Slum Demolition and the Urban Poor
Many inhabitants of urban slums in West African have been rendered homeless by governments that have carried out numerous demolitions of slum houses. In Nigeria for instance, a report from Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) shows that over 2 million people were rendered homeless as a result of demolition. Violations of Human Rights Global Survey No. 10 show that 800,000 persons were rendered homeless in Abuja by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) as a result of demolition. Demolition displaced about 15, 000 persons in the Ago-Egun Ilaje area of Lagos. Over 100,000 inhabitants of Makoko were rendered homeless as a result of demolition that was carried out in the area by Lagos state government. In the same trend, Rivers State Government dispossessed about 5,000 to 10,000 people of their homes at the Agip Waterside Community in Port-Harcourt and also rendering about 1.2 million people homeless in Rainbow Town, Port Harcourt by demolition their houses. The Ogoni people were described as some of the worst affected.
|Slum demolition P. Courtesy|
The same trend continues as the Abuja administration organises to knock down 19 villages within it. These include Mudashiru Idu, Karmo-Dape, Tasha, Gwagwa, Suburi, Zauda, Jahi, Gishiri, Mabushi, Mpape, Kuchigoro, Chika, Aleita, Piwoyi, Lugbe, Pyakassa, Tudun-wada, Dei-dei and Guzape. The Federal Capital Administration (FCDA) has revealed that 10,000 houses will be demolished and 300,000 persons rendered homeless by this exercise.
The trend continues in Liberia, as Montserrado District 7, in central Monrovia was demolished and the number of inhabitants with an estimated 10000 rendered homeless. In Accra, Ghana, the Metropolitan Assembly demolished over 1,000 houses at Odawna, leading to the displacement of over 80,000 inhabitants in Old Fadama community. In Douala, Cameroon, settlements have been demolished, spilling many into street corners, though the actual figure of those that were rendered homeless as a result of this exercise is yet to be ascertained.
In reaction to the ongoing demolitions in Ghana, Accra slum dwellers formed the Slum Union of Ghana, as an umbrella body to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of slum inhabitants, as well as serve as a formidable and united voice for slum inhabitants across Ghana. Its Interim President, Mr Philip Kumah, writing on his blog http://philipkumah.wordpress.com/, said the meeting was attended by people from the following slums: Abuja (CMB), Agbogbloshie, Avenor, Chorkor, King Shona (James Town Beach), Old Fadama, Railways (ECOMOC–Circle), Taboo (Ashaiman), Tulako (Ashaiman), and Zongo Laka (Ashaiman).
The pattern of demolitions across the West African Sub-Region appear to be the same. The exercises are executed with government-backed task forces pulling down houses with the support of armed law-enforcement officers. The inhabitants of the area stand a chance of being killed by the law enforcement officers if they attempt to put up resistance. The case of Makoko is a good example where a policeman, Peple Boma, shot and killed Timothy Hunpoyanwa, a community leader, when he attempted to resist the demolition of the area by the Lagos state government. In the Old Fadama settlement of Accra, the Metropolitan Assembly went to demolish the area with over 40 police officers; nearly all of them were heavily armed. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) policy on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) should be enough to put this practice to a stop if put to use. R2P seeks ways of protecting people threatened by crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It came into being in conformity with the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS).
The governments of all the above-mentioned countries have violated international, regional and local instruments which they are parties to, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Shelter is both a human need and a basic right. Where demolition of human settlements occurs without due process, it is regarded as forced eviction or enforced homelessness and violates the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Also in the international human rights law, corroborated by the African Charter as mentioned above, evictions can only be seen as lawful if they are considered to be necessary mainly in “exceptional circumstances.” And when such “exceptional circumstances” are real, due process has to be followed which includes States are in obligation to ensure before evictions that all possible alternatives are worked out together with the persons affected. This includes the provision of alternative resettlement plan and compensation for the affected persons, a key missing link in all the demolitions that have taken place in the region.
Likely fallout from these demolitions is an upsurge in crime rates in the affected countries further escalating the fragile security experienced in the region’ urban cities. The Nigerian state is battling with Boko Haram in three of its six geopolitical zones, the North West, North Central and North East. Kidnapping and armed robbery are not uncommon in the South East and South South, while armed robbery is prevalent in the South western part of the country. These demolitions are likely to compound the insecurity in the country as the affected persons see themselves as victims of society and thus will not hesitate to resort to violence and criminality.
Another implication of these demolitions will be an upsurge in commercial sex work, exploitation and trafficking with an attendant increase in the incidence of sexual transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/ AID. Health implications arising from these demolitions are not just limited to STIs but extend to outbreak of communicable diseases such as cholera. Makoko’s displaced inhabitants sleep with their families in fishing boats on the river every night. They defecate in the open waters and bathe in the same. This is simply a public health disaster waiting to manifest in Nigeria.
Thousands of children are also likely to drop out of school due to the displacements and the demolition of their schools. Re-absorption into new schools is capital intensive, as indigent pupils have to await new sessions, or read to pass entrance exams, while impecunious parents seek funds to buy uniforms and school books. West Africa is ranked as the region with the lowest literacy rate in the world with Burkina Faso as the lowest world literacy rate of 21.8 %, Guinea 29%, Mali 26%, Liberia 38%, Gambia 42%, Nigeria 56.9 %, and Ghana 64.5%. In a field trip to Mpape, one of the 19 slums to be demolished in Abuja, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) heard the residents emphasise that their children will have to stop schooling for a while as a result of the relocation exercise and its attendant economic implication. According to them, after finding another roof over their heads, feeding will be their next obligation while education remains a tertiary item on agenda. This is dire for West Africa.
What purpose do these demolitions serve? Governments argue that the slums must give way for better city planning and houses with better physical design. They say slums house criminals and are less hygienic, with poor water and sanitation, education and security. But, most settlements that have been pulled down did not go back into hands of those who once lived there. Taking the example of Nigeria, most of the demolished settlements have been converted to highbrow estates for the rich without an alternative settlement plan or compensation for the original inhabitants. The slum improvement exercises have actually been land grabbing schemes.
Urbanisation is an integral part of economic development. As such, governments of West African states ought to invest in road maps for the rapid urbanisation ongoing in the region. Studies such as the “West Africa Long Term Perspective Study” and the “Nigeria: Next Generation Report” should inform the various vision documents and policies of the states. Hundreds of thousands are moving from the rural to the urban in search of better life. Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria for instance was built to accommodate 500,000 inhabitants, but as of the 2006 census, Abuja had a population of 778,567; at the moment in 2012, it is estimated that Abuja has 2,514,738 persons. The city is increasing at the growth rate of 9.3% and is estimated to have 3,324,000 in the year 2015 with no concrete plan for containing the tide of urbanisation.
ECOWAS must strengthen its policy on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and put a working resettlement policies in place. The Abuja Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA) has a policy to provide full resettlement to indigenes when demolition occurs, but unfortunately there is no such policy for non-indigenes living in the city. This policy is not only discriminatory but is likely to fester the lingering indigene-settler crises tearing Nigerian cities such as Kaduna, Jos, Kano, etc. There is a strong need for West African States both at national and regional levels to put in place a mechanism to ensure that international standards and procedures are followed in urban planning and development in West African cities rather than resorting to demolition as an option.
By Idayat Hassan and Audu Liberty Oseni.
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