Africa: Slum dweller representatives denounce forced evictions

Nairobi (Kenya) — Slum dwellers from across Africa have urged their governments to stop forced evictions and work towards providing them with adequate shelter and basic services.

"Better housing is not a favour our governments should extend to us, but a right that we deserve to be given like everybody else," said Alhassan Ibn Abdallah, a resident of Old Fadama, the largest informal settlement in Ghana's capital Accra.

Abdallah was speaking at a meeting organized by Amnesty International (AI) in Nairobi, on the sidelines of a ministerial conference on housing and urban development.

"We urge our governments to stop the practice of forced evections, whether carried out by government itself or by private developers. You cannot have development by creating more homeless people," he said.

In Old Fadama, AI estimates that 55,000-79,000 people live without security of tenure and under constant threat of forced eviction, while in Nigeria, at least 20,000 people may be rendered homeless should the government implement its plan to demolish waterfront settlements in Port Harcourt.

Activists from Chad, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and Zimbabwe have been, since 20 of March, taking part in a week of action dubbed "People Live Here", aimed at highlighting the plight of residents of informal settlements or slums and the need to provide essential services like health, water, education and security to them.

George Amaka from Nigeria said forced evictions normally disrupt the social networks and economic activities of those living in slums, saying the lack of security of tenure creates anxiety among many slum residents.

"We have to look for new schools for our children; we have to start creating new businesses, normally with no capital with which to do it. Every social safety net that slum people rely on to survive is disrupted. We are not criminals but people working hard to earn a living and provide for our families," Amaka told IRIN.

Another activist from Kenya, Minicah Otieno, who coordinated the Rapid Response Team which mobilizes slum dwellers in Nairobi to stand up against forced evictions, told IRIN that slum upgrading programmes in Africa, normally meant to provide affordable housing to the poor, are affected by corruption.

"In Kenya, we have slum upgrading programmes that are meant to provide affordable and dignified housing to slum dwellers, but because of corruption, people do not benefit and instead, government officials allocate these houses to themselves and their cronies", she said.

"It is because of corruption that land grabbers evict people from their settlements and the government assists them to do it," she added.

Justus Nyang'aya, AI director in Kenya, said while evictions are at times necessary, they need to be carried out within the confines of both local laws and international statues on evictions, to which, he says, many African countries are voluntary signatories.

"People must be consulted, provided with alternative settlement before eviction and must be told exactly what the land they live on will be used for," he added.

Speaking to IRIN on the sidelines of the conference, Kenya's minster for housing, Soita Shitanda, admitted more work needs to be done: "We have to look afresh on our urban planning and accommodate this growing population, because poor planning also impedes provision of services."

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