Decentralization and Service Delivery in Ethiopia

Organized by
Ethiopian Civil Service College
IHS - Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies
Erasmus University Rotterdam

March 31 and April 1st, 2010

The Ethiopian Civil service College (ECSC), in conjunction with the Institute for Housing and Urban Development (IHS) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), would like to invite researchers among their staff, Masters participants and other interested researchers to contribute papers to the 3rd joint-conference to be held in March - April 2010* in Addis Ababa


The last decade has witnessed a proliferation of decentralization reforms throughout the world. Of 75 developing and transitional countries (many of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with populations of 5 million or more,  all but 12 have engaged in some form of transfer of power to sub-national or local level (Ebel, 2000).  Decentralization is being attempted throughout Africa, often as a panacea to solve broader political, social or economic problems (SARA, 1997). Central governments are decentralizing fiscal, political, administrative and economic responsibilities to lower-levels of government, local institutions, and the private sector in pursuit of greater accountability and more efficient service delivery. However recent developments also show a strong trend towards re-centralization.

Ethiopia introduced decentralization as the strategic tool for empowering citizens and devolving power to lower levels, following the Constitution. This, in turn, was expected to establish a conducive environment for enhancing the delivery of basic services. The decentralization process was implemented in two phases.

  • The first phase created a four-tier governance structure, consisting of the Federal, the regions (nine ethnic-based states plus the cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), the zones (not in every region), the Woredas and the Kabeles. During this phase, the regional governments were given responsibility for delivering all education and health services.
  • The Government initiated the second phase of decentralization with a series of legal, fiscal, and administrative reforms beginning with four of the largest regions (Amhara, Oromiya, SNNPR, and Tigray), which together account for 87 percent of Ethiopia’s population. Under this phase, some control has also been devolved to the Woreda level, and eventually urban administrations with Woreda status and responsibilities were created in urban areas. Within the four regions, Woredas now manage about 45 percent of regional public expenditures. This phase of decentralization seeks to empower communities to engage in development interventions, improve local democratic governance, and enhance the scope and quality of the delivery of basic services at the local level.

Objective of Conference

While decentralization has empowered local decision makers to set priorities in line with local demand, fiscal, human and economic resources remain major impediments. This conference aims at assessing the extent to which decentralization has contributed to achieving better service delivery in Ethiopia.

Decentralization itself is neither good nor bad. It is a means to an end, often imposed by political reality. The issue is whether it is successful or not. Successful decentralization improves the efficiency and responsiveness of the public sector while accommodating potentially explosive political forces. Unsuccessful decentralization threatens economic and political stability and disrupts the delivery of public services.

The extent of decentralization will be assessed by four indices to reflect the four aspects of decentralization: political, administrative, fiscal, and market. Assessing decentralization at this disaggregated level helps better clarify the component structures underpinning claims to decentralization as well as point to the limits of such claims. To measure the extent of decentralization we focused on the existence and overall operation of institutions and structures of governance, administration fiscal control and demonopolization and deregulation at the local level. 

Core Thematic Areas

Political Decentralization
Papers that explore giving citizens or their elected representatives more power in public decision-making. (Pluralistic politics and representative government, democratization)

Administrative Decentralization
Papers that explore the redistribution of authority, responsibility and financial resources for providing public services among different levels of government.      

Fiscal Decentralization
Papers that explore fiscal decentralization in its many forms, including a) self-financing or cost recovery through user charges, b) co-financing or co-production arrangements through which the users participate in providing services and infrastructure through monetary or labor contributions; c) expansion of local revenues through property or sales taxes, or indirect charges; d) intergovernmental transfers that shift general revenues from taxes collected by the central government to local governments for general or specific uses; and e) authorization of municipal borrowing and the mobilization of either national or local government resources through loan guarantees.      

Market (Economic Decentralization)
Papers that explore economic liberalization and market development policies. Policies that allow functions that had been primarily or exclusively the responsibility of government to be carried out by businesses, community groups, cooperatives, private voluntary associations, and other non-government organizations.

Support by International Development Agencies
Papers which explore the current state of knowledge with respect to decentralization and assesses the relevance of decentralization to the wider international development agenda, using the all of the above aspects of decentralization as an entry-point into the broader discussion.