Association of Cities/Urban Forum and Urban-Rural Relations

Ketema Wakjira Debela, Centre for Federalism and Governance Studies, Addis Ababa University

Relevance of the Practice

Two main forces – federalism and urbanization – shape the relationship between urban and rural local governments in the federal system of Ethiopia. On the one hand, federalism sets territorial, institutional and political frameworks in Ethiopia. It has established institutionally fragmented but functionally interconnected local governments, making the participation of local governments in the overall system of intergovernmental relations in the federation of Ethiopia inevitable. On the other hand, urbanization in Ethiopia is characterized by rapid and mostly informal outward expansion. This has brought a number of problems ranging from competing local administrations, conflicting interests over land use management to ambiguous jurisdictional boundary expansion. Any further effort to resolve these problems of governance requires clear principles and institutions of urban and rural local governments relations. To this end, the practice of Ethiopian Cities Association (Ethiopia Urban Forum) and Urban-Rural Relation are practices worth to be discussed.

Description of the Practice

The Ethiopian Cities Association (ECA), which was launched in 2009, is a legally registered and licensed entity pursuant to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Charities and Societies Proclamation no 621/2009 Article 68(1).[1] In this regard, the Federal Ministry of Works and Urban Development have partnered with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the World Bank (WB) for the project ‘Establishment of the Ethiopian Cities Association and Strengthening and Supporting its Operations’ that was first planned to be active from 2008 to 2011.[2]

The rapid urbanization and the huge challenges it has brought upon governance and service provision of cities in Ethiopia, was claimed to be the base for foundation of ECA. ECA was therefore meant ‘to serve as a urban forum/platform for policymakers’, authorities, stakeholders and cities to exchange experiences, and create awareness about urban development’.[3]It has aimed to serve as a platform for knowledge exchange among city administrators and improve slum upgrading and city plan implementations.[4] ECA, as urban platform, aims at ‘experience sharing and learning among cities to encourage a healthy and competitive atmosphere’ among the cities/urban centers of Ethiopia.[5] As expressed by the supporting organization like Cities Alliance,[6] apart from knowledge sharing, it has focused on providing ‘technical assistance and establishing cooperative relationships with other international networks.’

ECA is composed of three structures: general assembly, board and secretariat. The general assembly is the supreme organ of the association that elects the Board from members of the ECA. It is also the organ that approves strategic plans and budgets as well as approves and/or amends the statue and bylaws of the association and decides on the dissolution of the association when deemed necessary.[7] The board on the other hand has an oversight role and ensures that all organs and members of the association implement its decisions. The board, comprised of nine-member cities, also appoints and/or dismisses the secretary and the department heads of the ECA’s secretariat, while a secretariat is responsible for implementing the decisions of the general assembly and the board of the ECA.[8]

The first event of the ECA came out in on 22 October,2009 as ‘Ethiopian Cities Day’ with 19 members attending the event in Addis Ababa, the hosting city. It was organized by the Federal Ministry of Works and Urban Development in partnership with the German Organisation for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) Urban Governance and Decentralisation Programme, the Cities Alliance, and the Addis Ababa-based Corporate Media and Communication.

Later on there was a felt need to change the name ‘Ethiopian Cities Day’ into Ethiopian Cities Week (ECW) because a single day couldn’t suffice for the forum. The ECW was also renamed as the ‘Ethiopia Urban Forum’ in 2014, encompasses a number of events such as Panel discussion, plenary session, exhibition, and best-practices competitions.[9] The ECW particularly dwells on how to implement and institutionalize lessons learned from the Urban Local Government Development Programme (ULGDP), a major World Bank-financed capacity-building and infrastructure development program in which many ECA member cities are participating.[10] The two events-Panel and plenary discussions-have been undertaken by different urban specialists from different universities in Ethiopia along with participation of pertinent professionals from the UN-Habitat.[11] For the exhibition part, the participating cities display their cases and experiences in separate tents on the open field. The forum was said to be annual event when it was launched in 2009 and was performed annually up until the 6th round in 2014 which was hosted by Dire Dawa City. Afterwards, only two urban forums every two years were conducted.

It would be fair to ask what objectives have been achieved by ECW/urban forums. So far, the forum has been preparing some workshops on urban development issues along with exhibitions from different cities at the member city hosting the ECW. According to the ECA and the partnering organization like Cities Alliance, the association has greatly been benefitting the member cities through informal cooperation that was already taking place among certain cities. The Forums have also been instrumental for promoting ‘the culture and traditional assets and heritages of the people as well as strengthening the city to city relations in exchanging experience and learn from each other’.[12] The increasing relevance of ECA has been reflected even by the change of names of the event that was started as ‘Ethiopian cities day’ which was later changed to ‘Ethiopian cities week’, and now this forum is been addressed as ‘national urban forum.’

Nonetheless, one would barely find a coherent guideline and settled principles of IGRs among the three –federal, regional and urban local governments (ULGs/cities) with regard to Urban forums and ECA. Constitutionally speaking, the federal government has no direct contact with ULGs except the two charted Cities, namely Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Paradoxically, it has been the federal executive organ, namely the Ministry of Urban Development that has been the key actor (along with the partnering International Organizations like Cities Alliance) behind the establishment of the ECA and undertaking urban forums. But the place of regional states, the level of the government that establishes ULGs, in ECA and the preparation of the forums is blurred. In fact, the last eight ECW/urban forums were conducted due to the key role of the dominant party system and its democratic centralism based decision-making, party channel IGR and the inseparable relation between party and the government. Hence, the continuity of this forum as permanent multi-stakeholder’s platform transcending the life of the ruling party-EPRDF would remain a suspect.

In another register, all the regional states’ city proclamations have some provisions governing cities associations within their regional state. To cite some examples in this regard, Article 51(1) of the Proclamation no 65/2003 of Oromia regional state, provides that cities in the region may set up their own regional association and actively participate in the operation thereof. Moreover, the association has been given important functions such as inter-city cooperation through exchange of resources, experiences and ideas. The association serves as a forum for the provision of trainings and support for building the capacity of their members; and works towards promoting development of the cities as a whole. The association may also represent cities collectively and express their views on matters of common interest. It can also create and strengthen good working relation within cities in the region and outside. City associations work in consultation with the Urban Development and Industry Bureau of Oromia.[13] Likewise, Article 57 of the Proclamation no 69/2007 of the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State for Urban Establishment and definition of Powers and Duties of urban center in the region states that ‘City administrations and municipalities have the right to establish and organize associations and actively participate in their operations.’ The regional cities associations were envisioned to function as a forum for exchange of resources, experiences, ideas and expression of matters of common interest. However, the regional city associations have not been established in the regional states, and hence the cities lack institutional mechanisms for advancing their common interests without the interference of their regional states.

The other important practice which is worth describing is the urban-rural local governments relation. In Ethiopia, urbanization has long been identified as migration-led urbanization rather than industry-led urbanization. The studies on census data have affirmed that rural-urban migration is the driving force of urbanization in Ethiopia, and almost half of the urban population is accounted by rampant migration-mainly rural to urban mobility.[14] This migration led urbanization process has produced unbalanced towns/cities sizes and inequitable spatial distribution of urban centers across the country.

One of the estimates for the rapid rate of urbanization accounts up to 6 per cent per year.[15] The proportion of urban population was only 6 per cent in the 1960, 11 per cent in 1984, 14 per cent in 1994, and 17.2 per cent in 2013 and projected to be 30 per cent in 2025.[16] Because of the change in the designation of settlements as urban localities, Ethiopia has also shown a tremendous increase in the number of urban centers: 1,525 urban settlements as of 2015.[17] This rapid urbanization confronts with rural local governments because rapid urbanization appropriates a large portion of the neighboring rural territory as its economic and functional hinterlands. Moreover, inasmuch as urbanization is not concomitant with industrialization and sustained economic growth, this urbanization has created pressure on extant infrastructures and demand for more services including housing, transport, education etc.

The development plans/policies of Ethiopia have followed rural bias at one point and urban bias at another time, which shows unbalanced development policy orientation between urban and rural areas. At policy level, the federal government tends to understand the need to create mutual urban-rural linkages. As the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing Construction reports, the government has employed a number of mechanisms to develop rural and urban linkages including the liberalization policy related to input and output marketing facilitates, the promotion of agro-processing industries and micro enterprises and the development of small towns and rural service centers, Road Sector Development Program (RSDP) for assessing the rural sector and so on.[18] Yet, the rural spaces surrounding cities remained largely under the negative impact of horizontal urban expansion, including demands for more land for the different urban functions (such as housing, infrastructure and other social services), dislocation of farmers, loss of farm lands and increased pressure on public services and utilities.

All the regional states’ city proclamations make some provisions for governing urban and rural local governments relation. Some city proclamations[19] like that of Oromia set the terms of IGR between the urban/city and rural/district governments. Accordingly, a joint committee shall be created for performing two key functions: first, it identifies issues of mutual interest and sets strategies to jointly address and strengthen the urban-rural economic interaction; and second, it amicably settles boundary disputes between the urban and the concerned hinterland or adjoining rural areas. If the committee fails to settle the dispute, the Regional Government Executive Council has the final authority to resolve the case.

Although both regional city proclamations and urban development policy papers underscore the need for mutual urban-rural linkages in the Ethiopian federation, the interaction between the city and its neighboring rural local government has become a matter of pressing concern for dealing with factors of rapid urbanization that drives urban expansion farther into rural areas complicating land management, local jurisdictional boundaries, and the ethno-territorial claims. Also, there has been institutional and functional decoupling of urban and rural local governments due to unbalanced national policy orientation from the central/federal government in Ethiopia.

The practice however suggests that there is a felt need to enlarge the municipal borders, the city administrations often influence the neighboring rural communities, and this reveals the weakness of the urban and rural local governments relation. The committee is, in fact, supposed to moderate the effects of urbanization/urban expansion on the surrounding rural land. In the meantime, it has to be noted that the interaction between the city and the surrounding rural district administrations does not take place following the clear guidelines and institutions of IGRs but becomes operational on party channel/structure and personal relationship between the key executives of the city and rural district administrations. Had it not been for the political party channel, the urban and rural local governments cannot easily make horizontal relations because they have different legal statues and upward accountability lines.

This study suggests the need for clear institutional and structural relationship between urban and rural local governments in order to collaborate in the service deliveries as well as manage mutual risks that affect both urban and rural administrations. This institutional relation could also have the advantage of managing urbanization which has been characterized by rapid, largely unplanned and horizontal expansion beyond the municipal boundary. Therefore, creating specific IGR forums involving the participants from the city, rural district, and regional governments is worth recommending.

Assessment of the Practice

The establishment of Ethiopian Cities Association (ECA) in 2009 could be taken as an important move to address urban and urbanization generated issues in the federal system of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, there are a number of issues that are missing to make the ECA and the urban forums/cities week events a sustainable consultative forum. The association has been under the strong influence if not under a complete order of the federal executive or the Ministry of Urban Development. The partnering/outside funding sources come through the Ministry of Urban Development, and it has been this federal executive who actually plays the key role in setting the agenda and direction for the urban forums. This approach forces the ECA to work in line with the framework set by this federal body. Hence, the forum has barely served as independent institution of ULGs that put forth the demands of ULGs free from the federal government intervention. The Urban forum and ECA have not come to the status that it could influence the federal urban policy.

Instead, the federal government tends to use the urban forums as a mechanism of directly contacting the urban local governments but there is no explicit constitutional provision that enables the federal government to make direct relation with the urban local governments except the federal capital, Addis Ababa. The relation of regional state governments, as a level of government that legislate on the statuses of the ULGs in their jurisdiction, to the ECA and in the urban forums have been blurred. Although most of the urban problems cannot be resolved without cooperation of the rural local governments (RLGs), we have not witnessed the participation of RLGs in the national urban forums. Little attention is given to the RLGs relevance for resolving the problems of the Ethiopian urbanization which is mainly characterized by rapid, informal and horizontal expansion. Though the process of urbanization makes ULGs not only interrelated to RLGs but also the former cannot properly function without the later, neither RLGs participate in the national urban forums nor association of RLGs has been established in Ethiopia. In short, the sustainability of the urban forum as permanent multi-stakeholder’s platform transcending the life of the ruling party-EPRDF would remain uncertain if different political parties win election and rule over different levels of the government in the federation.

On the other hand, both the urban development policy papers and regional states’ city proclamations underscore the need to establish mutual urban-rural linkages. Contrary to the policy and city proclamations, the rural spaces surrounding cities remained largely under the negative impact of horizontal urban expansion and the RLGs often complain that they lose suburban spaces to ULGs. There has been top-down decision-making process to expand ULGs boundary by converting rural land into urban space. Some RLGs criticized the inclusion of some of their sub-rural local units adjacent to cities because this has further weakened the revenue capacity of their RLG as a number of local revenue sources were gone with the departure of these sub-rural units.[20] In this perspective, the urban boundary expansion and the demarcation of boundary between urban and rural has not been well considered from its impact on RLG’s revenue or income from land fees. The Ad hoc committees usually established for the urban expansion and demarcation of municipal boundary have been favoring the urban interests.  For example, the initiation to establish the Ad-hoc committees in regional states like Oromia state come from the regional state level and the concerned ULGs and RLGs are required to act in accordance with the instruction from the regional government. The decision that the Ad-hoc committee reaches is based on the instruction from the regional state’s concerned institution such as the urban land development and management agency. In fact, it has been the ruling political party channel that decides on the matter, and therefore, the ULGs and RLGs are required to match the order from the regional state and the ruling party.[21]

The age-old understanding of urban place as ‘superior’, different from the rural area and the policy favor to urban issues remains lingering in the urban-rural divide- the urban issues are still disposed by political culture of looking urban as modern and better than rural. Depending on the regional political solidarity and electoral contingencies, the regional states were trying to set the framework between urban and rural local governments. As a result, the relation between these local governments within the regional states becomes strong or lose depending on the regional political dynamics.

Beyond the informal/personal and party channel-based relationship for crises management between city and surrounding RLGs, one hardly finds settled principles and institutions of interaction between urban and rural local governments in Ethiopia. It has been this institutional failure between urban and rural local governments that has contributed for rapid and informal urbanization. This process of urbanization in turn has complicated matters related to land use planning, basic service deliveries and have often produced blurry and overlapping jurisdictional boundaries.

Indeed, the national urban development policy documents[22] have foreseen the need for mutual linkages between urban and rural local governments. The implementation of these policies, however, could not realize mutual benefits between urban and rural local governments. Despite the policy documents, the political actors and the bureaucracy have remained true to urban bias policy and urban centers have been considered superior areas compared to their rural counterparts. To reverse this, there is a need to develop strong institutional and functional relations between urban and rural local governments. It is also important to reconsider the upward accountability lines of the urban and rural local governments in a way that enables these local governments to have horizontal intergovernmental interactions.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Sources

Legal Documents:

Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1995)

Urban Development Policy (2005, 2011)

Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:

Agranoff R, ‘Local Governments in Federal Systems: Intergovernmental Relations in the Governance Era’ (22nd IPSA World Congress, Madrid, July 2012)

Ayele ZA, Local Government in Ethiopia: Advancing Development and Accommodating Ethnic Minorities (Nomos 2014)

—— and Fessha YT, ‘The Constitutional Status of Local Government in Federal Systems: The Case of Ethiopia’ (2012) 58 Africa Today 88

Ayenew M, ‘The City of Addis Ababa: Policy Options for Governance and Management of a City with Multiple Identity’ (Paper No 2, Forum for Social Studies 1998)

Benti G, Addis Ababa: Migration and the Making of Multiethnic Metropolis, 1941 to 1974 (Red Sea Press 2007)

De Villiers B, ‘Codification of “Intergovernmental relations” by way of Legislation: The Experiences of South Africa and Potential Lessons for Young Multitiered Systems’ (2012) 72 ZaöRV671

Di Nunzio M, ‘What is the Alternative? Youth, Entrepreneurship and the Developmental State in Urban Ethiopia’ (2015) 46 Development and Change1179

Dorosh P and Schmidt E, ‘The Rural-Urban Transformation in Ethiopia’ (IFPRI Ethiopia Strategy Support program 2 Working Paper no 13 and World Bank 2010)

Fiseha A and Ayele Z, ‘Concurrent Powers in the Ethiopian Federal System’ in Nico Steytler (ed), Concurrent Powers in Federal Systems : Meaning, Making, Managing (Brill Nijhoff 2017)

Gebre-Egziabher T and Berhanu K, A Literature Review of Decentralization in Ethiopia’ in Taye Assefa and Tegegne Gebre-Egziabher (eds), Decentralization in Ethiopia (Forum for Social Studies 2007)

Hiruy M, ‘Urban Management and Development in Ethio­pia’ in Berhanu Degefe and Befekadu Nega (eds), The Role of Urbanization’ in Socio-Economic Development Process (Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute 2003)

Ketema W and Regassa B, ‘Autonomy, Capacity and Service Provision of Local Governments in Oromia’ (2019) 5 Ethiopian Journal of Federal Studies87

Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), ‘Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program-SDPRP’ (2002)

Ministry of Works and Urban Development (MWUD), ‘Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (2005/06-2009/10)’ (2006)

Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), ‘Growth and Transformation Plan (2010/11-2014/15)’ (2012)

Ministry of Urban Development, Housing & Construction (MUDHCo), ‘National Report on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Final Report’ (2015)

Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction (MUDHCo) and Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU), ‘State of Ethiopian Cities’ (2015)            <>

Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction (MUDHCo) and Ethiopian Civil Service University (ECSU), ‘State of Ethiopian Cities Report’ (2015)

National Planning Commission, ‘Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTP II) (2015/16-2019/20). Volume I: Main Text’(May 2016)

Tegenu T, ‘Urbanization in Ethiopia: Study on Growth, Patterns, Functions and Alternative Policy Strategy’ (Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University 2010)   <>

Trench A, ‘Intergovernmental Relations: In Search of a Theory’ in Scott Greer (ed), Territory, Democracy and Justice: Regionalism and Federalism in Western Democracies(Palgrave Macmillan 2006)

United Nations Human Settlements Programme, ‘Ethiopia Urban Profile, Regional and Technical Cooperative Division’ (UN Habitat 2008) Wright D, Understanding Intergovernmental Relations (3rd edn, Brooks/Cole 1988)

[1] Website of the Ethiopian Cities Association, <>.

[2] ‘Expanding Ethiopian Cities Network Fosters Peer-to-Peer Learning’ (Cities Alliance, 25 January 2019)        <>.

[3] ‘About the ECA’ (Ethiopian Cities Association, 2013) <>.

[4] ‘Expanding Ethiopian Cities Network Fosters Peer-to-Peer Learning’ (Cities Alliance, 25 January 2019)        <>.

[5] ‘Report on Ethiopian National Urban Forum’ < Report-on-Ethiopian-National-Urban-Forum>.

[6] ‘Expanding Ethiopian Cities Network Fosters Peer-to-Peer Learning’ (Cities Alliance, 25 January 2019)        <>.

[7] ‘Governance Structure’ (Ethiopian Cities Association, 2013)   <>.

[8] ibid.

[9] ‘Expanding Ethiopian Cities Network Fosters Peer-to-Peer Learning’ (Cities Alliance, 25 January 2019) <>.

[10] ibid.

[11] UN-Habitat, ‘Report on Ethiopian National Urban Forum’ (2014)         <>.

[12] Jantirar Abay Yigzaw, Minister of Federal Urban Development (9th Ethiopian City Forum, Jigjiga, February 2019).

[13] Art 52(1-6) of Proclamation no 65/2003 for establishment of Urban Local Governments of Oromia.

[14] Tsegaye Tegenu, ‘Urbanization in Ethiopia: Study on Growth, Patterns, Functions and Alternative Policy Strategy’ (Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University 2010) <>.

[15] Paul Dorosh and Emily Schmidt, ‘The Rural-Urban Transformation in Ethiopia’ (IFPRI Ethiopia Strategy Support program 2 Working Paper no 13 and World Bank 2010)

[16] Ministry of Urban Development, Housing & Construction MUDHCo, ‘National Report on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Final Report’ (2015).

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] Art 28(2) of Proclamation no 65/2003.

[20] Ketema Wakjira and Regassa Bayissa, ‘Autonomy, Capacity and Service Provision of Local Governments in Oromia’ (2019) 5 Ethiopian Journal of Federal Studies 87.

[21] ibid.

[22] Urban Development Policy of Ethiopia (2005, 2011).