Following independence from colonial rule, African governments struggled to cope with the legacy of fragmented water services and new demands of peri-urban population growth. Privatization was presented as a panacea that would expand and improve water supply. Small-scale independent water providers (SSPs) were meanwhile often the only actors ensuring that services were available to the peri-urban poor. Nonetheless, they were ignored and even vilified in ‘pro-poor’ strategies of water supply reform. Recent studies have actually demonstrated the important role SSPs play in serving the poor in African cities, however, substantial knowledge gaps remain. This study of SSP activities in Maputo, Mozambique provides rigorous empirical evidence about the performance of fully private SSPs vis-à-vis a privatized utility at both the provider and household level. The findings belie long-held notions of informal water provision as inferior and inefficient and formal sector privatization as the preferred strategy for reaching the poor. Improving water supply in African cities requires an understanding of the specific advantages of provider-types and avoiding universal cures.

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