A 4th level of government in Africa? Multi-level governance and metropolitan urbanisation

By Nicolas Ronderos, Economic Development Consultant

BWO_038In Togo, Lomé’s growth beyond its administrative borders makes delivering services and coordinating with adjacent localities difficult. A new metropolitan urban planning framework is being developed to address this issue. In April of this year the central government approved a plan for Grand Lomé that seeks to address urban, housing, transport and social services issues at the agglomeration level. The Grand Lomé plan seeks to coordinate among local urbanisation plans by providing an overall governance framework that enables coherence among local policies within the agglomeration and with other actors. [1] 

As Lomé and other growing cities show, urbanisation brings together local populations, governments and other actors in continuous regions. It creates spillover effects that require localities to co-operate and coordinate to resolve problems often delimited by regional economic geographies that don’t correspond to the political and administrative boundaries of subnational governments. This issue specifically is relevant for Africa where the future will see an increase in metropolitan tensions as more and more people live in agglomerations, which include by definition “the city or town proper and also the suburban fringe or thickly settled territory lying outside, but adjacent to, its boundaries.”[2]

Indeed, Africa’s rapid urbanisation will need inter-jurisdictional coordination among local governments, other subnational and federal or central governments, and international and private actors. Urban agglomerations or continuous urban regions of more than 300 000 inhabitants are expected to grow in Africa (see chart). The number of agglomerations has grown from 11 in 1950 to 159 in 2010. Expected growth by 2030 indicates that the continent will have 328 agglomerations. Metropolitan governance will have a vast role to play in these agglomerations, where a growing number of localities interact and address common problems.

Source: United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs, Population Division (2014). World Urbanisation Prospects: The 2014 Revision, CD-ROM Edition.

By leveraging the power of multi-level governance, metropolitan growth can accelerate sustainable development in Africa. How? It can coordinate the initiatives of local communities, including service provision and revenue collection, with other actors. This “4th level of government or governance competency” can advance development by coordinating pooled resources to address common problems by different local governments. These can increase their ability through co-operation and coordination to plan and execute metropolitan projects on transport, economic development, solid waste and other sectors that tend to spill over local boundaries.

Achieving these metropolitan outcomes requires a clear definition of the 4th level of government or governance capacity in development and planning. Metropolitan governance in Africa is usually the responsibility of the second level of government between the national and local levels, or of 4th level regional governments already existing in such countries as Morocco or Côte d’Ivoire. Organisations or policies at this 4th level can act as strong levers for structural transformation as they cover a gap in the intergovernmental system beyond other levels of government and actors. However, competition among already existing government levels makes it difficult for subnational governments to share their decision making power in pooled metropolitan governance bodies that seek to coordinate conflicting priorities. One way to address this competition between governments is to base metropolitan frameworks within existing legal and fiscal national structures instead of imposing exogenous ones. In short, the focus should be on governance and not governments.

An example of this is Ghana. The Ghanaian government and the World Bank, in an urbanisation review for the country, planned for urbanisation by identifying existing mechanisms in the law to address issues of agglomerations and their metropolisation. After evaluating inter-jurisdictional issues in the country, proposed metropolitan governance actions included “leveraging existing legal provisions for inter-jurisdictional coordination, implementing [an] integrated metropolitan planning system and facilitating improved urban planning across jurisdictions, hence [resolving] crosscutting issues.[3]

Consider also the example of South Africa. Metropolitan governance in South Africa’s Gauteng region addresses both the provincial and metropolitan levels that coexist within the same administrative geography. The region coordinates the urban areas around Johannesburg (e.g. Pretoria, Midrand) to work together in a balanced way on projects such as the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link, the Dinokeng Tourism Area or the City Deep Logistics Hub. These projects support the region’s metropolitan framework but are implemented by the province within the South African constitutional system.[4]

As these examples show, checks and balances are already in place for new metropolitan governance to work within existing intergovernmental frameworks. This avoids latent intergovernmental issues. It translates instead into metropolitan governance taking shape within the constitutional powers and mechanisms for subnational governance. It supports urban priorities both politically and fiscally by strengthening the capacity of all governments to share the costs and benefits of infrastructure and urbanisation.

Ultimately, clearly defining and enabling the use of this 4th level of government or governance capacity where applicable in Africa recognises its importance as a way to support, and not compete with, other governments.


Mr. Ronderos participated in the review and experts meetings for the African Economic Outlook 2016: Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation. This blog post emerges from this participation.


[1] AfreePress, April 7, 2016. Lomé bientôt doté d’un nouveau schéma d’urbanisme en remplacement de celui de 1981 http://www.afreepress.info/index.php/europe/item/4843-lom%C3%A9-bient%C3%B4t-dot%C3%A9-d%E2%80%99un-nouveau-sch%C3%A9ma-d%E2%80%99urbanisme-en-remplacement-de-celui-de-1981 [5 September, 2016]

[2] United Nations Statistics Division, 2016. Population density and urbanization. http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sconcerns/densurb/densurbmethods.htm [5 September, 2016]

[3] The World Bank, 2015. Rising through Cities in Ghana. Ghana Urbanization Review Overview Report. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/613251468182958526/Rising-through-cities-in-Ghana-urbanization-review-overview-report [5 September, 2016] Page 46.

 [4] Gauteng Provincial Government, 2016. About Government http://www.gautengonline.gov.za/Government/Pages/AboutGovernment.aspx [5 September, 2016]