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The Struggle against Slum Eradication

The Struggle against Slum Eradication


In Sub Saharan Africa not much has changed about informal settlements. Policy interventions addressing informal settlements were expected to have taken a gradual shift from negative policies such as forced evictions, neglect and involuntary resettlement to more positive approaches such as site and service, in situ upgrading and other rights-based interventions. Yet continued arbitrary evictions and other forms of repression of the urban poor are a daily occurrence in the mushrooming cities.  According to UN-HABITAT’s State of the World Cities 2010/2011 report, the proportions of slum dwellers in the world have declined, but the numbers are growing. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has one of the highest percentages with about 62 per cent of its population being slum dwellers. Furthermore, the living conditions in the informal settlements are among the worst and are in every sense a gross violation of human rights.

Curiously, majority of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa claim to have promulgated polices for slum upgrading as recommended by UN-HABITAT. They have either assented to new constitutions and/or enacted policy reforms with provisions aimed at improving the living conditions of slum dwellers. South Africa, Tanzania and recently Kenya are among the countries that have made notable policy transitions. Section 26 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, enshrines the inalienable right to housing, as follows: (1) Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. (2) The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of this right. (3) No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions. In recent years, Kenya has similarly made major reforms as provided in the Constitution (2010) and the National Land Policy (2009). The Constitution (2010) formally recognizes the rights to housing, clean water, health care, food, and education. Section 43 (1) (b) states that: Every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation. In the National Land Policy (2009), the Government commits to regularize all informal settlements on public lands and develop upgrading programs with flexible tenure systems.

Despite the noted policy reforms, outcomes are still uncertain as implementation structures seem unable to translate policy goals into meaningful outcomes. A key shortcoming is continued reliance on outdated approaches such as redevelopment or/and relocation and evictions leading to gentrification and destruction of the social fabric of community living in informal settlements.  There is also lack of coordination and focus among key ministries, departments, organizations and professionals in charge of the programs. Furthermore, institutions responsible for policy implementation continue to privilege technocratic approaches when working with the local communities. What then explains the persistence of outdated approaches and the apparent increase in repressive measures on the urban poor in Sub-Saharan Africa?

According to some perceptive analysis by researchers and proponents of an all inclusive right to the city   some perverted interpretation of two modest slogans by Cities Alliance are a contributing factor. The two slogans coined by Cities Alliance and which have gained considerable popularity among elite politicians and technocrats are ‘Cities without Slums’ and ‘Global urban Competiveness’. Cities Alliance is a multilateral organization funded by the World Bank, the UN-HABITAT and member countries. Misinterpretation of the intention behind these slogans has fuelled the state efforts being directed to eradication of slums rather than the improvement of the lives of slum dwellers. According to Prof. Marie Huchzermeyer (2011), documents and policy statements by governments, UN-HABITAT and multilateral organizations tend to fudge the distinction between an operational target (from MDG seven Target 11 of upgrading the living conditions of 10 percent of slum dwellers by 2020) and a long term vision adopted from Cities Alliance (and intended to accompany the rather modest 20 years target).  Apparently, UN-HABITAT and the World Bank have unwittingly fuelled and legitimized the on-going repressive eradication of slums (informal settlements) across SSA and other developing countries.

What is to be done? To start with, a corrective guidance is needed on the proper interpretation of MDG seven target 11 and the essentials for slum upgrading. Owing to their immense influence UN-HABITAT and the World Bank should take the first steps by providing the corrective guidance on the twin slogans for cities without slums and global urban competitiveness which are attributed to them. Second, they should refrain from funding programs which fuel war on the urban poor, and be on the side of human rights struggle against continued practice of slum demolition and indignity.  UN-HABITAT in its Global Report on Human Settlements (2003) has offered the do’s and don’ts of improving the lives of slum dwellers. It highlights participatory slum upgrading as best practice and advices against slum eradication.

Third, broader cooperation and coordination is needed among urban poor organizations (CBOs, NGOs, Federation of Slum Dwellers, and professionals). Alliance of urban poor organizations will collaboratively generate, support, implement and monitor slum improvement initiatives in each country and across the region. Such a network has already emerged in South Africa, known as the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). The ISN is a loose network of community and national level informal settlement organizations that are active in cities which help to create solidarity and promote exchanges across informal settlements, promote activities for improving access to land, infrastructure, services and upgrading.

Fourth is a challenge to the urban professionals (planners, designers, social workers, lawyers, and urban managers) in SSA to be more responsive and effective in improving the living conditions of the urban poor. Majority of urban professionals and academia in SSA are in denial concerning informality and the mushrooming urban slums and prefer to hind behind technocratic illusion of a city yet to come. 

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