Ulwazi ngamandla! People’s power in the age of the informal

**cross-posted from the CORC blog**

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

On a hot Cape Town morning, across the road from where Democracy Mini Market in Joe Slovo Park is located, a group of young men talk through the problems they face in their settlements, and what they could possibly do to remedy their harsh living conditions. Where will the money come from, and who do we speak to? A lady enters the conversation and says that her main concern for Msuluzi Village in Mpumalanga is tenure security as they face regular threats of evictions.

Between Monday and Friday, 20 to 24 February, community leaders associated with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) from across the country meet in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town and participate in a national workshop on enumerations. The focus of the workshop is to start a conversation about finding solutions through the information communities gather through enumeration. Enumeration is a social organising tool the ISN utilises by which the community does a survey and assessment of socio-economic and demographic profile, basic services and development aspirations. Communities use this information to build local capacity and develop spatial plans for the upgrading of their settlement.

This information is very valuable. City councils allocate funds to budgets that are aligned to 5-year-development plans – also called the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). The IDP document influences the way the City council prioritises and upgrades informal settlements. City councils need information to do this type of planning, and private consultants are often employed to do surveys and research on the development needs. Yet private consultants rarely drill down into community structures to ascertain a comprehensive vision of a preferred future. Strong organised communities therefore need to build local capacity to influence and interject the imaginations of city builders. This happens when they have self-knowledge, which become power negotiation tools. In this way, communities offer an alternative to top-down development, and offer opportunities to deepen democratic engagement and create an inclusive governance culture, which are the obligations of “developmental local government”.

At the same time, enumerations in different regions in Cape Town and other South African cities have been conducted which did not necessarily lead to stronger communities and development plans. The workshop also seeks to address how enumeration should be a mobilisation tool whereby the entire community is prepared and agrees to the development vision. This requires an in-depth mobilisation of the community. Enumerators need to be able to articulate the enumeration programme, and be able to address the community at large about what this entails and why this is important. This underscores the importance of knowing your neighbor. The congregation agreed that we are not in the business of building individuals, but communities.

The full participation of communities is the only way to have a successful enumeration. We have seen enumerations that were led by a few individuals in the communities and nothing happened there. Therefore, by sensitising the community to the process and the outcomes, you create a focus on projects that builds on community solidarity. It is the leadership committee’s responsibility to involve wide participation in the enumeration process; from the way that questions are framed, to the way data is captured and presented to the community.  A number of stories were also heard.

Siyahliwe, Johannesburg: At first, ISN members visited the councillor and the municipality and the organised structures in the community. They went back to their community, and called a general meeting, which was attended by all these parties. They introduced the enumeration programme, and identified the problems in their settlement. Once the community, councilor and municipality were on board, the leaders drew up a map of the settlement, designated blocks, and the enumeration was started.
Mshini Wam, Cape Town: Started in 2010 at the time when they started engaging the regional ISN leaders. For a long time, they were depending on water and services from the formal RDP houses in the settlement. Therefore, they should be seen as backyarders and not an informal settlement per se. They were paying up to R50 per month for water. At the regional ISN forums, they learned a lot from other settlements in their region. The City of Cape Town said they could not install services because of the density and no access roads. After a long engagement, they ensured taps were installed. The idea of enumeration was seen as a way to open space and understand the demographics and spatial relationships of the settlement. They identified the open spaces in their settlement, and have completed the initial plan for the first cluster. In this way they are opening space to construct
Manenberg, Cape Town: We approached the local housing office and asked them how many people do they estimate live in backyarder shacks in Manenberg. The office estimated about 420 people. The enumeration showed the true number to be more than 4,000 people. This revelation had major impact in the way the city saw the Manenberg backyarders; a community that was uncovered through the enumeration process.

The workshop culminates on Thursday with a visit from the Deputy Minister of Human Settlements Ms Zoe Kota-Fredericks where the community of Mshini Wam will demonstrate their validated enumeration results and draft spatial plans, and the community of Siyahlala where Ms. Kota-Fredericks will launch the enumeration at a mass meeting.

Young Leaders Explore Issues of Youth & Land with GLTN and UN-Habitat

Presentation at GLTN Youth Summit

By Sizwe Mxobo, CORC

Kholeka Xuza, a community leader from Langrug settlement outside Stellenbosch, and myself, a young professional from Cape Town, South Africa, met at Cape Town International Airport late in the evening on 22 January 2012 prior to boarding our first flight north to Norway. We both checked in with no challenges, except Kholeka was not happy when she lost her body lotion and face wash that was in her hand luggage, over 100 ml and not allowed to through security gates. During the wait we were both excited, realizing that there was no turning back now: the next stop is Amsterdam.

We arrived Amsterdam early on the morning of the 23rd.  As we arrived at the airport, we could tell we were very far from home due to the cold weather (around 7 degrees). We were shocked at how big the airport was, as we were running through the airport trying to make sure we didn’t miss our next flight to Oslo, Norway. After finding the boarding gate for our flight and looking at the hours we had before our next flight we toured around the airport, amazed by how cheap electronics looked in Euros. Finally around 4pm we made it to Oslo airport in Norway, and for the first time in my life I was in the snow. At this point we were very grateful for the jackets, hats and glovers that SDI brought for us. We geared up as we waiting for the 5pm bus to Ski (Shee as announced by the locals) and took some photos excited and afraid of seeing cold weather. 

Two-Days Meeting

Day 1: 24 January 2012

Opening address and Welcoming speeches.

After the introduction, the Chair of GLTN Clarissa Augustinus did the opening and welcoming speech, expressing how grateful she was that everyone made it through the GLTN Expert Global Meeting. She introduced the topic “Exploring the Youth Dimensions of the Global Land Agenda” and why it is important that we start thinking about youth involvement in land issues, as they are a marginalized group when it comes to land rights.    

After Mrs. Augustinus, Mr. Erik Berg from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed us all to their cold beautiful country. In his welcoming speech, Mr. Berg talked about the importance of human rights education for today’s youth, so that the youth can define and defend their rights, knowing exactly what responsibilities they have to their rights as the future leaders of the world.

Mr. Anantha Krishnan from UN-Habitat gave some general information about youth, including the age group that is defined as youth by UN (15-24 years old), and statistics about youth around the world such as :

  • 87 % of youth lives in developing countries.
  • 62 % of the world youth lives in Asia and
  • 17 % in Africa.

He also shared some information about land issues around the world, that 2.7 Billion worth of land is sold in developing countries and that youth represents a marginalized group in land issues.

Asa Jonhsson from GLTN, Un-habitat, officially welcomed all the participants in the Network and stated the vision of GLTN, which is to provide Land Tools at global scale, to give mechanisms that will assist the poor to influence policy making.

 Why Focus on Youth and Land?

Siraj Sait from the University of East London presented the GLTN scoping study findings about Youth and Land issues. There is a lot of information that was reflected by the study such as:

  • There is no clear definition of what age group is considered to be ‘youth.’ The UN says age group 15-24 years old, African Youth Charter says its everyone up to the age of 35 and UN-habitat fund says up to 32 years old, and those whom are “young at heart”. While in other areas, age is not sole determinant of youth, it depends on race, culture and traditions.
  • For GLTN the importance of doing research with the youth and using a human rights approach. 
  • A set of hard questions were asked, like can youth work as technical partners in tool developments?
  • Do youth want land, and can they commit to the process of developing the agenda, and do they have capacity?
  • On literature review: it was shown that there is little to no literature written about youth in land issues. In the 2007 World Bank Youth Report, there is nothing about youth and land.

The major question that the scoping study asked for me is on the Youth to Youth questions: Why or How is land important to the youth? Some of the participants also asked this question, with no clear answer being given.

During the discussion about the GLTN scoping study, facilitated by Williem van Vliet from University of Colorado, three important questions were asked:

  • How are youth currently responding to land issues?
  • What models do youth use to combat their constraints?
  • How are youth resisting the marginalization on land?

A lot was said in addressing these questions and the outcome was that the struggle for Youth and land needs to be addressed or looked at in the same way that the struggle for woman empowerment was tackled.

Panel: Examples of Projects with a Youth and Land Dimension.

During this panel, four selected projects that work with young people in land issues were selected to present the work they do in their respective countries, which are Kenya (Map Kibera), Brazil (OASIS), South Africa (SDI) and Mexico (World Bank).

  • Ms. Jamie Lundine from Map Kibera project in Kenya talked about Youth engagement in mapping of informal settlements, and how they use GIS systems and technology to empower young people through training and practice of use the GIS technology to produce a map of their community Kibera, and capture stories of their community so they can influence the development of the community. Please visit www.mapkibera.org for more information on the project.
  • Mr. Joao Scarpelini from Brazil presented on Empowering communities to achieve their right to the city by playing the OASIS game in the Brazilians favelas in a period of 7 days, where young people and the older generation of a community is brought together to play a game by building a model of they would like to see their community, and take one project and construct it while discussing issues that affect them as a community and what are the possible solutions.
  • Representing SDI, myself and Kholeka Xuza presented on the topic SDI’s work in the context of youth and urban informal settlement in South Africa. The presentation covered the following topics :
    • INTRODUCTION: The challenges of informal settlements.
    • SDI INTERVENTION:- this explored the organogram that SDI works with in different areas and their role working with communities.
    • LANGRUG CASE STUDY:- This slide introduced the work done in Langrug talking about the background of the project from enumeration and mapping. At this point Kholeka took over the presentation and presentated information about her own community.
    • A WALK AROUND LANGRUG: – This presented the Langrug enumeration data and the needs of the community, while background pictures provided visuals of community.
    • LEARNING BY DOING: – this slide explores and explains some of the projects done by the co-reaserchers and the community of Langrug.
    • CONCLUSION: – Briefly explains the impact that the work done by young people of langrug has in them and their community.

The meeting attendees’ seemed very impressed by the presentation and they were happy about Kholeka being there representing the views of communities as a community member not a professional.

  • Facilitating Land access to young farmers in Mexico, is a project presented by Mr. Fernard Galeana from the World Bank, shared information about a project that invested in young farmers, by selecting a group of young people that have interest in farming and trained them and gave them a loan of about 30,000 US dollars to start their farming business, but the project failed because there was no clear follow up and the was no community participation through the whole process.

After the presentations Mr. Mabala chaired a discussion were everyone had the opportunity to ask the presenters questions and comment about the different projects, Mr Mabala comment is that all the projects illustrated that all young people have a place in Land issues, and what role they’ll play will be determined by purpose or goal in their different communities.

Group Work.   

At this point, all the participants were separated into 4 groups. The groups discussed these following questions:

 1. What are the most pressing youth and land concerns globally?

  • Foreign acquisitions of land in developing countries – pressure on land/resource constraints
  • Lack of youth participation in policy processes, youth friendly policies
  • Recognition of rights of young people
  • Civic education and public participation – realizing your rights and mechanisms to access them
  • Access to urban land – rental and ownership – landlords vs renters
  • Unemployment and underemployment (and education) as it relates to ability to secure housing or land

2. Are the any regions/countries and particular issues that stand-out as needing particular attention?

  • Marginalization (age, certain indigenous groups, girls, women, people with disabilities, etc.)
  • Inheritance for females in Africa
  • Europe – collapse of housing market, defaulting on loans and mortgages
  • The recognition of informality

3. How can youth perspectives best be integrated into Land Projects?

  • Structural integration and participation in decision making, including inter-generational integration)
  • Supporting youth structures at all levels
  • Integration of technology (meeting youth where they are)
  • Awareness of benefits of youth participation

Day 2: Wednesday, 25 January 2012.

Panel: Programme Responses To Youth and Land Challenges.

1. During this section Mr. Stein Holden presented the Norwegian Government Strategy for Youth and development. The strategy is called 3000 reasons for youth development and looks at how youth can be involved in development issues, and has suggestions on how this can be done and depicts all the role players that must get involved when to assist youth into a position of understanding development. The challenges with this strategy are that:-

  • There is no clear follow up on the strategy because of the assumption that when a strategy is released the problem is solved.
  • Little follow up has been done through UN-Habitat.
  • Is it in line with the MDG?
  • It doesn’t address a holistic approach to development.
  • And there is no checklist to measure things achieved through this strategy. 

2. Mr. Willem van Vliet presented about Youth Friendly cities. In his presentation, he showed measures that can used to create a youth friendly city, some of his strategic points were :-

  • The importance of creating a human rights approach that looks at the future and gives a room for development and growth.
  • An approach that focuses on needs, and addresses the shortcomings of lack that there is.
  • Creating safe public open spaces that promote a space for dialogue.
  • Engage young people in discussions around clean water and air.

He also talked about an assessment toolkit of a child friendly city, that makes sure that a city has spaces where children can Play, Participate in different activities in safe spaces, that have social, health and education services, and this got me thinking of the small projects that we do around Langrug like painting toilets, and abandon concrete slabs, on how important is it for the children in informal settlements and how it can spread to different communities.

3. Ms. Katie Fairlier from FIG young surveyors network, talked about Recruiting young people into Land Profession. She talked about the aims and vision of the network and the importance and the nature of the work the network does and the benefits it gives to young professionals in land issues and the exposure it gives them into different projects. www.fig.net/ys.

4. On the topic Lessons from working on gender and land  presented by Mr. Siraj Sait, this presentation explored a study done by GLTN and its partners, some of the subjects are that were explored are:-

  • The role women have play in acquiring land.
  • Breaking Youth and Gender may lead to fragmentation.
  • What’s the holistic approach between Youth and Woman (young woman)?
  • What are the problems facing Youth: The definition of youth and the fact that young people don’t remain in one place, they turn to move around, and 
  •  What is the specific youth political approach  

This study posed suggestions that can lead into understanding of a key approach in achieving Land and Youth Human rights approach, and recognize all working within the land sector, despite their gender.

During discussion chaired by Ms. Clarissa Augustinus on the presentations, the following outcomes were discussed:-

  • Land is about politics, technicalities and high-risks.
  • Land is still a problem for a lot of people in the world; only 30% of the world population is registered land owners, with documents attaching them to piece of land, so adding youth increases the problem of land issues.
  • An affordable solution in solving land issues doesn’t mean cheap technology, but how do we not marginalize those that are technological challenged.

This discussion with these points led to Ms. Clarissa Augustinus presentation about GLTN’s responses to Land concerns. The presentation started by defining GLTN, and stating its mission and vision in creating a pro-poor agenda in land issues, by doing research on investigation on the root courses to urban poor rights and developing a tools to combat and facilitate the agenda.


In closing I learnt a lot of information at GLTN meeting and meet a lot of people working relative in the same field as myself, that are passionate about their projects they work in, they have inspired me to look at how to include young people more, while not excluding all the other groups into land issues, and how South African in can champion young people involvement in land issues. Although the is no clear definition on what Land means for the youth and why do young people need land, is it for shelter or agriculture or livelihoods the is a clear role that young people are marginalized when it comes to land culturally and economically and the current systems although it promotes youth development but the is not enough information about young people role in land issues, and as much as this is a challenge, for it is an opportunity for young people all over the world to claim their dignity in their community.

This opportunity also gave myself and Kholeka to exposure to other projects like MapKibera, that we are looking at creating a link with so that we can share and learn from about using GIS in Langrug, and also with FIG see what organization of young surveyors they are working with in South Africa, so we can see how the can help Langrug community and other informal settlements in survey information. Thank you a lot to SDI and GLTN for making this opportunity possible.

To view Sizwe & Kholeka’s presentation, click here.

Diary from Mumbai: Part III


By Ariana K. MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

It is nearing the end of my stay in Mumbai, and I know I am going to miss this city as soon as I board the plane. I have spent the past week getting to know her streets and her people, and it is an experience I will certainly not forget. Mumbai is the kind of city that stays with you – the fragrance of the food, the colors of the sky at dusk, the buzz of people and traffic in the streets. Like other great cities of the world, its rhythm is invigorating and awe-inspiring – the vibrancy and speed of everyday life, set against the beautiful backdrop of history. 

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to revisit Dharavi: to walk the streets and narrow alleyways of the potters’ village and the recycling areas of the vast informal city-within-a-city, the world’s most well known slum. 

We make our way from Bombay Central to Dharavi by train. It is past rush hour, so the great crowds I have heard so much about have subsided. The train is cool and quiet as it rumbles along the Central Line, and it is not long before we arrive at Sion station, the entrance to Dharavi. Actually, there is more than one train stop in Dharavi, making it very easy to access from almost anywhere across Mumbai. This, along with its central location, is one of the main factors contributing to increased interest in Dharavi as a site for private re-development. But re-development plans have not taken into account Dharavi’s place as a commercial hub in Mumbai’s informal and formal economies. They have not accounted for the outdoor kilns in the potters’ village, or the vast workshops where all means of recycling take place. Nor have they accounted for the long tradition of food production, leather shops, and textile mills. For now, plans are at a standstill. But there is a long road ahead if the vibrant economy of this bustling town is to be preserved.


We start off in the potters’ village. Here, thousands of local people work with hundreds of pounds of clay every day, stamping, pounding, molding and spinning it into beautiful pots, urns, serving dishes, candle holders for Diwali and statues of the Indian god Ganesh. Orders come in from all over Mumbai. Pottery is sold to housewives and retailers. We walk for half an hour, past shops and workshops, each one with a home overhead. Men sit inside, spinning handmade pots on wheels. A woman is polishing water pots outside her home, rubbing wet clay onto just-fired pots to smooth over imperfections. There are hundreds of the same pots lined up a few feet away. I ask her how much these sell for. Sharmila, one of the women working at the Indian support NGO, SPARC, translates for me. “About 100 or 120 rupees,” she says. This is equivalent to about US $2. This isn’t much, of course. But it is US $2 more than nothing, and when you multiply it by the 50 or 100 pots beside her, it’s a significant income. Multiply that by the many other workshops around her, and it becomes clear that Dharavi is more than a small piece of Mumbai’s vibrant economy.

From here, Sharmila takes me to another area of winding streets, this time lined with one recycling workshop after another. I have heard about Dharavi’s recycling industry, but again it is something else to see it up close and personal. Each workshop is busy with men and women sorting through, cleaning and producing every type of plastic imaginable. Women sit outside in the alleyways sorting through plastic cutlery and take-away boxes, as men work away inside on melting and shredding them to be reused across India and beyond. Dharavi is home to the largest plastic recycling industry in India. If the proposed redevelopment took place, where would this industry move to? How could it not be accounted for? How could it be seen as anything less than integral to the very heart of the city’s economy?

The next day I visit the Mahila Milan-NSDF office in Byculla. This was the neighborhood where SPARC first began its work back in the 1980s, when they made links with the community of pavement-dwellers who had their homes along these streets. Today, the streets are still lined with homes and shops, people milling about, living and working in the heart of central Mumbai, just blocks away from Bombay Central train station. Again, I am struck by the presence of the informal right alongside the formal city. Not even alongside it, but smack in the middle of it. Part of it. Contributing to it. We spend some time speaking with the women of Mahila Milan living here. They have been members of MM for over twenty years. They have negotiated with local government for toilets, for water taps, for electricity. Now each home is hooked up to the electrical grid, they have access to community toilets, and many people have water taps inside their homes. And they have prevented demolitions, prevented the threat of middle-of-the-night bulldozers and unannounced evictions.

The women know they will not be able to stay in Byculla forever, but in many ways it is better than moving out to Mankhurd, further away from jobs and schools. They made their homes here on purpose, and although they know they will have to leave eventually, it becomes clear yet again that a home is so much than a formal house. It is a community, a sense of security, access to the services and opportunities that bring rich and poor alike to the cities of the world. Why then should the right to enjoy these be a privilege only afforded to the rich? In Mumbai, the poor have claimed their space in the city – their right to it. Now the question is how they will hold onto that, and how the rest of us will support them.

For more photos from Ariana’s trip to Mumbai, visit our Facebook page.

Diary from Mumbai: Part II

Pune, India

By: Ariana K MacPherson, SDI Secretariat 

We left the city in an early morning haze of pollution and sunrise, making our way through flat green valleys and into Western Ghat mountains. We are on our way to the smaller city of Pune about three hours north of Mumbai. With a population of roughly 3 million, Pune is the second biggest city in Maharashtra state after Mumbai (population ±16 million). 

Mahila Milan (MM) has had a presence in Pune for years. Savita Sonawane, one of the longest-standing members of MM in Pune, first met the women from Mumbai when she was only 22 years old. That was nearly twenty years ago. Today we meet Savita in MM’s Pune office, located above a community toilet project constructed and managed by MM. She is sitting alongside her daughter and her two baby grandchildren. Savita has made lifelong friendships with the other women of Mahila Milan, and with Celine d’Cruz, a colleague of mine at SDI who has spent thirty years working with the women of Mahila Milan in Mumbai and Pune. Celine and Savita sit cross-legged beside each other, laughing as Savita’s granddaughter, little Arya, writes out the alphabet and pours us imaginary tea. These connections, these friendships, make up the foundation for Mahila Milan’s strength, their ability to persevere, their determination and courage. 

Alongside a group of local leaders, Savita manages projects ranging from housing construction, slum upgrading, and government sponsored resettlements. Starting with management of daily savings, the MM women learned the necessary skills for management and coordination of human as well as financial resources. 

The first project we visit is at Yerwada, a settlement near Pune city centre where Mahila Milan has facilitated a very impressive slum upgrading project. Old tin shacks have been torn down and replaced with one, two and three story single and multiple family homes in the style of townhouses and small apartment blocks. The most fascinating thing about this project is the use of space. Most of the homes’ footprints are no bigger than 250 square feet, but adding the second floor nearly doubles this space, giving the family a significant increase in their amount of living space and allowing for space for extended family to live comfortably together. One woman’s home is a narrow triangle of only  170 square feet. The second story nearly doubles this, and MM has ensured that she she has permission to build a third story once she can afford it.  

Pune, India

In addition to reconstructing the homes, MM worked hard to to realign the structures in order to widen pathways and make space for municipal water, sewerage and electricity connections. The pathways, widened from crevices to lovely pathways, are lit by street lamps. Each home has been designed in partnership with the family, so no two are alike, and construction overseen by the women of MM. They are painted bright colors, and front doors hung with bright flowers. It is clear that this is a community. Not a slum. Not an informal settlement. It is a neighborhood, with families living and working, improving their homes and kids walking home from school. 

Next we travel a bit further out of Pune to a settlement called Shanti Nagar, where the second phase of slum upgrading is taking place. Being further from the city, this settlement is far less dense than Yerwada, making roads and pathways wider and the footprints of houses larger. They have recently started demolition of homes here, so much of the settlement is still under construction. Of course, convincing people to demolish their homes and live in rental housing for six months can be a challenging task, and MM must take each family’s situation into consideration. Some people are not ready to make this kind of commitment. Children are in the midst of exams, or they do not have the money to pay rent while their house is reconstructed. These are things that would hardly be taken into consideration if the government, or even an external NGO, was heading up the process. But with MM working on the ground within their own communities, there is sensitivity to these realities. 

On our way out of Pune we visit a resettlement project that is still under construction. The government has requested that MM assist in relocating just over 1,000 families to these new buildings to make way for various public works projects. Mahila Milan has agreed, but it is going to be a challenging task. They have not been involved in the design phase of this development, and the blocks of flats are looming structures, towering high into the sky and far from the city centre. Perhaps the one saving grace are the middle-class developments sprouting up on either side. Jobs as domestic workers and drivers for these middle-income families might serve as incentive  for families to relocate here, as they will be next door to (some) economic activity. But still, for many this will be a hard move. The buildings lack character. The footprints are small, there is little cross-ventilation, and the location is not great. But Savita says they will come. They have to. And once here they will form housing societies, start daily savings, become an organized community with a voice, and they will be heard. 

Changing the Rules of the Game

Water point, Kosovo Village, Mathare, Nairobi Kenya

Water Kiosk, Kosovo Village, Mathare, Nairobi Kenya

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

Cities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, so often exclude the poor from the political decision-making and financial flows that affect their lives. A meeting of slum dweller federations, local government officials, and academics in Nairobi, Kenya, explored the role of the poor in the growing cities of Africa, and the need to break down the false assumptions of government bureaucracies and professional expertise.

Pakistani architect, activist, and writer Arif Hasan had a simple reflection after a visit last week to the bustling informal neighborhoods of the Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya: “Laws are as good as the rules, regulations and procedures that accompany them. They are as good as the institutions that implement them.”

Slum dwellers in cities throughout the South currently achieve very little through the laws that supposedly govern their lives. Access to water, toilets, electricity, and security of tenure is but a dream for the vast majority of the billion informal residents of cities. The current rules of this life and death “game” of urban development are not only not working, but often actively exclude the poor. So what will it take to build the constituencies with the influence and desire to change these rules?

Such was the underlying charge of a meeting of officials from local government and utility companies, academics, and city/nation-wide slum dweller community organizations, known as “federations,” from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The encounter, hosted by Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), was ostensibly about identifying “emerging trends in urban cities in Africa.” But the need for a new governing order that includes the poor emerged consistently through interactions in Nairobi’s slum neighborhoods, as well as in the air-conditioned hotel conference room appointed to bring these actors together.

Kosovo, one of 13 “villages” in Mathare, is the site of a new approach to inclusion of the urban poor in water delivery to informal areas. For years, the Kenya Water Company had complained that they were not receiving revenue from the 6,000 Kosovo residents who were using informal water connections. The SDI-affiliated federation in Kenya, known as Muungano wa wanavijiji (Muungano for short), included many of the residents. They began to organize the community to negotiate with the Water Company to achieve greater access to water, and formalize the connections, so that the Company would receive revenue. As Kosovo resident and Muungano secretary Jason Waweru described it to last year, “We said that both us have rights. So who is to say who has a more important right? So we opened a dialogue.”

Collaboration and contestation have gone hand-in-hand, as both Muungano and the Water Company negotiate the tricky terrain of partnership between “informal” and “formal” actors. At one point, community members began digging individual trenches for water pipes without approval from the Company, in order to speed along the process. Eventually, everyone agreed to something called a “delegated management model,” whereby the Company provides bulk infrastructure, while the community members build and manage street-level piping, as well as collection of fees.

 Rules for the Kosovo Water Kiosk

It is a model that went beyond the rules and regulations of a utility company that had not previously been willing to cede control of its authority to distribute water in such a way. And now it is a model that is taking hold in informal settlements not only throughout the Mathare valley and elsewhere in Nairobi, but also in the city of Kisumu.

So how do we actually change the rules of the game? Hasan argues that, in part, the professions associated with development tend to be a major impediment rather than enabler of change: “I worked as an architect and I can say that we are perhaps the most retrogressive of professions because we are so wedded to standards,” he said last week. “We need to break this passion for small ideal solutions and move to large-scale, non-ideal solutions.”

The interactions between communities, professionals, and government officials are beginning to produce the kinds of breakthroughs that can go to scale. This is precisely because they move beyond the regulations and rules that Hasan describes as rooted in “the ruins of collapsed [colonial] empires … even though those empires no longer exist.” In fact, many planning and architecture standards throughout cities in Africa are unchanged from the original codes established by colonial authorities.

One strategy popular amongst SDI federations to build relationships that break down such walls is community-led information collection, sometimes known as “enumeration.” In Stellenbosch, a small municipality outside of Cape Town, South Africa, an informal community called Langrug is home to approximately 1,800 households. After residents conducted their own enumeration, both the municipality and community found space to engage whereas previously the relationship had been full of protest, unmet expectations, and little change on the ground.

David Carolissen, municipal head of the Informal Settlements Unit, says that space made all the difference. “The data has on the one hand connected us to the slums. But it has also allowed the community to reflect themselves to us.” Now, the municipality and community are talking and planning together as they install more toilets, water points, clean up drains, build a new multi-purpose community hall, and prioritize 300 new employment opportunities for women-headed households.

Sometimes achieving this kind of change, which is often small at first, means creating “a spirit of trust among all the actors in this drama,” Hasan argues. “Trust will lead to better laws, less laws, and less bureaucracy.”

This means that both communities and professional actors need to prepare to act in new ways to move from the relationships of exclusion and conflict that characterize the urbanization of poverty in our cities. Tools for community organization such as enumeration and women-led daily savings, are working for groups like SDI federations to build political voice that can strike advantageous deals with formal actors to upgrade informal settlements. Settlements from every country represented at the Nairobi meeting could attest to real physical and social improvements that had come about through these initial steps of self-organization.

But for professionals in the “formal” sector — government officials, NGO professionals, and academics — there are few, if any, guiding principles for how they can act to achieve real change. Changing the rules of the game is anything but a technocractic exercise. A set of professional ethics for those working in development makes a lot of sense to create a sense of professional judgment that can approach challenges of urban growth. These are challenges for which no clear formula for technical action exists.

Hasan proposes one set of ethics that could, in fact, be useful for all actors, both “formal” and “informal”:

1.    Planning and projects should respect the ecology of the region in which the city/town is located.

2.    Land use should be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value alone.

3.    Development should cater to the needs of the majority population, which is usually low and lower-middle income.

4.    Planning and projects should respect and promote the tangible and intangible heritage of the communities that live in urban settlements.

Of course, as he notes, given the current paradigm of development, few, if any, projects would be enacted if they had to fill all four of these criteria. But a shift in professional mindset, as well as a shift in the formal strictures of bureaucracy and governance, is a prerequisite for new pathways to more equitable cities.