What is incrementalism?


Pictured above: Residents of the Kambimoto incremental housing development in Huruma, a slum area in Nairobi, Kenya.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Top-down strategies for “eradicating slums” are seemingly always in vogue. Planners, government officials, commentators, and most non-governmental civil society actors, all aim for State-conceived, State-driven solutions to the “problems” of slums. Occasionally, we might hear about the potential of the social energy and even the density of informal settlements. But the solutions, we hear, must always come from the State.

But we can consider for a moment where these “formal” actors are headed, and from where they get their ideas. It is not the State. Governments of the Global South are quite evidently incapable of conceiving and implementing solutions without the people such policies are intended to address. The slums of the South are growing. And in the absence of effective State interventions, the poor — the world of the “informal” — are providing the vast majority of shelter solutions.

So “formal” actors — the State, planners, etc. — are getting their ideas from those who populate the world of the “informal” — the urban poor themselves. Instead of centrally-planned, greenfields housing developments, governments from South Africa to Kenya are talking about “slum upgrading” or “informal settlement upgrading.” In India, the term that most closely mirrors this is “redevelopment.” To varying degrees, policies that deploy these terms in each country are rooted in “informal” practice. Improvements in the living spaces where people already live.

But “upgrading,” while a step in the right direction towards more people-centered kinds of urban policies and planning, is often too vague. It can still mean big projects that results in the removals of many shack dwellers to new slums outside of the city to make way for improvements that often accrue only to a few of the original residents of the area. The goal of any kind of urban policy will always, at some point, mean fully-serviced and titled top-structure housing with secure tenure. Given the capacities of all the actors involved in the policies that would address that kind of goal, in addition to the magnitude of slums in most of the cities of the South, such achievements are still far off in the future.

The poor know this, and address it on a daily basis in the only way they can: incrementalism. To build incrementally is to live within one’s means, adding on and improving one’s dwelling and environment bit-by-bit. There are obstacles to this approach, namely lack of security of tenure. How can a person save to upgrade when he or she faces the constant threat of being evicted? But even without total security of tenure (i.e. full title), the poor are willing to build incrementally.

I wrote a couple months ago about the Federation incremental housing project in the Kambimoto neighborhood of Huruma in Nairobi, Kenya. There, each homeowner is building the floors of their houses day-by-day, making their own laddi bricks — an alternative egg-shell shape of bricks used for ceilings and floors for the first two floors of the houses — through exchanges with SDI-affiliated savers in India. The residents of this project do not have full title. What they do have is a memorandum of understanding with the city council approving the project. They also receive municipal services. This is just one example about how the poor are leading the way towards new understandings of tenure arrangements and how such attempts to provide security to the poor achieve great things on the ground.

The key is to enable the poor to enact the solutions they already have at their disposal, not to run over them with State-developed, new top-down plans. Even though “formal” actors are beginning to adopt the rhetoric of “upgrading,” they usually stray from its original “informal” meaning. “Informal settlement upgrading” still means programmatic, State-driven responses to urban poverty. The “informal” does not fit so easily with the strictures of the “formal.” Incrementalism gets brushed aside in favor of rhetorical slights of hand that only glance at the true intentions of “informal” solutions.

The issue of incrementalism got a high-profile mention this week in an article in the Financial Times’ latest installment of its special issues on cities. Heba Saleh reports on development plans in Cairo, where slum dwellers are getting pushed further and further out of the city, while more poor people push back into the city for jobs:

The result is that Cairo is ringed with extensive areas of densely inhabited slums, where the streets are often too narrow for cars to pass and no land has been allocated for services such as schools, hospitals, markets or parks. But affordability and proximity to jobs in the central parts of the city continue to attract people to these neighborhoods, where homeowners build cheap but sturdy housing, adding extra rooms or floors whenever they have the cash.

Laila Iskandar, a development expert who heads CID Consultants, argues that the dynamics in the slums have much to teach government planners when they lay down their schemes for the expansion of the city. “All they are thinking about is how to send people to live in the desert [around the city],” she says. “They still have a top-down European view of the city and they deny that migrants from the countryside need a style of housing that they are not planning for.”

“These people do not have lump sums to pay for flats, and mortgages are out of their reach. Rent is also too expensive for them. They need to be able to build their homes incrementally.”

In the coming months, we will explore this theme further, analyzing examples of incremental solutions, and the ways in which the “informal” world can lead the “formal” world to actionable solutions to the problems of urban poverty. Your comments are, as always, most welcome.

SA slum dwellers and government learn together in India

By Vuyani Mnyango, ISN Cape Town

Below is the text of a report by Cape Town Informal Settlement Network leader Vuyani Mnyango on an April exchange to India that included members of the ISN and Cape Town city officials. A report on the same exchange written by the Cape Town city officials can be found here.

15 April 2010

Meeting with Mr. Jockin Arputham & Mr. Sundar Burra  

* He introduced himself to the visiting team from South Africa, he also share his long way & stories while in the struggle around the developments for the poor.
* He said that he can just tell the team of the middle -up system not starting from the bottom -up otherwise it will be a long story to tell. He said that they managed to collect people from the streets/ pavements convincing them to form part of the movement (Savings).
* He also stressed that organizing will be the best tool to fulfill the people’s need wherever they will be staying.
* He also encouraged that people need to be patient on whatever they wanted to achieve for communities.

16 April 2010

Federation – Mahila Milan

* They had managed to relocate people from different directions such as Railway line Dwellers, Under – Bridge & Pavement Dwellers & the Harbour Dwellers.
* They convinced these different groups to form part of the movement for the poor (savings) so that they can have a say to the government but the people saw that as a one step forward.
* The Federation had played more than a big role in these different people with different needs.
* Before any development to take place, they also do the enumerations so as to know more about the community its people’s needs.
* There are about 2000 units in each flat that accommodates about 10 000 families.
* Each unit is about 125 square metres wide and that is the size of most units that you can find in each flat.
* These buildings are being managed by these communities.
* The maintenance of these buildings depends to the co-operatives, the people that had chosen by the communities to look after these buildings.
* Each house has its own sanitation (tap & toilet) including electricity; each house has its own electricity box so that the owner is responsible for the use of the service.
* People who were not part of the savings were included in the development to take place in their communities they were not excluded at all.
* Mahila Milan is the platform and the group which is based in the presenting and focusing in the Federation needs but it is presented by people from different communities and different groups.
* The sanitation block is being managed by the communities not the government as the government had failed to look after them.
* People are still saving while in the houses but they called it a general savings which is based on the daily problems that faces the people around the community and that is playing a big role.
* Mahila Milan is also looking at poverty that also affects poor families by supplying food parcels and that is done through the help of SPARC (the NGO that is helping the Federation its needs for its communities.
* Out of their savings they had managed to buy the land which was not that expensive at all they paid for it.
* These buildings had been built after year 2000, but these buildings looked very old on the outside as if they are more than old.
* Mahila Milan is busy on the designing of the plans of the houses (flats) and they also play another role of training the people who will be building the houses training them on how to build from the bottom to the top.

17 April 2010


* The team SA was looking at the contractor when it was starting to build houses in the in-situ upgrading at Pune at Mother Teressa informal settlement.
* Also the savings here are playing a big role amongst the community development as the people are keen to be part of any kind of a change in their communities, even if somebody has to move so that the in-situ upgrading has to take place but people are all in the same page nobody is against of anything.
* They said that Mother Teressa had once visited this settlement that is why they also called it by her name just after she left.
* The in-situ upgrading is taking place in this settlement without of any disturbances from the community side.
* The government is being told by the people on what they wanted & on how it should be done.

Sanitation Block (Toilets)

* SPARC had also played a big role in the construction of the sanitation blocks to these communities with the help of the Federation as they are working closely.
* They had convinced & explained the communities for the need of these sanitation blocks to be built in their communities.
* There are about 300 – 500 families that are using these toilets in daily basis.
* People had to pay for the membership in order to use these facilities and pay the monthly fees the use of them but that is done by each family in the community.
* These toilets are being managed & maintained out of the monthly payment that is being paid by each family.
* The toilets before were not in a good condition for the use of the public (people of each community).
* There is a small amount of money to be paid by the community that will be specifically for the toiletries to keep these toilets healthy.
* The ones for the city are totally different from the ones that are for the projects according to the management of them.

Community Policing

* All the communities had the same way of controlling crime in each area.
* There are about 4 females and the males are about 4 to make what we call it a Police Forum but they call it a Police Panchayat.
* This more than linked to the state policing as this had played a big role in decreasing crime in each community.
* This is only based to the abuse, civil cases including the criminal cases.
* They take the person to the police station where a person has to pay a huge amount regarding that will be reported.
* This had been recognized & authorized by the Commissioner as it will be helpful to the communities at large.
* This had made a big change as it had decreased the crime rate throughout the country.

General Points that had been found in the Indian Exchange (Summary)

* People of India are more than commitment when it goes to the development of their communities.
* They show more than a willingness to co-operate in any kind of process that will lead to the success of their developments.
* They are also peaceful as they will all be wishing to be the go -getters, they won’t fight during the developments.
* They are having more patients to wait for what they want even if it can come after 10 – 20 years but they will wait.
* The human rights are not an issue there, people are focusing on their priority needs and they go for them.
* The communities need to be taught about the processes of the developments to be followed during the period of the development.
* Federation had managed to organized to gather together different people from (i) Pavement Dwellers, Railway Line Dwellers, Under –Bridge Dwellers & the Harbour Dwellers.The savings is the best tool that the communities had put more focus on as the best tool to be used when organizing people but it is based their daily needs.
* They had been taught on how to keep their hope around what they wanted to achieve in future.
* They had also been taught about on how to be strategic when dealing with organizing people for the development of their communities.
* Poor people are more than involved in the developments that will affect them on the ground for making decisions of what they want & how to go for it.


Keeping Mbale clean

By Lutwama Muhammed, ACTogether Uganda

Savings schemes in Mbale, Uganda, were first established earlier this year. Earlier this month, the Federation decided that it would be important to sensitize informal settlement communities on issues related to hygiene and sanitation.

They engaged the municipality of Mbale, to work together on a city-wide activity that involved cleaning trenches, collecting garbage, and door-to-door sensitization and mobilization in the slum settlements of Namataala, Kikyaafu, Namakweeke, Nkoma, and Mission, among others. All of these activities were done in conjunction with municipal officials (the mayor, senior assistant town clerk and the coordinator of the Cities Alliance-funded program for the Transformation of Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda from 15-17 May.

This development reflects the strength of the Federation in mobilizing communities, as well as the willingness by the municipal council to work with the poor communities in transforming their living environment. The mayor, in her speech to the participants, thanked the members for coming up with such wonderful initiatives that complement the work of the municipality. She added that each division has a municipal town agent but that such functionaries were not in a position to identify the sanitation challenges as the federation did in just 3 days.

The Mbale federation is growing stronger and the membership is increasing significantly. So far they have a total membership of 1324 members with 1019 members who are female. Total savings is 4,066,7550 Ugandan Shillings. The Federation members have already constituted committee representatives who meet once every month at regional level (city level), twice at network level and weekly at saving scheme level.

Ready to Work with Government

By Patrick Magebhula, FEDUP, South Africa 

MINISTER of Human Settlements Tokyo Sexwale demonstrated a promising tone of seriousness and innovation regarding the challenge of human settlements in his budget speech to Parliament last month.

He warmed the hearts of the poor when he said the challenge of slums must receive at least the same political attention as that currently being given to the World Cup.

The energy the minister hopes to unleash towards a “human settlements 2030” is on his doorstep. The poor communities are best placed to work with government to develop and implement such policy.

The press has a fascination with what are often referred to as “service delivery protests”. The fires and looting make good copy for editors desperate for any kind of violence or scandal.

But there is a much bigger story developing across our biggest cities. The poor are organising, informal settlement by informal settlement, to work with all levels of government and other stakeholders to address their most pressing needs.

We can recall the street and issue-based people’s development committees so effective in the civics movement that organised communities to improve their own lives and bring down apartheid. The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) is the first major attempt in the post-apartheid era to bring South Africa’s settlement-level and national-level organisations of the urban poor under one umbrella, this time to work with government in finding solutions to slum poverty.

In just one and a half years, groups in over 600 informal settlements have come together in the ISN in the country’s five biggest metropolitan municipalities: Jo burg, eThekwini (Durban), Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), as well as in the smaller Sol Plaatje municipality (Kimberly).

The ISN includes settlements linked to the largest poor people’s organisations in the country: Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Federation of the Urban Poor , and Sanco.

Groups in informal settlements in these cities are working together to fully understand and address the problems facing residents of each informal settlement. We call these activities city-wide “informal settlement profiling”.

Armed with this knowledge the poor now have the capacity to inform and work with the government.

For example, poor people from Slovo Park in Johannesburg are visiting Joe Slovo on the Cape Flats to learn how they can conceive and implement projects in partnership with local authorities around basic services such as water, sanitation, waste removal, and energy. They are bringing these lessons home with them.

I am so pleased that the minister has called for a shift in policy towards incremental upgrading strategies. This has always been our strategy.

We know, as the minister said last month, that the poor cannot just wait years for a house, without doing anything themselves to improve their living conditions.

We also know that the greatest obstacle to incremental strategies for upgrading informal settlements is the lack of security of tenure.

Let us seize on the minister’s call for innovation by thinking creatively about land tenure issues as they relate to informal settlements.

President Jacob Zuma’s promise to provide land to poor urban dwellers can be coupled with the minister’s strategy to develop new ideas on tenure arrangements.

Sexwale lived much of his life in a shack. Informal settlement life is no mystery to him.

Organised communities of the poor are ready to work with him to make a better life for all.

This article originally appeared in the Sowetan newspaper.


“We are citizens. We are not squatters.”

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

People have lived in the settlement of Kikaramoja in Jinja, Uganda, since the 1950s. Waiswa Magoola, age 47, has always lived here. His father bought land in 1953, and even after Ugandan independence in 1962, when the land was given to the Jinja town council, he continued to pay fees for the land.

Magoola explained that the settlement used to be home to fishermen, teachers, factory workers and municipal employees. But in recent years, many of the factories have moved to Kampala, a two hour drive away from Jinja. With the factories went the jobs.

When I asked Magoola how many people living in Kikaramoja have regular work these days, he estimated about three per cent. Other residents sitting around him interjected to say that Magoola may even be too kind in his estimate. Casual labour is a way of life for those living in Kikaramoja.

The settlement has suffered for years because of a lack of security of tenure. The residents have been effectively barred from building permanent brick structures, so their houses are all wattle, mud and wooden sticks. It is an ever-present outrage to those who live in Kikaramoja, said Magoola. “We are citizens. We are not squatters.”

As I walked around the settlement last week, occasionally I saw a small brick structure. The only kind allowed: a toilet. “People are willing to build their own homes … We are able. We have the ability,” Magoola said, pointing to a pile of bricks that lay next to one person’s mud hut. “But we have been stopped.”

Last year, the community seemed to have faced down an eviction threat after the municipal council sold the land to a local university. The community conducted an enumeration (click here for the full enumeration report), and now some community leaders claim that the municipality has committed to giving the land to the community.

However, when I visited a meeting of local savings scheme members, anxiety was rife because they did not have any written commitment from the council that the land would soon be theirs. “[The politicians] are herding us like cattle,” said resident Jane Opoda, who is 30 years old. “We are not settled in mind. We are scared.”

The key, said Paul Okada, is for the community to be organised in the way that it deals with formal political structures like the town council. The 23-year-old was adamant, like much of the community, that it should not be single leaders going to negotiate with the town council about land. The issue affects the community and there should be many representatives at any meeting with the council. “If we get a voice here, that will be good,” he said.

‘Self-enumeration’ settles tracks vs traders conflict

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat 

originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

The main business thoroughfare in Mukuru lies on either side — and on top of — Kenya’s national railway line. Seven times a day a train barrels down the tracks, whistles blowing and headlights blazing to warn the informal traders and their customers to get out of the way. 

Makeshift stalls of wood, mud and plastic tarpaulins are packed along either side of the line, where merchants hawk everything from kangas and radios to shoes and fruits and vegetables.

But conflict between man and machine just might have finally hit its breaking point in the Nairobi slums of Mukuru and Kibera. The Kenya Railways Corporation is planning to upgrade the line to respond to increasing economic activity in the wake of oil discoveries throughout East Africa — and is making the reclamation of publicly owned land a top priority to do it.

Communities along the tracks have responded to threatened evictions by negotiating a community-led information gathering process that will help relocate many of these informal dwellers.

The information will help determine who will be relocated and compensated, as well as how this will happen.

The first eviction notice from the Kenya Railways Corporation came in 2004. But after the affected communities performed a self-enumeration survey, led by local members of the national slum dwellers federation, Muungano wa wanavijiji, and supported by NGO Pamoja Trust, the relocation was stalled.

Negotiations with the Railways Corporation for suitable land and compensation were nudged by a visit of railway employees to an even larger relocation project in Mumbai in 2005.

There India Railways officials and affected community members highlighted how the success of that relocation was rooted in the community-led survey.

Funded by the World Bank, the Relocation Action Plan (RAP) has made a community self-enumeration survey a key plank in the process along the Nairobi railway lines.

Beginning in mid-March, members of the Mukuru community were walking up and down the tracks, satellite maps in hand, checking that structures on the ground matched the satellite images.

The arguments that ensued were inevitable.

Owners of one business stall tried to get their structures counted as two, with the hope that this would entitle them to larger compensation when such terms are eventually negotiated with the Railways Corporation.

Anxiety within the community increased in early March after the oil parastatal company evicted residents who were living on top of a newly installed pipeline — an eerie sight of flattened ground and makeshift foundations that were once part of a line of corrugated iron shacks.

Traders without a fixed stall worried that they would get no compensation at all. For the past six years Muli Munguti (38) has been selling fake designer watches and other goods. “You count that one, but you don’t count this one. It’s not good,” he said.

But community enumerators were able to negotiate these contentious issues.

Dominic Njuguna, a community enumerator and Muungano leader, says that because the community was counting itself, it was able to assuage such concerns.

Francis Gitau, a staffer at Pamoja Trust, argues that the community involvement in the process has created the opportunity for a relocation that addresses the concerns of affected dwellers along the railway line. “If we are to survive along the railway line, we need to organise structures among ourselves [through activities like enumeration],” Gitau said. “If it wasn’t for our activism we would have been relocated a long time ago.”


UPFI loan to amplify work of Uganda federation

By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat 

The Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI) announced that it intends to provide major support to Uganda’s new urban poor fund, named the Suubi Development Initiative. The Ugandan National Slum Dwellers Federation and its support NGO ACTogether established the fund, which will build on the experience of other such funds in the SDI network.

The four-month old Suubi fund already has a capital base of US$75,000, drawn from the savings of federation members in 75 saving schemes in Kampala and Jinja.  So far, the fund has given micro loans amounting to US$26,790 to its members in Kampala and Jinja regions. Suubi plans to extend its loaning to towns where the federation has spread within the past year, including the towns of Mbale, Arua, Mbarara and Kabale.

UPFI’s signficant contribution to Suubi is made amid the backdrop of a US$4.1 million Uganda government urban renewal initiative dubbed Transforming Settlement of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU). TSUPU was capitalized with a grant and support form the Cities Alliance. The government facility, which the Ministry of Land Housing and Urban Development is administering, seeks to work through the municipalities and community-based federation groups in the towns of Jinja, Mbale, Arua, Mbarara and Kabale.

“We are setting up the fund in the same five towns where the government facility is targeted in order to build slum dweller capacities to draw down resources for their development”, said Sarah Ibanda, CEO of ACTogether.  With the support of Cities Alliance, the government facility will avail US$1.1 million as capital grants for small slum upgrading projects in the five towns. According to Ibanda, the capacities of communities in partnership with local government officials developed through projects initiated through the Suubi Fund will have a strong bearing on the way these TSUPU small project funds will be used.

“UPFI’s investment in Suubi allows the Ugandan slum dwellers to go the negotiating table for government funds from a position strength, not only in terms of having their own funds, but more so with efficient loaning systems and ongoing projects that the UPFI capital will be used for ”, says Ibanda.

Though urban poor funds operate in different ways in various SDI federations, the basic idea is the same. Each federation member commits a non-refundable amount of money that will initiate the fund. For example, in South Africa, 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 analysis of the range of existing urban poor funds in the SDI network, see this paper by the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Diana Mitlin.

 “Suubi in our local language means there is hope”, said Kyobe Mayanja, facilitator of the fund in Kampala’s Kawempe region. “As the federation, we have been working for eight years and now we have the fund — the hope”. The fund, Mayanja said, will act as a revolving microfinance facility and provide capital for infrastructure projects like communal sanitation facilities, as well as providing housing loans for its members. The fund draws its membership — currently 32,000 members — from the federation’s 227 saving schemes in slums in Kampala and the five towns targeted by TSUPU.

“Both UPFI and the Cities Alliance supported TSUPU’s draw from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation as base funders. This is significant in illustrating innovation in how development grants can bring slum dwellers and their governments together in a common effort,” said SDI’s Ben Bradlow.  The impact of development grants to the global south is limited because the support often focuses on single sector programs, either government or on the citizenry, and rarely in both.

Julian Baskin, the lead principal from Cities Alliance on the TSUPU initiative, said the Uganda program will serve as a model for subsequent “in-country” programs. TSUPU is the first of such initiatives. “Our next stop will be Ghana and when we move there, I believe it will be much easier because we will have gone through and established all the process steps in Uganda,” he said.