By Peter Martell / AFP
NAIROBI: Forced evictions of people from urban slums across Africa is a “widespread and pernicious problem,” rights group Amnesty International said Thursday, warning of a “profound and deepening” crisis.
“Three-quarters of people who live in cities and towns south of the Sahara live in an informal settlement or slum,” said Amnesty’s Kenya director, Justus Nyang’aya. “Governments in Africa have not got to grips with this reality.”
With growing urbanization — by 2025, more Africans will live in a city or a town than a village — Amnesty said citizens must have legal protection and security of tenure, a current major block to development in slum areas.
Across Africa, large slum areas are often demolished with little or no warning, Amnesty added, in a campaign launched on the sidelines of a meeting of African housing ministers in Nairobi.
“Most people living in slums pay taxes, vote, put their children through school and contribute to the city’s economy,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty’s Africa director.
“Yet most have little or no access to sanitation, clean water, education and adequate healthcare,” he added.
Amnesty-organized rallies to end forced evictions were planned across Africa this week — including in Chad, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Slum dwellers from across Africa gathered at the same conference center — but excluded from the ministerial meeting itself — in the hope of adding pressure on ministers by describing the daily challenges they face.
“We are labeled criminals and trespassers … a typical case of giving a dog a bad name so as to kill it conveniently,” said Alhassan Ibn Abdallah, who lives in the Old Fadama slum in the Ghanaian capital Accra.
“Politicians only recognize us during their electioneering campaign, we are forgotten after we have voted them into power,” Abdallah said, adding fears of demolition meant people stayed in wooden huts at high risk of fire, rather than investing in more permanent concrete buildings.
“There is no dignity in begging, we want to be able to support our own families,” said Moreblessing Gwavuya, a slum resident in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, whose home was destroyed in government mass demolitions in 2005.
“All those dreams we had were shattered … no adequate notice was given, we were not consulted about our removal, we were not given any alternative, neither were we compensated for the destruction,” Gwavuya addded.
In Kenya, slum dweller Minicah Otieno said constitutional protections “remain paper rights” and are not applied in practice.
“We’re not asking the governor for any favors — we’re demanding that he respect the law,” said Marcus George Irimaka, a slum resident in Nigeria’s city of Port Harcout, where Amnesty says 300,000 face their homes being demolished.
“We want to see security of tenure … so that we can invest in ourselves.”