Between Control and Cooperation: Multi-Stakeholder Service Provision and the Legitimacy of State Institutions in Ethiopia’s Amhara National Regional State


This article contributes to nascent scholarship on the relations between multi-stakeholder service delivery and state legitimacy in development settings. On the basis of qualitative analysis of two multi-stakeholder projects (MSPs) for water provision in Ethiopia, we find that the specific process of interaction between state institutions and non-state actors (both citizens and organizations) affects state legitimacy as a function of joint service delivery more profoundly than the outputs of this process. We explore this process of interaction by looking at division of roles, communication, decision making and accountability. However, placing our empirical findings in the context of Ethiopia’s broader political economy questions the effect of local MSPs on aggregated notions of legitimacy.


Cet article contribue à la recherche émergente sur les liens entre la prestation de services par de multiples intervenants et la légitimité de l’Etat dans le cadre d’activités de développement. A travers une analyse qualitative de deux projets multi-acteurs d’approvisionnement en eau en Ethiopie, nous constatons que le processus particulier d’interaction entre les institutions publiques et les acteurs non étatiques (tant les citoyens que les organisations) affecte plus profondément la légitimité de l’Etat dans sa fonction de prestation conjointe de services que ne le font les résultats de ce processus. Nous nous intéressons à ce processus d’interaction en examinant la répartition des rôles, la communication, la prise de décision et la responsabilité. Toutefois, si nous situons nos résultats empiriques dans le contexte plus large de la politique économique de l’Ethiopie, nous soulevons la question de l’effet des projets locaux multipartenaires sur l’ensemble des notions de légitimité.

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Figure 1


  1. 1.

    In the section ‘Multi-stakeholder projects’, we define MSPs as projects with the explicit objective of bringing together public, private and civil society actors who have an interest in a problem and engaging them in a process of dialog and collective action to address this problem.

  2. 2.

    The country report is available at

  3. 3.

    This framework was developed by the ‘Multi-Stakeholder Processes, Service Delivery and State Institutions’ consortium of the Peace, Security and Development Network (

  4. 4.

    There is thus considerable overlap between different categories of legitimacy: general-embedded legitimacy determines to what extent state institutions can reap process and performance legitimacy from MSPs, and accumulated process and performance legitimacy stemming from MSPs might eventually affect general-embedded legitimacy.

  5. 5.

    See Annex 3 of the country report for an account of the case selection.

  6. 6.

    ORDA is seen as one of Ethiopia’s many GONGOs (Government-Operated Non-Governmental Organization) (Vaughan and Tronvoll, 2003, p. 66). Indeed, we found ORDA’s relations with the local state institutions involved in the Achefer MSP to be exceptionally good. However, citizens were often not aware of this and clearly differentiated between state and ORDA representatives. When it comes to assessing legitimacy, we maintain our premise that legitimacy is based on perceptions, that is, that woreda and kebele institutions are associated with the state and ORDA is not.

  7. 7.

    On the federal level, the Fogera MSP involved the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. On a regional level, both MSPs included the Bureau of Finance and Economic Development; the Water Resources Development Bureau; the Bureau of Health; and the Women’s Affairs Bureau. On the zonal level, the Fogera MSP incorporated the Zonal Administration; the Finance and Economic Development Department; the Water Resources Development Department; the Health Department; and the Women’s Affairs Department. On the woreda level, the MSPs involved the Woreda Administration; the Office of Finance and Economic Development; the Water Resources Development Office; the Health Office; the Women’s Affairs Office; the Education Office; and the Agriculture and Rural Development Office. On the kebele level, the MSPs included the Kebele Administration; Development Agents; Health Extension Workers; the Information, Education and Communication officer; and schools.

  8. 8.

    A complete overview of MSP actors and levels can be found on pp. 30–31 of the country report.

  9. 9.

    For a comprehensive discussion of the water, sanitation and hygiene committees and coffee ceremonies, see Sections 4.2 (specifically pp. 42, 44) and 4.2.1 (p. 42) of the country report, respectively.


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The authors would like to thank all respondents for generously sharing their time and vision. They also thank the Peace, Security and Development Network for enabling the research project underlying this article. The authors are grateful to Professor Meine Pieter van Dijk for commenting on previous versions of the article; to Dr Jeroen van Wijk for his advice throughout the research project; and to Mina Noor for her contribution to the fieldwork.

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Stel, N., Abate, F. Between Control and Cooperation: Multi-Stakeholder Service Provision and the Legitimacy of State Institutions in Ethiopia’s Amhara National Regional State. Eur J Dev Res 26, 743–760 (2014).

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  • Ethiopia
  • state legitimacy
  • multi-stakeholder projects
  • drinking water