110,040 2,163,537 16,026 3,635
Marcory 146,098 1,495,000 8,147 2,085
Port-Bouët 168,725 1,496,000 7,099 1,767
Adjamé 199,720 1,475,381 7,387 1,607
Cocody 128,756 969,471 5,038 2,494
Koumassi 229,963 731,787 2,420 744
Yopougon 374,524 711,844 1,298 602
Abobo 401,211 734,524 1,405 4,262
Attécoubé 163,658 230,415 1,148 260

Source: Saint-Vil, J., Tableau de bord communal, Abidjan, DCGTx, 1991.

Among the main results are new market-places (such as those at Treichville and Marcory), which are vital elements in daily life (the AUA counted 78 markets with more than 50 stands in 1987/88) and return a high level of local taxes. Their management, the subject of alliances and conflicts between big business and local authorities, is a primary financial and political stake.

Forgotten by the urban development projects, the residents of temporary dwelling areas are looking to the local authorities to serve as intermediaries in order to solve infrastructure and land tenure problems. Subdivision into plots, felt to imply a promise of later services, is their main demand, all the more because the universal ballot and multi-party system since 1990 enable them to negotiate with their votes. Caught between the state urban policy, whose principles are beyond them, and the demands of their voting constituencies, mayors are looking for negotiated middle-of-the-way solutions. Some, following initiatives by their constituencies, have ensured that former illegal dwellings are transformed into legal plots (the Zoé Bruno neighbourhood in the Koumassi district) or provided with services (the Zimbabwe quarter in the Port-Bouët district). Not all councils adopt the same position in their bargaining with the state. Settlements in temporary neighbourhoods vary greatly from one district to another and some mayors' passivity is not only due to weaknesses in the legislation on decentralization or the DCGTx's power in the field of land development. It also derives from their ambiguity towards foreign residents' rights to live in the city. Do they have a right to acquire land, and do they ask for it? Political stakes are not identical in every district and the "struggle for recognition of the fait accompli" (Yapi Diahou, 1994) has not had the same outcome everywhere.

A positive side to decentralization lies in the numerous local development projects, which are supposedly better adapted to people's needs. Investments shared jointly by residents and district councils have thus made it possible to improve infrastructure and nearby services (schools, clinics, public baths, professional training centres), but this kind of sharing is restricted, partly owing to the limited financial and technical capacities of both residents and district council personnel. Also, because they are usually limited to one-off actions, they are scarcely ever complemented by management and maintenance follow-up. Actions at district level are efficient only if complementary actions are initiated at other levels. An attempt to entrust young Abobo residents with primary household refuse collection failed owing to poor connections with the centralized refuse collection networks. Finally, the exercise of delegated powers, as in the case of Port-Bouët, where the district council plays a catalytic role in private and community initiatives, does not necessarily ensure that projects are better adapted to local conditions and often reveals strong tensions that were previously hidden or arbitrated by the central powers.

Conclusion: Local management and the city's survival

The population growth rate of the Abidjan metropolis decreased during the 1980s, but the annual increment remains high: 110,000 to 130,000 inhabitants if the 1988 rate has remained steady. The government's statements, which focus on management of existing infrastructure and services (whose importance nobody denies), are fraught with ambiguity and, while searching for efficient management, one should not forget the necessary investments and the no less necessary hierarchy that needs to be established with respect to actors and the scope of their interventions.

From this angle, even though decentralization is useful to generate local initiatives and improve access to resources for residents, it is also dangerous in that it has created and increased social and economic inequalities between the 10 districts of the city whose financial bases are very different (table 8.6). These disparities proceed from the districts' differing urban inheritance, between Plateau and Abobo or Koumassi, for instance; from a different distribution of assets among communities and ethnic groups; from variations in the property tax base; and from varying degrees of efficiency of local authorities in taking local initiatives. The city authority cannot control this mechanism, which is unfair and which is difficult to regulate through the dispersed decision-making bodies. Redistribution, through the design and monitoring of balancing mechanisms, would imply a voluntaristic public commitment to remedy these inequalities. Those who initiated decentralization were aware of this and created a body above the districts, the city, which could contribute, with the state, to implementing remedial action so that all citizens enjoy the same rights.

For the time being, the reverse is happening. The two richest districts, Plateau and Treichville, have the biggest investment budget per inhabitant and the gap is large: in 1990 district investment per inhabitant was nearly 43 times higher in the Plateau, which was already well provided for, than in Yopougon, 14 times higher in Treichville than in Attécoubé; in 1987, the per capita capital budget was 60 times higher in Plateau than in Attécoubé, but in 1990 it was 99 times more. Whereas the centralized concessionary companies in charge of water and electricity are maintaining equal tariffs, the most impoverished residents of the poorer districts, such as Attécoubé and Yopougon, do not benefit from these low levels of local investment.

Indeed, the creation of districts has generated competition in a pluralist electoral framework and many mayors have shown their political acumen when the new relations between the state and the districts enhanced "authoritarian decompression" (Bourmaud and Quantin, 1991) and facilitated the emergence of democratic practices. However, efficiency in the management of the city for the majority of its residents depends on the interdependence between strong local mechanisms and the resources of the central system of government. Only the state can reconcile the necessary public control of long-term urban planning to create conditions for all to enjoy their rights in the city and the often contradictory and antagonistic short-term aspirations of its inhabitants. If the questions relating to the modes of and scope for arbitration, and in the final analysis to the nature of power (starting with state power), are not clearly formulated, decentralization and management objectives will not generate the type of democratic engineering stated in the law and by the stakeholders. Thus, the Abidjan experience is interesting, though limited, and can serve as a reference and an example to those in charge of Africa's mega-cities.


1. 1 French franc = 50 CFA francs.

Glossary of abbreviations

AUA Atelier d'urbanisme d'Abidjan Abidjan Urban Planning Office
AURA Agence d'urbanisme de la région d'Abidjan Abidjan Provincial Planning Office
BCET Bureau central d'études techniques Central Office for Technical Studies
BNEC Banque rationale d'épargne et de crédit National Savings and Credit Bank
CAA Caisse autonome d'amortissement Autonomous Redemption Fund
CCCE Caisse centrale de coopération économique (devenue CFD, Caisse française pour le développement) Central Economic Cooperation Fund, later CFD, French Development Fund
CDMH Compte de mobilisation pour l'habitat Building Account
CIE Compagnie ivoirienne d'électricité Ivory Coast power company
DCGTx Direction et contrôle des grands travaux Public Works Inspection Department
EBC Enquête budget-consommation Survey on income and consumption
EDF Electricité de France French power company
EECI Energie électrique de Côte d'Ivoire Ivory Coast power company
EIF Enquête ivoirienne de fécondité Survey on fertility
FNA Fonds national d'assainissement National Sanitation Fund
GFCI Groupement foncier de Côte d'Ivoire Real Estate Office
INS Institut National de Statistique, Abidjan National Standards Bureau
OSHE Office de soutien à l'habitat économique Low-Cost Housing Support Department
RGPH Recensement général de la population et de l'habitat National Census
SAUR Société pour l'aménagement urbain et rural Urban and Rural Development Company
SEMA Société d'Economie et de Mathématiques Appliquées Economics and Applied Mathematics Society
SETAP Société pour les études techniques d'aménagement planifié Planned development engineering agency
SETU Société d'équipement des terrains urbains Urban Land Development Company
SICOGI Société ivoirienne de construction et de gestion immobilière Ivorian Building and Real Estate Company
SODECI Société de distribution d'eau de la Cote-d'Ivoire Water Distribution Company
SOGEFIHA Société de gestion et de financement de l'habitat Housing Finance and Management Company
SOTRA Société de transports abidjanais Abidjan Transport Company


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