Across the global South, urban residents have come to play a much greater role in the provision of basic public services through a variety of government–community partnerships. Often referred to as public–public partnerships (PuPs), such arrangements are thought to be essential to ensure that services are efficient, equitable, sustainable and responsive to the needs and interests of heterogeneous communities. This paper draws on original research and secondary data to analyse the strengths and limitations of PuPs with respect to water provision in contemporary Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It explores two ways that community-based organisations (CBOs) have become partners in the delivery of water and draws attention to the external support received by the most successful community partners. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.