The state of Africa

Privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Where Do We Stand?
OECD Observer

Does privatisation work for some of the world’s poorest countries? Privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Where Do We Stand? looks at the last decade of privatisation in Africa and discusses its successes and failures in terms of public finance, economic efficiency, pricing and local markets.

From privatising telecoms in Mali, electricity supply in Mozambique or water services in Gambia, it seems that privatisation efforts have at times taken one step forward and two steps back. Part of the problem, says Privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa, is the perception that transactions are often considered detrimental to the poor because of the loss of state subsidies to basic services, inefficient though they may be. Furthermore, while a theoretical aim of privatization is to raise productivity, which should cut prices in real terms and increase employment and growth, in practice, jobs get cut and prices have risen to levels that may be low internationally, but high by local standards.

Privatisation in Africa started in Côte d’Ivoire in 1960, with the partial sale of the water supply company. It accelerated dramatically in the last decade or so and by the end of the 1990s, a majority of African countries had received World Bank assistance for privatisation programmes. In fact, 67% of all adjustment lending involved public enterprise reform. Yet cumulative proceeds of privatisation account for just $8 billion compared to $46 billion in transition economies over the same period. In at least half of the 48 Sub-Saharan countries in 2002, the water, fixed-line telephone, railway transportation, air transportation and petroleum product distribution sectors were still state-owned.

Efforts to privatise continue, with 2,535 privatisations to date in sub-Saharan Africa, and 332 pending as of 2002, many of them utilities. This augurs for more price jumps, but may improve equity if investments spread. Privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa reports that in Uganda, 94% of the population in 1995 was effectively subsidising the 6% who had access to electricity, to the amount of $50 million a year. In urban areas of Ethiopia in 1996, around 86% of subsidies on kerosene were used by the non- poor.

Privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa is published by the OECD Development Centre.

©OECD Observer No 242, March 2004

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017