Cities Network Boosts Urban Reform in Ethiopia

The nascent Ethiopian Cities Network is a good example of how cities can work together to fill their knowledge gaps, raise awareness of urban issues and help implement priority urban reforms.
The nascent Ethiopian Cities Network (ECN) is a good example of how cities can work together to fill their knowledge gaps, raise awareness of urban issues and help implement priority reforms in governance, service delivery, urban poverty alleviation and improved housing.
 
What began as an informal way for Ethiopia’s cities to cooperate and share experiences following decentralisation efforts and rapid urbanisation has become a flourishing network with recognised value for its members and a platform for national dialogue on the urban agenda in Ethiopia.
 
Since its establishment in 2009 with 19 cities, membership has grown substantially to include 28 cities across the country – most of Ethiopia’s major and secondary cities. Its activities are becoming increasingly high profile, particularly the annual Ethiopian Cities Day.
 
The ECN is overseen by an executive board elected by mayors of partner cities. It is supported by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) as part of its Urban Governance and Decentralisation Programme, the Ethiopian Ministry of Works and Urban Development, and member cities. The Cities Alliance provided funding for the establishment of the ECN and continues to support its ongoing activities.
 
Tsigereda Tafesse, Senior Expert and Policy Advisor for GIZ’s Urban Governance and Decentralisation Programme in Ethiopia, welcomes the Cities Network as one of the main tools for ensuring sustainability, improving quality and scaling-up urban reform processes that are already underway.
 
She notes that it fosters peer-to-peer learning, which in turn speeds up the implementation of reforms as cities no longer depend solely on higher levels of government for support. The network also creates a knowledge bank that helps sustain reforms amid high staff turnover in the Ethiopian public sector.
 
And cities are embracing the network. “The past experience exchange workshops of the ECN have shown great enthusiasm and a positive spirit among cities to assist and learn from each other,” Ms. Tafesse says.
 
While the ECN is still in its relatively early stages, some initial lessons can be drawn from its establishment and activities over the first two years.
 
First, starting with informal cooperation and experience exchange provides a stronger base for sustainable networking that jumping in with formal structures of a network. Ethiopian cities had already begun to reach out to each other for knowledge to cope with common challenges when mayors and stakeholders discussed creating an alliance to fill their knowledge gaps. The Cities Alliance subsequently provided funding to establish a formal network, with co-financing from GIZ, the World Bank, and member cities.
 
The second main lesson is that the commitment and contribution of member cities is a crucial prerequisite for sustaining a city network. Ethiopian cities drove the establishment of the Cities Network, and they continue to have strong ownership of it. ECN activities are attracting greater participation by cities, which cover their own expenses to take part – a testament to their draw and perceived value.
 

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