This article examines the management of solid waste in Addis Ababa from 2004 to mid‐2011. It describes how solid waste management has evolved and how relationships between the informal sector and the local authority have shifted in relation to the political atmosphere in the city. The author shows how good governance promoted by international donors does not necessarily result in improved service delivery on the ground. In line with the principles of good governance, the Ethiopian government decentralized the city’s administration and entered into partnerships with non‐state actors in order to improve service delivery. However, these structural changes have not led to improvements in providing services for dealing with solid waste, nor have they improved accountability to or participation by civil society. The study shows that the established ways of exercising power are continuing within the new structures of the city administration, resulting in increased control over the actors involved in the process, and more conflicts and deeper mistrust of the city administration. This, in turn, has prevented the successful integration of the informal sector and provision of an improved solid waste service in the city. The city administration in Addis Ababa claims to have adopted good governance, but in reality it has adapted good governance to suit its own interests and agendas.