SDI Partners with African Planning Schools

by James Tayler

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat, and Andy Bolnick, iKhayalami

SDI affiliates have long pioneered effective tactics of community organization such as daily savings and community enumeration. SDI affiliates throughout Africa are beginning to move to scale in upgrading informal settlements in the cities and countries where they operate. Consequently, they have understood the need to build partnerships with a range of stakeholders. SDI federations have always been engaged with governments at all levels in order to strike pragmatic deals that empower the urban poor to take charge of their own development.

A new Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), institutionalizes symbolically a growing number of relationships with architects, planners, and the academic world. Plans for the MoU were first discussed at a groundbreaking conference on “Revitalizing Planning Education in Africa,” hosted by the AAPS in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in October 2010. At the gathering, Jane Weru, a board member of SDI and director of the Akiba Mashinani Trust in Kenya, and Lamech Nyariki, of the Muungano Support Trust in Kenya, presented on their work supporting the Kenyan slum dwellers federation (Muungano wa wanavijiji) to partner with architects and planners from University of Nairobi. Weru and Nyariki’s presentation, combined with the participation of additional SDI representatives from elsewhere in Africa, encouraged coordinators of AAPS and SDI to pursue more formal links.

Though partnerships between federations and academic institutions have existed for some time in individual countries, SDI began to think about a wider approach in June 2010 following a Community Architects Conference in Thailand. Six delegates from SDI were in attendance at the conference, which was hosted by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR). There, SDI delegates saw how effectively ACHR works with planning schools. Following on from this conference the delegates committed themselves to furthering this agenda.

At an informal signing ceremony in December 2010, representatives of both SDI and AAPS expressed the hope that the collaboration will lead to practical partnerships throughout the continent. These will amplify and refine the tools that the poor use already to upgrade their settlements. A concurrent intention is for planning and architecture students in Africa to become comfortable working with the poor, and to pursue practical studies that address the urban challenges in their countries.

The MoU stipulates that the AAPS will encourage its member institutions to pursue relationships with SDI affiliates. These may include student internships with SDI support NGOs, invitations to SDI affiliates to present at or develop curricula with planning schools, and the joint production of documents for use in advocacy and lobbying.

Further reading: 

Read the Memorandum of Understanding here.

AAPS’ web site on the partnership with SDI.

In South Africa, the University of Cape Town is collaborating with the South African SDI Alliance to devise a module for second year Master’s planning students. The module will be practical in nature and will focus on a development plan for an informal settlement in conjunction with the community, CORC and the City government of Cape Town. Profesor Peter Ngau, from University of Nairobi, Kwa-Zulu Natal University to impart his experience of working with the SDI Alliance Kenya. His department continues to provide support and interns to Muungano and MuST.

Another example of the kinds of practical partnerships to be pursued under the MoU includes the relationship between the Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation and the University of Zimbabwe. George Masimba of Dialogue on Shelter, a NGO that supports the activities of the federation, wrote about a recent workshop held between the federation, the Harare municipal government, and the University of Zimbabwe.

Of particular relevance to SDI affiliates’ work with planning institutions is the longstanding practice of SDI federations to conduct community-led household surveys, known as enumerations, and citywide slum profiles. Irene Karanja, of the Muungano Support Trust, and Jack Makau, of the SDI secretariat, wrote about the profile of Nairobi on which they supported Muungano wa wanavijiji.