SDI


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The Kenyan federation, Mungano wa wanavijiji, kicked off an enumeration of the railway line slum of Kibera in Nairobi this week. The survey process there is an example of how politically complicated collecting information can get, as well as just how valuable the data actually is.

My colleague Jack Makau has a great in-depth piece on the history of enumerations in Kibera. This is the second large-scale enumeration undertaken by the federation there in the past six years. It is all tied to planned evictions along the line that have never been carried out, as the Kenyan government’s move to privatize the railway line has proceeded in very slow fits and starts. The twists of this process, which was originally envisioned to have finished years ago, shine a light on the combustible combination of resources, government processes, the role of multinational institutions (in this case, the World Bank), and a community’s attempt to organize itself around its own resources and capacities.

Slums in Nairobi face acute tension between structure owners and tenants. An enumeration can highlight such divisions, especially when it is so closely tied to an eviction. Everyone wants to be counted so they can get their hands on the resources associated with the relocation. An exchange team from the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) was supposed to leave a week ago to support the enumeration process, but postponed the trip when conflict between structure owners and tenants delayed the start of the survey. I will be joining the team when it leaves for Nairobi on Sunday, and will be keeping this blog updated with how the process plays out over the next week or so.

The Kibera case complicates what is often seen as a simple binary between evicting and not evicting when some kind of business project threatens people’s homes. In this case, the relocation is allowing slum dwellers to assert themselves in their relationship with government and multinational organizations. It was a big accomplishment for the federation to get the government to agree to let the community count itself, and to have that information be the basis for their relocation.

When the World Bank — a major funding partner of the railway rehabilitation and relocation of the nearby slum dwellers — accepts a methodology like community-led enumeration to serve as the basis for its programs, it is an important first step towards putting organized communities of the urban poor at the center of their own development. At the end of the day, resources — money — are the name of the game. And it is an important development that resources for relocation are directly tied to the results of information that comes out of a community’s own organizational capacity and practice. Land and money will be allocated to those who are counted.

It can be hard to see the full impact of these kinds of activities in the short term. What looks like collusion today can appear to be a major contestation tomorrow. What looks like incremental change today could spark a revolution in five years time.

The process of engagement with government and other key actors like the World Bank is a messy one. But when slum dwellers can get hold of this process and use it to direct resources towards the organized poor, new, people-centered kinds of development can begin to take place. Getting these kinds of institutions to rely on one of the most valuable resources poor people have — information — is an important first step to changing the overall relationship that they have with the poor.

Perhaps even more importantly, it is a step towards changing the relationships that the poor have with each other. As Jack writes about the first enumeration of Kibera in 2004,

What previously were amorphous collections of shacks and stalls transformed into a community. The residents and traders were joined by what they perceived as a common threat. Community organizations formed months ago to fight off eviction found new purpose. Both traders and residents formulated and started to articulate issues that affected them generally. The enumeration would serve to capacitate and federate these groups.

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By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

One of the key challenges of urban poverty is to find people-driven solutions to housing finance. An innovation of many federations in the SDI network has been to develop what are known as “urban poor funds.” All federations in the alliance practice daily savings as a means for community organization. These savings can often be used for various kinds of micro-credit as well, though their primary purpose is, as a general rule, to bind communities together, get them to unite around their own problems and their own resources.

But any member of a saving scheme can withdraw their savings at any time. There is nothing keep that person in a saving scheme except their own ties to their community and their specific scheme. The money always remains theirs. Federations that have been around for some time — what is known in the SDI lingo as a “mature” federation — soon realize that in order to develop at any kind of scale, they need to search for ways to come up with a committed, revolving finance facility: the urban poor fund.

Though an urban poor fund operates in different ways in different countries, the basic idea is the same. Each federation member commits a non-refundable amount of money that will initiate the fund. In South Africa, just to give one example, this commitment has a value of approximately US$100. The idea is that these funds that come from organized communities of the urban poor will attract more from outside sources like governments, donors and the private sector. Then, the fund can begin giving out loans to federation members to build houses, start businesses, buy land, and install services. If the loans are repaid then the fund “revolves,” meaning that the money can be loaned out again to someone else. For an excellent summary and analysis of the different kinds of urban poor funds that exist within the SDI alliance, a paper by Diana Mitlin, our colleague at the International Institute for Environment and Development, is a worthwhile guide: “Urban Poor Funds: development by the people for the people” (pdf).

It is a powerful tool for development that really puts organized communities of the urban poor at the center of their own development. So what happens when the fund essentially vanishes — nearly overnight? Sounds devastating. But this is exactly what the Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation experienced when their fund, called the Gungano Fund, fell prey to the cruelties of hyperinflation that wrecked the Zimbabwean economy in 2008.

Federation members were determined to keep it going. Still anxious to continue repaying outstanding loans, members developed a system they called dombo-to-dombo (stone-for-stone), where instead of repaying in money, they repaid in material supplies for which they calculated an approximate worth.

With the introduction of the US dollar and South African rand as replacement currencies for the Zimbabwean dollar, the federation is now looking to restore the Gungano fund. I had the privilege of being part of a two-day reflection meeting that the Zimbabwean federation held in Harare at the end of January to discuss how to take the fund forward. My colleague Louise Cobbett and I have a full report of this meeting up at the main SDI website which goes through all of the issues raised and resolved around the fund and how it ties into the greater work of the federation.

It takes the kind of unity forged through savings, information gathering, and — in the case of the Zimbabwean federation — the common traumas of economic hardship, disease, and state-directed violence, to address such a difficult, innovative facility like the urban poor fund with the creativity and seriousness I saw at this meeting. With “urban poor funds,” “community development funds,” and similar terms becoming buzz words in the so-called “urban development sector,” the urban poor themselves are providing some of the most creative, effective examples of how these can actually operate.

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Beyond the tragic earthquake in Haiti, we are taking note of a couple of other items of news affecting our partners in various parts of the world:

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Earlier this month, traders in the large open market in Kumasi, Ghana faced difficulties when a section of the trading zone burned down in a fire. No official cause has been determined for the fire. It is the second such event in the past year, and authorities have expressed a desire to redevelop the site.

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Last week, Zimbabwean National Minister of Housing, Fidelis Mhashu expressed anger and shock at the news that the Victoria Falls city council had authorized the destruction of a hundred houses in an informal settlement in the resort town.

Victoria Falls mayor Nkosilathi Jiyane was unrepentant for the destructive evictions. “As you are aware that Victoria Falls is a resort town, cleanliness is supposed to be maintained so that when foreigners come they are not discouraged by some funny houses. Besides we want to build a good image of our country,” he said.

An article in The Zimbabwean reported that Mhashu invoked 2005’s Operation Murabatsvina (translation: “clean out the trash”) nation-wide eviction campaign that affected 2.4 million people, according to a UN estimate.

[Mhashu] said the era of Murambatsvina lapsed in 2005 and no one has the authority to continue destroying residents’ houses because of their appearance.

“The policy is clear, if there are any houses that are below required standards, the responsible authorities should first build proper ones and then allocate them to the needy residents before destroying their shelter,” he said.

Mhashu also noted the folly of using the issue of sending a message to foreigners in justifying the evictions in Victoria Falls.

“You will remember that there was a housing convention held in Victoria Falls. So when the town council starts destroying houses, a negative message is going to be sent to foreigners who will start thinking that Zimbabwe is not a safe place to visit,” said Mhashu.

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deepsea village (1)

photos by Irene Karanja, Pamoja Trust

By early December, ordinary people living on the riparian reserve in Deep Sea informal settlement had organized themselves to move off the land. The move was in compliance with a Kenyan Ministry of Environment order. The people on the reserve assumed that they would end up living on the land within the settlement that had been designated for this relocation. Muungano wa wanavijiji, the Kenyan Homeless People’s Federation, assisted the people living close to the water to count themselves. The completion of this exercise meant that community members would know exactly who would be affected by the move to a far away corner within Deep Sea informal settlement, in the Westlands division of Nairobi. 160 households — 349 people — were now set to relocate.

So why was the land allocated to others? Why are Muungano wa wanavijiji members from this community in prison? Most significantly, why are the people once living on the riparian reserve now homeless?

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Violence, displacement, and legal disempowerment perpetrated by entrenched political and market interests are systematic realities in the lives of slum dwellers the world over. In the past six months, we have noted threats and witnessed acts of evictions in the historic Old Fadama informal settlement in Accra, Ghana, as well as the death, destruction of houses, and illegitimate arrest of slum dweller activists in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban, South Africa. In both of these cases, it was clear that moves towards people-driven development were threatening vested interests of capital and power. Local politicians and businessmen resorted — either by themselves or through associated vigilantes — to violent means to assert their claims to the spoils of development. This is the same development that should be going to those who are otherwise the legitimate owners of their own fate: informal settlement dwellers themselves.

In previous bulletins about these cases, we have noted the need for closer analysis of the vulnerabilities of slum dwellers to the structural violence, either direct or indirect, perpetrated through state, parastatal, and market forces. The new case from the Deep Sea informal settlement illuminates the ways in which these susceptibilities arise when communities organize themselves towards their own development. This exposes the cruel contradictions of the state and the market as custodians of housing and urban development.

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According to Pamoja Trust, a support NGO for Muungano wa wanavijiji, construction began on the allocated parcel of land for the relocation shortly after the Muungano-led enumeration. These houses went to allies of the local chief, according to residents. Those living on the riparian reserve were cut out of the move.

Community leaders drew up a letter of complaint, which was taken up by the Westlands District Officer. In response, he ordered a partial demolition of the new structures on 18 December. Now those who occupied the new structures protested, demanding back the money they claimed to have paid for the right to live there. According to eyewitness accounts gathered by Pamoja Trust, the police, local chief, and district officer began searching for the community chairman to serve as a scapegoat.

While the demolition was taking place, local police handcuffed the chairman, Richard Monari, who had helped write the letter of complaint. He was held in a police car for two hours, during which time witnesses report seeing a stranger handing a sachet of bhang (marijuana) to a plainclothes police officer. Three police officers and the local chief then took Monari to his house. His wife protested to the police and district officer, according to her testimony given to Pamoja Trust:

“I have seen and heard you from the time you came. You arrested my husband for exposing the transactions that have happened over this parcel of land through your office. Now I have seen this policeman plant the bhang in my bed. I know you want to get rid of my husband because he is contesting the business that you have been doing in this community in the name of resolving the riparian reserve issue.”

As she held her baby, a policeman slapped her. Her husband was arrested and taken to Parklands police station on charges of drug possession.

The crowd saw what was taking place and turned on the government officials. Both the chief and district officer had to flee.

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The Deep Sea case is just the latest to highlight the need for slum dwellers everywhere to organize around their own capabilities and resources to fundamentally alter the ways that state and market assets accrue to them as urban citizens. Deep-seated interests are vested in the urbanization of poverty. Laws, near-pyrrhic victories in courts, and unfocused public demonstrations will not restrain them. It will take the full force of ordinary slum dwellers organizing themselves community-by-community, coming together at the city level, at the national level, and at the international level. It will take alliances with professionals who reinforce and enable the priorities, methods, and capabilities of poor people themselves.

The state and the market clearly must be challenged when they perpetrate acts of violence and oppression against ordinary poor urban dwellers like in Deep Sea, Kennedy Road, Old Fadama, and elsewhere. But ultimately, these forces must be engaged to achieve the development priorities of ordinary poor people at a scale that will change the course of the urbanization of poverty in our world. People-centered development will come when the people are truly the focus the state’s political structures purport to serve.

Governments can provide the resources to facilitate development. Still, they must ultimately recognize the primacy of the priorities and capabilities of organized, ordinary poor people. Such organized communities, working in hand with the facilitating power of the state, will put an end to the all-too-present specter of the cruel hand of the market and government, and engage the poor as full citizens of the places where they live and work.

demolitions going on

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David A. Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute has a great post about a Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) – led enumeration in Durban last month. It gives a good sense of how the community-led self-surveying is a key tool for community empowerment, as well as how this fits into the greater strategies of community-driven housing delivery and slum upgrading. Here’s a key quote from Smith:

Enumeration by the people themselves represents outsourcing an essential governmental function both to accelerate its delivery and to create political standing for the poor themselves. If you won’t do it for us, we will do it for ourselves and make you acknowledge us.

When we talk about “outsourcing an essential governmental function” such as census-taking for evidence-based solutions, I wonder what does it really mean to “outsource” such a project? If governments are not doing it, then is it really an “essential government function”? And what does it even mean to call something an “essential government function”?

The political value of an enumeration sheds some light on these questions. As I mentioned, enumerations are not just about momentary community empowerment for the sake of community empowerment. Having witnessed other FEDUP enumerations, I can say that the show of songs, slogans, and speeches can have a powerful emotional effect, something Smith also describes in his Durban experience. But the real test of enumerations is the way they can change our very notions of government.

It is helpful to think of these surveys not as “outsourcing,” which implies that it is some kind of half-hearted, last ditch measure, but rather as the most effective way to do such a survey to begin with. Poor communities are best placed to know the kinds of issues that really need to be surveyed, they stand to benefit the most from the information, and they have the most legitimacy to conduct the surveys. Once they have the information, they can negotiate with governments from a more informed, more organized, and more constructive standpoint.

In fact, it may be more useful to think of such “outsourcing” as the most effective thing government can do on this particular issue. But we can do away with this market-based language (every time I type the word “outsourcing” I think of big telecom companies, but maybe that’s my own problem). Ultimately, the government will have to act on this information. Instead of being the driving force behind development of poor communities, governments can think of themselves as facilitators working in partnership with poor communities — in fact, being led by poor communities. Poor communities need the political will, the technical capacities, and the finance that only governments can provide. And governments cannot facilitate these things without encouraging the organization of poor communities around their own resources, a key example being the information gathered through enumerations.

So it is not a binary of either governments leading or governments throwing up their hands and “outsourcing” community development and organization. Instead, governments can be facilitators, encouraging the very people they serve to take the lead and organize themselves. Then, governments will benefit through the strengthened political will and practical expertise to work towards development that can only come from these kinds of “people-centered” approaches.

Alright, I think I’ll begin cross-posting some of my writings in my new-ish job. Most of them will be from the Shack Dwellers International blog, but I will point out longer writings that may or may not be linked on the blog, as the case may be.

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This article also contains a link to another article I wrote about the Zimbabwe National Housing Convention in October 2009.

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and here is the article about the convention

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The Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation put on a real show at October’s National Housing Convention in Victoria Falls with an eye-catching double-storey housing model, and song and dance inside the conference room. But big news was happening behind the scenes.

During last month’s SDI Council meeting, I caught up with Patience Mudimu, a project coordinator at Dialogue on Shelter, an NGO supporting the activities of the ZHPF. She told me that the Federation and Dialogue held a number of meetings with local government authorities during the convention. “For possibly the first time, we were getting directors to queue up to have appointments with us,” she said.

There have been follow-up engagements with authorities from five different cities — Harare, Masvingo, Chiredzi, Mutare, and Bindura. The plans under discussion in all of these places reveal a lot of the challenges and possibilities of local administration and urban housing in Zimbabwe.

In Harare, Dialogue on Shelter is talking with Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda about a partnership between the ZHPF and local government to renovate hostels in four settlements. Though town planners are often responsible for much of the implementation process of policy, mayoral will is key, Mudimu told me, to give political clout to a project like this.

In Masvingo, the Federation is facilitating exchanges of local ministers between different cities. As part of the exchange program that they agreed to at the housing convention in October, Mayor Femias Chakabuda wants to bring Federation members in Masvingo to visit the Federation-built settlement in Victoria Falls. According to Mudimu, Chakabuda was particularly impressed by his visit to the settlement.

The Chiredzi local authorities invited Dialogue on Shelter and the Federation to give a presentation to the full town council. They gave this presentation in early November about the difficulties that homeless people have in obtaining land.

The authorities in Mutare had given land to the Federation to build boreholes, a project being funded by SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI). As part of the negotiations at the housing convention, the Mutare authorities gave a verbal go-ahead, but there is still no written agreement on the issue.

Finally, Bindura authorities have offered space to the Federation to build a community resource center.

As Mudimu noted to me, while it can be tough to achieve much publicly at these big housing conventions, the public show can serve as a good backdrop for successful negotiations and partnerships behind-the-scenes.