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Toilet wars: urban sanitation services and the politics of public-private partnerships in Ghana

This paper examines the impact of the new forms of partnership between the public authorities and private/citizen-based organisations on urban environmental sanitation in the two largest cities of Ghana, namely, Accra and Kumasi. It traces the history of public toilet policies in the two cities and analyses the factors that contributed to their relative failure in poor neighbourhoods.

The paper highlights that toilets consistently have been poorly managed and have been the site of local political conflicts (toilet wars) despite efforts at franchising them and involving communities in their management. This is attributable to the politics of patronage at the urban level, the relationship between city government patronage and community level groups, and the failure of regulation. Public-private partnerships have not worked.

The paper concludes that if public-private partnerships are to work better than those recently experienced by urban dwellers in Ghana, a number of different options are possible:

  • if the benefits of genuine privatisation are to be obtained, then contracts for the delivery of public services – especially essential services such as sanitation – need to be based on fully transparent and performance-based tendering procedures
  • if the point above seems politically unrealistic or unlikely, then more radical privatisation to community-based or user-group providers is a possibility, especially in areas where formal municipal services hardly reach anyway, and informal, self-help systems are the norm. To achieve the ideal goal of active beneficiary participation, well-resourced and well-established community organisations are needed
  • because of the political and economic difficulties associated with the first two options above, particularly in the case of poor urban communities in informal neighbourhoods, full public provision of the basic infrastructure and services needed to ensure public health and safety may still be required.

[adapted from author]