Action on the ground: Day 1 at the WUF

by James Tayler

By Louise Cobbett and Jack Makau, SDI secretariat

The first day of the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, began with SDI making a grand – and visual – entrance. The 67 delegates broke the traditional monotony of the gray suit brigade. It was a fitting visual representation of SDI’s way of saying that it’s what happens in the communities, and not the meetings, which counts.

The forum’s opening ceremony featured a very well choreographed dance production. But the message that the toned dancers were trying to get across, was somewhat lost on the 3, 500 strong crowd. Perhaps it is the best analogy of the fear that SDI has about the conference.

It gave deeper meaning to Jockin’s advice the previous day, which was to make full use of the opportunities to get governments to make firm commitments on land and services.

For example, on the first day the Tanzania, Ghanaian and Zimbabwean federations organized meetings with their respective governments.

Highlights of the first day were SDI’s networking event, called “Protocols for large informal settlement upgrading.” It was probably the only session that started and ended with a song. The session featured 5 case studies and of struggles for secure tenure and fights against eviction. There was Mzwanele Zulu from Joe Slovo in Cape Town; Jack Makau from SDI spoke about Kibera in Nairobi; Philip Kumah spoke about the process of upgrading Old Fadama in Accra; Claudius Pereira of URBEL (Urbanisation Company of Bele Horizonte) and Marcos Landa, the coordinator of the Brazilian movement talked about Osasco, which is a settlement in Sao Paulo and finally Jockin, the president of SDI and the National Slum Dweller’s Federation of India gave his views on the experiences of Dharavi in India.

Jack Makau’s impression of the event was it was a session about things that people have done, rather than a session about hypothetical situations and new thinking. And there are very few sessions like that. The examples of concrete achievement largely consist of answers coming out of communities, which is exactly what SDI is here to showcase and build upon.