Between neglect and control: Questioning partnerships and the integration of informal actors in public solid waste management in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

by Axel Baudouin, Camilla Bjerkli, Yirgalem Habtemariam, & Zelalem Fenta Chekole


The paper addresses the long-standing role of informal actors in solid waste management in Addis Ababa. Large numbers of people make a living through scavenging, waste collection and recycling. The varied and shifting relations between these actors and the local authorities are examined. For the most part, the authorities have largely neglected informal waste collectors. Recently, however, the role of informal actors was recognized and the authorities attempted to establish a “partnership” with informal actors in the waste sector. The paper discusses the consequences and problems involved in this partnership and how it facilitated political dominance and surveillance in a context of authoritarian governance. Informal actors have frequently resisted attempts at taxation and have avoided any collaboration with and control by the authorities. More generally, the paper concludes that political manipulation, poor accountability, lack of opportunities for participation, and the ensuing mistrust among informal actors towards local authorities prevent any successful integration of the actors and their interests in the public management of waste in the studied setting.

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Axel Baudouin is associate professor of Geography at Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. Camilla Bjerkli is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on waste management and governance in Addis Ababa.

Zelalem Fanta Chekole has an M.Phil in development studies and social change from the Department of Geography at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and is presently working as Regional Planner at the Federal Urban Planning Institute, Ministry of Works and Urban Development in Addis Ababa.

Yirgalem Habtemariam has a Ph.D in Geography from NTNU and is presently senior lecturer in the department of Geography at the University of Addis Ababa.