The Story of the Kenyan Slum Youth Federation


 By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat


In September 2010, at the age of 25, John Te went on a plane for the first time in his life, on a trip from Kenya to Ghana about which he was excited. Te lives in a ten-by-ten foot shack made of corrugated sheets of iron and with an earth floor. Its once-painted wooden door has cracks running down to where the wooden planks meet. The door opens inwards to a dark and muddy two-foot wide passage. If the door opened outwards it would knock into the row of similar shacks on the other side of the passage or would scrape the drooping roof overhang above the passage. At the airport, Te’s passport would have borne the name John Thuo. Initially, “Te” was a street name, but then became the only name by which John is known in the Nairobi slum where he lives. If anyone at the airport had asked Te about the purpose of his trip, they would have been surprised by his answer. A lanky young man, with three of his upper front teeth missing, he has a mug shot face if ever there was one. Te’s answer would indeed have been hard to believe, given his hooded top, sagging jeans and mud-caked sports shoes.

Te went to Ghana to train in database management. After frequent arrests in his mid-teens, Te has become the “data guy” of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers. The federation is part of the global network of slum dweller movements known as Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI). One thing the federations do consistently is collect information on the slums where they have a presence – a ritual they call enumerations. They count shacks and document the presence of people who otherwise remain invisible in formal records. This information is used to negotiate with local authorities for security of land tenure and services.

Among the communities interested in this was Kambi Moto, the small slum from which Te comes. At the time, he was too young and wayward to be part of the exercise. As a result of the enumeration, Kambi Moto community negotiated for, and was granted, tenure rights by the city council of Nairobi. Today, the settlement is transforming – residents have replaced 86 of its 270 shacks with 35-square metre stone houses with electricity and plumbing. Te’s shack will be among the next group of 100 units to be upgraded.

While the Kambi Moto housing makeover is striking, it is the change in the youth outlook in Kambi Moto that is truly fascinating. Te testifies that a few years ago he was such a pincher of people’s things that even his mum would have to hide on herself any money she had whenever he was in the house. Today, he works at a car wash that the community set up; he’s saving to get a house construction loan from the federation; he builds databases for enumerations taking place in slums across the country; he maintains the federation’s website; and he mentors a group of 5-to-14-year old kids in Kambi Moto. And there are a dozen other young people like him in the settlement, for example Kevin, aka Ngomo, who dropped out of school when his mother was unable to pay the fees. Today he’s a budding microentrepreneur and manages a competitive under-14 girls’ football team; he also pays his mother’s house loan. Then there is Eric, who has acquired masonry skills and is engaged in building houses in the community; he also manages a theatre and dance troupe for kids on Saturdays and during the school holidays. And there is Tony, John, Joyce, Njeri.

The idea for a youth federation was inspired by the enumeration of a small settlement of 67 households. In the month between data collection and community verification of the data, three young men had died: one had committed suicide; one had died of HIV/AIDS-related diseases; and one had been stabbed by other slum youth on his way home after a drinking binge.

The MUST programme officer supporting enumerations, Kimani Joseph, started talking to the young people, and quickly realized that there was a gap in slum communities that Muungano was not particularly interested in filling. Kimani began to organize football tournaments between youth from different slums; he brought in any willing professional he could find to speak to them, about anything; and he organized music and theatre competitions. He got himself onto widely recognized national youth bodies such as the Youth Parliament and the Youth Council.


At the slum level, the youth organized themselves into junior councils that discussed various issues, for example how they could gain access to football pitches in neighbouring schools. When the annual Youth Council elections came around that year, for the first time slum youth showed up in great numbers and elected their own for all the posts, including junior mayor. A 17-year-old girl from Mathare slum ended up with an office next to the city mayor’s; never mind that with no agenda and with very little support from anyone, she quickly became bored with the position and abandoned the office.

And so the youth fire raged on, almost haphazardly it seemed. From its beginnings in a couple of slums, the movement spread to slums in four of the city’s eight divisions, and the youth called it “Mwamko wa Vijana” (“Youth Awakening”). At one time, they organized a month-long football tournament for 544 under-12 children from slums across the city, who were kitted out and equipped by the country’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation. The older youth negotiated to become newspaper vendors, and some of them managed to get journalists and advertising agents from the paper to help them put together their own slum newspaper.

Great as the energy was, it was also felt that this movement needed to be consolidated into some coherent, fundable entity. Kimani himself had been born in a slum and had been encouraged to stay at school; he subsequently broke out of the slum with the support of the mentoring he received in a church youth group. He bequeathed the mentoring legacy to Mwamko. His philosophy is that when you mentor, it compels you to become a role model for those you mentor. Whatever else they contrived to do, all the Mwamko youth were each mentoring three or four children, aged between four and 12. Mothers in the slum became the movement’s biggest supporters. Mentoring was the first and strongest element of the movement’s journey to institutionalization.

That same year they set up a fund called “Kuboostiana”, a Kenyan slang term for giving each other a boost. The fund promoted groups to start making footballs and handicrafts. With the support of the Ford Foundation, Mwamko was encouraged to take numerous slum waste collection groups a step further into waste recycling, in a programme they dubbed “Taka ni Pato”, meaning “waste is cash”.(3) Learning visits to Egypt, India and South Africa were made. A couple of months into the programme, groups were producing more than two tonnes of organic compost every week. A network of 15 waste collection groups in two divisions of the city coalesced and bought a plastic shredder and went into business selling plastic pellets to plastic goods manufacturers.

The prospect of renewing the youth federation every year is a daunting task. You find a small shy girl, you walk with her for a year and she grows into an articulate young woman with good skills. Her dancing troupe excels and she mentors some children; and then one day you wake up and she’s gone. You wake up the next day and find a small naughty boy. Perhaps you start to think “I have enough on my hands already!” The frustration may have started to grow, but each year there are new youth coming in, charged up and so compelling in their aspirations that you have little choice but to do it again.

Around 2008, something unexpected started to happen. The children who had been mentored in 2003 and 2004 started taking up the movement – the John Te generation had come of age. It is comforting to know that by the time the Te generation move on to other things, and they will definitely move on, they will have mentored another generation


Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale

Kisenyi, Kampala

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

Developmental agendas on the global stage generally involve a reliance on statistics. The millennium development goals (MDG’s) provide quantifiable targets for countries to work towards. For example Goal 7, Target 7C aims to halve the global population without access to sustainable drinking water and sanitation.  The official website for the recent Rio+20 conference on sustainable development proudly boasts of USD $513 billion mobilized in commitments focused on transport, green economy, disaster reduction, desertification, water, forests and agriculture.

 Statistics are interesting since they can capture a vastly complex and multi-faceted problem and reduce it into quantifiable terms. This makes sense when speaking to a global audience on a global stage. Results, progress and challenges can be “packaged” into numbers that can be increased or reduced through interventions. The seemingly obvious point worth stressing is that global statistics and the march towards them imply sustainable solutions that can go to citywide scale. Solutions thus need social, political and practical traction to tackle the structural conditions that produce endemic urban poverty. Critically they also need to cater for the poorest of the poor.

While global platforms focus on making sweeping changes and commitments one wonders how deeply below the surface they scratch? Do they begin to unravel the complex relationships between competing politics, history, planning, design, spatial exclusion, policy and practice that are interwoven in defining how cities are and have been shaped? Structural conditions of spatial exclusion are built into the urban fabric and cemented through multiple interwoven processes defining the forms of cities-largely excluding the poor from services and benefits. Proposed solutions on the global stage tend to disaggregate this interconnectivity into different “silos” to be treated as separate difficulties through separate interventions. Furthermore there is a an assumption that solutions, focused on their specific “silos” can be produced by top down interventions at large scales; through adjustments to existing systems of governance and development, through the re-imagination of capital and the introduction of new technologies.  What is missing is recognition of the value of community experience that can engage with decisions as they play out on the ground-a far cry from the podiums of international events

Zim - Dvarisekwa - Skyloo Construction

Constructing an Ecosan sanitation unit in Zimbabwe

The Malawian, Tanzanian, Zimbabwean and Zambian SDI federations are grappling with taking water and sanitation solutions to citywide scale from the bottom up. At a recent meeting hosted by the Malawian team some of the key points raised affirm the complexity of taking sanitation to citywide scale. Examples from the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan illustrate the potential for communities to take sanitation solutions to scale.

Different technological sanitation options were raised during the meeting in. Communities frame sanitation technology in social, political and financial terms. No “wonder toilet technology,” no matter how touted it is on the international stage can have impact unless it makes sense within the local context.  What becomes clear is that it is not the technology that strictly matters but the processes that exist around it; does it make sense socially, financially and locally?

Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan is an example of sanitation technology that “fits” into daily life-it makes social as well as technical sense. The system has encouraged informal communities (Katchi Abadis) in Karachi to develop internal sewerage systems (latrines, sanitary lanes and collection sewers) that follow the natural drainage channels of the settlement (nalas). Organised communities finance, manage and build sanitation solutions that they now have ownership of, and a vested interest in maintaining. Sewerage lanes feed into trunk sewers provided by the state-a political partnership is forged.

Holistic approaches that have the buy-in of communities can mobilize political action and momentum. Influencing written policy is not enough. Government needs to be drawn into collaborative partnerships that show how community engagement can enhance and benefit service delivery. For example authorities in Blantyre can assist in linking informal settlements to trunk sewer and water systems. 

In Pakistan the OPP created the political momentum and practical evidence to meaningfully engage the state around an area in which they had previously had little impact. The OPP also showed an alternative solution rather than merely making a call for limited state resources. It made sense for both the poor and the state to invest, at scale, in this model.

In terms of the scale of investments, in Karachi’s katchi abadis, people have invested Rs 180 million (US$ 3 million) and government has invested Rs 531 million (US$ 8.85 million) in sewerage through ad hoc projects.  Similarly, people have invested Rs 154.5 million (US$ 2.58 million) in water lines and government has invested Rs 195.7 million (US$ 3.26 million).  These households have built their neighborhood sanitation systems, and their total investment is around one-sixth of what it would have cost if local government had undertaken the same work. Outside of Orangi, the work has expanded to 419 settlements in Karachi and 23 cities/ towns also in 85 villages (spread over the Sindh and Punjab Provinces) covering a population of more than 2 million”

Eco-San Toilets Malawi

Ecosan toilets in Malawi

If sanitation provision is to go citywide communities are all too aware that a variety of deeply contextualized options must be available in the same city and even the same settlement. Discussions in Malawi emphasized the need for a variety of options and systems that are affordable for the poorest of the poor. Communal financing and management of public toilets, the rehabilitation and revitalization of government toilets, eco-sanitation models and localized communal septic tanks that do not have to be linked to the main sewer system were all discussed. 

Citywide water and sanitation finance models that provide small loans to slum dwellers are already in place in many SDI affiliates (e.g. India and Uganda) and and could provide the financial backing to take such an approach to scale.  To reach a citywide scale financial options for sanitation must cater to the poorest of the poor within a settlement and it is here that the SDI federations have a vital role to play. A citywide model is a model that works because the urban poor wish to invest their finances and can access a service that works for them through this investment. The scale of investment in OPP shows the impact that is possible when sanitation is affordable to all and makes sense locally.

By March 2010, 112,562 households had provided themselves with sanitation through 7,893 collective initiatives organised in lanes, representing 90 per cent of the entire settlement of Orangi. Collectively, communities invested P Rps. 115 million of their own money in their sewerage system, with the government investment being P Rps. 745 million. From 1997, OPP-RTI started to work outside of Orangi by documenting and mapping settlements and infrastructures and drainage system across Karachi; and increasing level of engagement with concerned government departments and agencies such as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority, as well as Karachi community-based organisations.

Sanitation and water provision are not a distinct “silo” but are part of developing strategies for informal settlement upgrading across the city. Recognition of the multiple factors that affect sanitation were expressed by the federations throughout the meeting. Discussions covered planning standards and regulations being outdated and ill suited to informal settlements, the physical geography of settlements and how this affects sanitation options, the challenges of accessing local funds from government, the fluctuating costs of building materials and what materials are acceptable amidst many other problems. It is clear that all these issues are deeply intertwined but often “housed” in different areas of the state, market and city.

Injections of capital and global political commitments are only as good as their ability to understand and engage with the complexity that is on the ground. At a large scale, on an international podium these grounded details appear far and removed, something that enough money and political maneuvering can sort out “over there”.  However as these ideas and actions move from the international stage they are invariably translated and altered only once again to be re-constituted as coherent and rational at the next meeting. Perhaps it is time for the flow of information to move the other way round? To embrace the complexities, contradictions and details that the Malawians, Tanzanians, Zimbabweans and Zambians are working with, to realize that solutions need to cater to the poorest of the poor, that there is no single technological “silver bullet ” for urban poverty and better understand the ingrained systematic links that perpetuate exclusionary urban forms. OPP shows that grounded community models do work at scale and need to be afforded serious consideration and investment.

Communities Continue Fight Against Evictions in Johannesburg

Evictions in Marlboro

By Kwanele Sibanda, CORC South Africa 

As had been agreed upon in last night’s mass meeting, in Marlboro Industrial Area, Johannesburg, the Marlboro residents began to mobilize one another and demonstration began as early as 3am on Wednesday. Throughout the protest, no arrests took place. Only roads leading into the community were barricaded. Teargas was only fired once when the residents attempted to barricade the old Pretoria road opposite the Total Garage. The demonstration and barricading of roads was done by the residents to protect themselves and shelters from further destruction by the JMPD as well as drawing the attention of the officials that include the councillor and the Mayor. The protest ended at about 11am. The leadershisp then decided to go and meet with the station commander of Bramley Police Station (SAPS).

Evictions in Marlboro

The leadership, with support from four ISN members and CORC, met with the Station commander and five other officers who were present during the demonstration. The purpose of the meeting was to request the SAPS to play a mediating role in the conflict between the concerned residents and the JMPD. The Marlboro residents expressed their disappointment in the lawlessness being demonstrated by the JMPD in spite of the community’s efforts to engage in formal legal procedures. In addition to the above, a background of the eviction was given and this was outlined up to the current desicion made by the High Court. The station commander had a full understating of the community’s position and his response was that it is in his best of interest to protect the community, however in so doing he does not want the SAPS to be caught up in legal issues without proper knowledge of the current court ruling.

Evictions in Marlboro

Before the arrival at the police station, the SAPS had already been given a letter by the City’s legal representatives that states that the Judge’s ruling only allowed the residents to occupy the open space ERF 799 and 1008, but hindered them from erecting any form of shelter. In so doing the City’s lawyers did not provide the court interdict to the SAPS. The provision of the original interdict copy by the residents and the explanation that if the CITY/JMPD disputed the court’s ruling or could not comprehend enhanced the understanding of the SAPS in the sense that the JMPD/CITY was supposed to make an urgent court application for further clarity from the High Court. While the meeting progressed, the station commander immediately contacted one of the JMPD head of officers and immediately arranged a meeting that will be facilitated by the SAPS. By the time the meeting ended, attempts where still being made to contact the City Officials so that they can also be part of the meeting. The JMPD agreed to avail themselves and it was agreed that the meeting shall be held at the Bramley Police Station on 23 August 2012 at 9am. The community leaders shall take part in the meeting with support from ISN and CORC.

During the day, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) arrived on site to assess the situation on the ground. Their site visit was mainly triggered by the letter they received yesterday from the city’s legal representatives who deny knowledge of yesterday’s destruction of shelters erected on ERF 799 and 1008 after the court had authorised the temporal return of the former residents of the aforemetioned sites until the 29th of August when the matter is finalised. Before the end of day yesterday, LHR had already made an urgent interim interdict application to the high court. Tomorrow at 10am the matter shall be heard in court. The leaders of Marlboro have already deployed members to attend the SAPS/JMPD meeting at 9am as well as the High Court matter at 10am.

The New School & Makerere University Partner with Communities on Urban Studio in Uganda

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

By Mara Forbes, SDI Intern, The New School, New York


“The municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” 

Sarah Nandudu, Federation Member, Jinja


“This [enumeration] report is an opportunity to make demands for quantity and quality of services. If someone denies basic services, they need to be held accountable.” 

Community Development Officer (CDO) of Arua


The four-month SDI/Makerere University Urban Studio project has come to a successful close. On July 5, Makerere and New School students along with Federation members traveled to Arua, Kabale, Jinja, Mbale, and Mbarara to deliver the final published Enumeration Reports to the municipalities.

As discussed in earlier posts, through partnerships, negotiations, and precedent setting projects, federations have attempted to create new spaces in which community knowledge can influence development decisions. The Urban Studio partnership is one example of how these new knowledge regimes are being developed. As part of the studio, students from Makerere University accompanied federation members into the informal settlements of 5 Ugandan municipalities to learn about the challenges faced by slum dwellers and the ways in which the federation is combating the lack of information available for planning in such places. At Makerere University and in the municipalities, the federation members became ‘community professors’ teaching the students the importance of knowing their communities through different community-driven data collection methods and processes.

The Makerere students, in conjunction with New School graduate students, cleaned the federation’s enumeration data and disaggregated it at the settlement level. They then used the data to compile easy-to-understand reports to be presented back to the community and municipalities. The enumeration reports are designed to be used as tools by community members to negotiate and lobby with government for more responsive urban interventions and partnerships. The reports fill a major gap in the urban sector, giving up-to-date and comprehensive data on the informal settlements which make up around 60% of Ugandan cities.

The reports present enumeration data on issues of education, income and savings, tenure status, land ownership, and access to services such as water, sanitation, and electricity within the informal settlements. The data was collected by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda and its partners in 2011 as part of a national slum upgrading agenda being spearheaded by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development. With these reports the slum dwellers now have concrete information on the informal settlements in which they live. They have ownership of the information because they collected it themselves, and they have the organizational capacity to ensure the reports are used as tools for negotiation and planning.

In July 2012, the final reports were launched in each municipality. At the launches both community and municipal officials praised the reports. Approximately 100 federation members attended the enumeration launch in Arua and the Deputy Mayor and CDO represented the municipality. The event kicked off with songs from the community about savings and empowerment. The regional chairman of the federation, CDO, and Deputy Mayor all gave speeches commending the community and students for their work and urging the community to use this report to hold government accountable. The Deputy Mayor stated that “it is now time for top leadership to bend down and start cooperating with the community and this report is a tool that will make it easier to address issues and problems faced in the settlements, such as cholera.” The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report and promised the council would start using it immediately for budgeting and planning.

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

In Jinja both the Town Clerk and Deputy Mayor attended the launch. Like the Aura officials, the municipal representatives expressed gratitude to the federation and the students for their contribution towards a better understanding of the urban situation in Jinja municipality. They expressed that the reports would be used to start planning for toilet and water projects within the communities highlighted in the report to be particularly underserved. The Town Clerk pointed out that the report not only shows the challenges faced by the community but also the strengths and what the community is doing well. According to federation member Sarah Nandudu, “the municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” The Municipality was also impressed by how the federation had already used the information they collected to negotiate for sanitation interventions.

In Kabale, federation members emphasized the importance of settlement-level data and commended the students for accurately presenting their enumeration information. The Deputy Mayor promised to review the report thoroughly and endorse. “Before the federation came to Kabale, we had undermined the issue of slums in our municipality and we thought ‘they’ should go back to where they came from but this enumeration exercise enlightened us and we have to include slum dwellers in our plans” said the Deputy Mayor. Federation member Sarah Nambozo, who attended the Kabale launch, explained that “the report showcases information gathered by the community and the municipality must use the report to incorporate community challenges into the budgeting and planning process.” In fact, the municipality is already using the report to identify projects that can be implemented within the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor Fund (TSUPU) program.

A municipal strike in Mbale meant that most municipal officials were unable to attend the enumeration report launch. However, the Regional District Commissioner (RDC) and Assistant Town Clerk represented local council and the LCIII of Industrial Division, represented the mayor. Each acknowledged that the enumeration report “not only shows the challenges faced by the community, but also the opportunities that exist within the slums.” The enumeration report was later signed by the Mayor who expressed eagerness to use the report as a planning tool.  Semanda Twaha bin Musa, the regional chairman of the Mbale federation, said “the event went marvelously and was very successful.” He described how excited the federation was at the event because of the work they had done and how it had produced a report that was recognized and praised by the municipality. He said that, “because of the report, the municipality now respects the community because it shows the quality of work the community is capable of.”

The reports were also highly praised in Mbarara. The Deputy Mayor was impressed with the work of the community and how well the report depicts what is happening on the ground. The CDO was also present and highlighted the issues of sanitation and water as areas that need more attention from the municipality as revealed by the report. The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report by signing it during the launch and agreed to use it in future planning and budgeting at the municipal level. The CDO challenged the community to use the report as a way to define the roles of the community and municipality and to work together to identify possible development projects. Federation member Brian Manzi explained that because of the report, the town council is already identifying settlements that are in need of water and sanitation units. The CDO hailed the Mbarara slum dwellers for the role they are playing in the slum upgrading campaign and told members who attended the launch to try and get copies of the enumeration report and find the role they will able to engage themselves in towards the development of Mbarara.

Critically, the enumeration reports and the community gathered data they contain must slay ‘alive.’ The reports are not automatically useful and will not, on their own, improve service delivery and targeting of programs and projects. The communities that compiled them must continue to use the information to guide negotiation, partnership formation, planning, budgeting, and advocacy.

Much was learned during the Urban Studio. Through the cleaning and analysis of the federation’s enumeration data, both Makerere and New School students gained a deeper understanding of the realities faced by Ugandan slum dwellers, which they discovered are unique to each settlement. They learned that understanding these realities is integral to inclusive and effective planning and that authentic community involvement must be central to collect accurate information in slums.

Federation members deepened their capacity to generate information and to engage with the traditional institutions of knowledge production in a very different manner. The municipal councils have witnessed the capacity of communities to drive applied urban research and make local academia more relevant to domestic demand.

Stay tuned for a full report of the entire SDI/Makere Urban Studio to be posted soon.

To read the previous studio blogs posts follow this link:

SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction and Maintenance in India


**Cross-posted from the SPARC CitywatchINDIA Blog**

Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.

SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums.  SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping.  Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention.  Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.

Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways.  Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance.  SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity.  SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children.  SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility.  This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction.  Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses.  This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.

SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.

SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities.   SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured.  SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.


A toilet in one of the most successful community toilet blocks in Dharavi, Mumbai. 

After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”

Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement.  Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.


Information is Power: Ashaiman Residents Drive Profiling in Greater Accra, Ghana

Ashaiman, Accra

By Barbara Torresi, People’s Dialogue Ghana


Wednesday 16 May 2012 was a glorious day for the citizens of Ashaiman, a town in Greater Accra, since after months of careful preparations the spatial component of a multi-pronged Cities Alliance programme called Land, Services, and Citizenship (LSC) was finally kicked off. The Ghana Urban Poor Federation’s (GHAFUP) mandate with regard to this SDI-backed initiative consists of profiling all the slums in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Region (GAMA), an exercise that will provide communities with in-depth knowledge of their own constituencies and a strong tool with which to negotiate settlement and poverty reduction interventions with both government and private stakeholders.

One of the reasons that made Accra and its satellite municipalities appealing to international donors is the existence of a strong local federation which, through concerted efforts to organise its constituencies into a cohesive force, has been successfully lobbying against the twin scourges of forced evictions and deteriorating living conditions for over a decade. Currently the country’s shining beacon for the pursuants of bottom-up development is the mammoth settlement of Old Fadama – aka Sodom and Gomorrah for its now fast withering detractors – which in the space of a few years has managed to transform its reputation from that of a biblical hotbed of crime into a flagship example of grassroots power.


Ashaiman, Accra

Profiling Ashaiman

But while all the attention was focused on this mud-and-tin spatial incongruity a stone’s throw from Accra’s CBD, away from the spotlight and unbeknown to most, another expansive slum community had been following Old Fadama’s proactive approach to self-betterment by engaging a historically hostile government into upgrading discussions. In this case, however, negotiations were facilitated by the fact that the slum in question is a municipality in its own right, recently born as an autonomous administrative division out of what some describe, with a typically Ghanaian penchant for biblical references, as the rotten rib of the formerly prosperous port of Tema. Originally conceived as a commuter neighbourhood for the workers of Ghana’s premier dockyard, and following rising unemployment levels in the 2000s, Ashaiman slowly morphed into the epitome of tropical urban blight, a dusty shackland where as many as 90% of households meet UN-Habitat’s criteria for the definition of a slum. In numbers, this translates into approximately 300,000 of the municipality’s estimated 340,000 inhabitants living without water and sanitation or occupying overcrowded, ramshackle structures with little ability to withstand the vagaries of West African weather.

Yet, Ashaiman is a lively, buzzing, and tight-knit collection of communities with a thriving informal economy, a harmonious environment that has favoured the establishment of a local arm of GHAFUP rivalling, for strength and cohesiveness, its counterpart in Old Fadama. Thanks to the ingenuity and, to an extent, the more favourable tenure situation of the city’s constituent communities, the Ashaiman Federation has been able to roll out an impressive array of upgrading projects, ranging from a 47-unit, mixed-use housing development to a citywide upgrading programme whose ambitious goal is to install private toilets in 100 households. All these initiatives, which were facilitated by low-interest loans from SDI and incentivised by a budding partnership with the local municipality, rely heavily on the existence of strong savings collectives and the willingness of the residents of Ashaiman to contribute to their own socio-economic upliftment.

To return to our story, on a sunny Wednesday morning a fifteen-strong, gender equal delegation consisting of settlement profilers, opinion leaders, and assembly members, congregated for the first of a series of focus groups designed to uncover facts and figures related to the eight most severely deprived communities in the municipality of Ashaiman. The focus groups, which were facilitated by Mensah Owusu, a programme manager from the local support NGO (People’s Dialogue), and Charles Zuttah Chartey, a GHAFUP leader, were structured as day-long workshops designed to provide participants with the opportunity to thoroughly unpack issues as diverse as the number of stand pipes in each settlement and the literacy level of the population. According to Halid Alhassan, one of the leading members of the Ashaiman Federation, the exercise was very well received by the residents, which perceived it as a great opportunity to involve the local government into the management of their living environment.

The second phase of this profiling exercise consists in the validation of the physical data from the focus groups. To this end, dedicated mapping teams are currently walking the streets of Ashaiman to localise, with the aid of GPS technology, infrastructures like public toilets and stormwater channels as well as essential services like schools, creches, and clinics. The reasoning behind this exercise is that the spatial representation of a settlement’s infrastructure is a valuable add-on to narrative profiling since it can help stakeholders determine where new facilities are needed the most.

While the Ashaiman profilers are busy with this pilot study, the other programme beneficiaries, namely the cities of Tema, Accra, and Ledzokuku-Krowor (LEKMA), are following in their leading sister’s footsteps by exploring their own community-held knowledge through roundtables and focus groups, which will be followed by infrastructure and service mapping once all the socio-economic data has been gathered. Completion of the LSC programme is expected for the first quarter of 2013, after which it will be extended to the remaining GAMA municipalities of Ga South, Ga East, Ga West, and Adenta.


Informal traders in Ashaiman

Information is Power

But why is this initiative so important? Firstly, it generates awareness within a community and raises the profile of the urban poor. A prime example of how self-administered census-type surveys can change people’s perception of a slum is provided by the parable of Old Fadama, which ascended from the pits of being branded “a menace in Accra” and a “catastrophe waiting to happen,” to the heights of mediatic praise after the community took the lead in the implementation of a desilting project designed to mitigate the impact of its booming population on the surrounding eco-system. What enabled such a productive partnership between government and landless dwellers was a string of SDI-backed enumerations that, since 2004, have been projecting into the public domain the image of a cohesive community that is part and parcel of the urban habitat.

One of the biggest challenges faced by slum dwellers all over the world is in fact the stigma attached to living in an environment that is routinely depicted as an impenetrable jungle of ignorance, sloth, and self-inflicted deprivation. As Grace, a long term resident of Old Fadama, explains: “people blame us for where we live [and] think that we are criminals or beggars [just] waiting for a handout”. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth, since according to the latest enumeration a staggering 96% of Old Fadama’s residents are gainfully employed as traders in the nearby Agbogbloshie market or as small business owners in the settlement itself. The power of profiling and enumerations lies thus in their ability to open up “the slum universe” to the world, to humanise the mysterious “other” and ultimately to portray slum dwellers as valuable players in the city’s economy.

Secondly, profiling highlights a community’s most urgent needs in a format that can be used to leverage funds for upgrading; moreover, when the exercise is conducted at a regional scale it allows settlements to be classified according to their deprivation level. Therefore, it is hoped that the efforts being undertaken in GAMA will allow interventions to be prioritised and directed at those most in need. In Halid’s concluding words: “we are very satisfied with the way our communities are driving the process and we hope that the information [we are acquiring] will give us the power to engage the assembly [into a constructive dialogue] to solve the problems that affect our residents [the most]”.


The Dark Side of Planning: On the Demolition of Chico’s Ice Cream Factory

Yesterday we reported to you about evictions taking place in Marlboro Industrial Area of Johannesburg. Today we have a full write up from the South African SDI Alliance on the evictions, and the ways in which FEDUP, ISN and CORC have been fighting against this brutality. 

**Cross-posted from the SA SDI Alliance Blog** 

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

On the 13th of August, heavy machinery rolled in on the tattered and teared Marlboro Industrial area. Charles and Tapelo, community leaders in Marlboro, had to look on as the bulldozers started tearing into Chico’s Ice Cream Factory, which was home to 109 families, or 282 people. Chico’s Ice Cream Factory is but one of 53 derelict buildings that the Marboro community, in partnership with ISN and CORC, enumerated between September and October 2011. Community members were trained to administer the questionnaire and worked closely with the CORC Johannesburg office in capturing the data into databases.

Early in August, the Alliance reported on the evictions that started on August 2nd when Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) cracked down on the settlement with no eviction order. In the early morning hours, when residents were leaving for work, the JMPD moved in on 3 occupied sites and demolished 300 dwellings. They refused to talk to the community leadership and presented no formal interdiction from the court, only offering NGO representatives a hand written statement in a note book as paperwork for such eviction. They claimed that notice was given with no supporting documentation, then went on to say they don’t need to give notice because the of the 72 hour trespassing by-law which according to legal representatives requires even more paperwork than a general eviction order. The JMPD has not communicated its mandate with the housing department and now as result over 400 residents of Marlboro are now out on the street with no alternative housing options.

Evictions have been ravaging the area since the 2nd of August, leaving many people homeless. The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), and more specifically, the by-laws management department, have been carrying out these illegal evictions. These are illegal, because according the laws protecting poor people from the onslaughts of local governments and/or land owners, the evicting party needs to formally obtain an eviction order, which is granted by regional courts. In these hearings, the judges consider all the aspects of the evicting party’s request, which includes whether alternatives to upgrading has been considered (such as upgrading the informal area), what the impact on vulnerable people would be (woman, children and the elderly), and what the relocation options are (such as consolidation with other informal areas, housing developments, etc). Constitutional Court cases have resulted in a number of processes that needs to be adhered too. The JMPD did not follow any of these legal routes, and have been on a rouge mission to clear the Marlboro area of all informal settlers.

Chico’s is one such a factory that is now being destroyed, and all 282 inhabitants have been displaced. Although the Alliance, through the Community Upgrading Financing Facility, have been able to secure three army-style tents to the value of R30,000, this merely serves 40 families. More tents are now forthcoming as relief donations are trickling into Marlboro area. There does not seem to be any hope that the residents of Chico’s will be sleeping in even the most elementary accommodation for the next while.

The factory used to have a very peculiar housing typology. To make more space available, the community built a sturdy 2nd level of shack above the first. These pictures illustrate the nature of settlement in one of these factories.

With the decline in industrial activity in the late 1980s, the factory owners rented out these buildings to poor families living in overcrowded conditions in neighboring townships such as Alexandra. Charles, a community leader in the area, mentioned that

the history here is actually that people started staying in these factories. They were renting because some owners advertised for rentals. So the people came in their numbers. But later on, the City actually gave some court orders that people had to vacate. We boycotted that and went back to the owners and they ran away and stayed with the City. We had a media statement that says we can not be moved from these areas unless they have an alternative. So that is how they started staying in these buildings.

Chico’s used to be an Ice Cream factory located on 4th street, where not even the brave footsoldiers of Google Streetview dared to venture (when dragging the Google Streetview icon over Marlboro area, on 5th Street is covered). But the enumeration of Chico’s, as with all other 53 factories in the Marlboro area, goes much deeper than technology can reach. The enumeration has captured a socio-economic and demographic profile of all the residents that used to live here. Although the residents have faced fires in the past, such as the 18 June 2010 fire that destroyed a large number of shacks, as reported by Africa Media Online, the community has been able to regroup and assist those who lost it all. These social ties are more than moral solidarity but display the resilience of communities to adapt and recover.

Chico’s factory is also called Building 77. These building were referenced by these numbers before the enumeration started. The enumeration data therefore has two levels: by building, and by shack number (which was numbered in the enumeration exercise). By referencing both building data and shack data, a common dataset is developed that serves as the basis for spatially tagging enumeration data. In this way, the data becomes alive. The data tells the stories of what used to be left of Chico’s Ice Cream factory.

In October 2011, CORC produced a short video documenting the impressions of Marlboro community leaders on the enumeration process. At 2:18 in the video, an interview with a young man living in Chico’s is captured. He said,

I live here in Chico’s. I have been living here for 11 years. I stay with my mother. Here in Chico’s we are very poor, if I can put it like that.

In another interview, a young man living with his girlfriend said the following when asked by Charles what his expectations are for development in the area:

Up to date, I have been living in this area. Now the problem that I am having is unavailability of jobs and better accommodation. From the information I am receiving from different people, there are promises to improve the area, but I don’t know how long it is going to take.

CORC has drafted a preliminary enumeration report on the findings. The enumeration breaks down the enumeration data of all 53 factories and categorises the findings by population statistics, migration, education levels, social grant recipients, occupation and income levels, and finally, tracks the communities’ development aspirations. On the enumeration process, Charles said

The ISN and FEDUP have introduced a programme of enumeration. So with the enumeration, we are trying to arm ourselves and say to the City, “We are the people of Marlboro. How many are we? We stay in a space of this size”. And so we will be able to talk how then the development will be. So we hope with the programme of the FEDUP and ISN we believe that something will come up. We are saving, and saying to the government, “This is what we are doing, then can you come in and join us in making the area we are living in better”.

Charle’s wishes will not realise. Chico’s have been destroyed. But the sword cuts both ways. While the positive side of community based knowledge generation through enumeration, as experience by millions of people making up the federations aligned to Shack / Slum Dwellers International (see this series of research papers), materialises citizenship when this grassroots knowledge drives development agendas, the data will now be used as a protections mechanism in the court of law. The community possess the most detailed data on the individuals and families affected in the evictions. The sword of knowledge will now be deployed to fight back on the inhumane and draconian actions of the City of Joburg.

Marlboro community is working alongside Lawyers for Human Rights and instructed them instructed to demand an end to the evictions and failing that, to proceed on an urgent basis to the High Court for relief. Said Louise du Plessis, senior attorney in LHR’s Land and Housing Unit,

This situation is shocking. The law is clear. There are countless court orders requiring a court order before an eviction can take place. This blatant disregard for what the courts have repeatedly said is especially worrying considering JMPD is tasked with upholding the law.

Who are giving these orders? Are the factory owners involved in the eviction process, or is this a rouge mission by the JMPD? These are the questions that the community with support by CORC and Lawyers for Human Rights will be uncovering.


Informal Planning in Malawi

Blantyre Studio-Presentation to Community

By Baraka Mwau and Noah Schermbrucker, SDI secretariat

Blantyre is the second largest city, after Lilongwe in Malawi, with a population of about 700, 000 people. This city is the commercial and industrial hub of Malawi and hence it has a relatively better off infrastructure system compared to the other urban centers in Malawi. However, this infrastructure is highly deficient compared to the needs of the city, especially in regards to water, sanitation and transport. Just like any other City in the global south, the challenge of urban informality has not spared Malawian urban centers. One striking feature of Blantyre is that the city zoning regulations have guided a low-density urbanization with the formal planned areas having relatively large plot sizes and very few high-rise buildings. The informal settlements portray a similar trend where densities are low and most households have access to adequate spaces for both housing and open spaces (often used for urban agriculture). The Informal settlements harbor the vast majority of the low-income groups in Blantyre. Therefore, unlike the common trend of shack housing; Malawi’s informal settlements housing is primarily characterized by brick walls, cemented floors, galvanized iron roofing and other permanent materials.

While the poorest of the poor rent less permanent structures dotted amidst settlements the feeling is certainly one of peri-urban informality, especially in comparison to the extremely crowded slums of South Africa, Kenya and India. In such high densities land and housing are politically charged challenges whereas in Malawi evictions are uncommon, land is plentiful and people have invested in permanent structures. The main challenge is the provision of services such as water and sanitation. In Malawian urban areas, portable water is scarce and according to a number of sources only 60% of Blantyre’s urban dwellers have access to improved water and sanitation while only 2% of Malawians have access to water piped inside their homes. However according to the Blantyre Water Boards  (BWB’s) official website:

It provides water to about 85% of Blantyre City’s population of 1.4 million for domestic, institutional, commercial and industrial purposes from a daily production of 78,000,000 litres”

 The BWB like many utilities is more than likely referring to the formal part of the city. That is the part of the city that has been planned for, serviced with official connections, pays rates, mapped and understood to be legitimate. According to UN Habitat approximately 65% of people live in Blantyre’s informal settlements and access water through vendors and limited connections.

Residents in the informal settlements of Malawi describe the lack of access to adequate water and sanitation as a vital priority. “Most informal settlements are not connected or even close to the trunk water and sewer pipelines so it is difficult for residents to gain access. People have to travel to get water and once pit latrines are full it is difficult and expensive to deal with the sludge. Services do not extend to unplanned parts of Blantyre and communities have to find localized solutions that are expensive and not always sustainable.” (In addition Blantyre lacks a City Development Strategy or recent urban master plan and cohesive policies to deal with unplanned informal growth)


Mzuzu Studio-Salisbury Lines-Latrine

Existing Latrines in Salisbury Lines, Mzuzu

Urban planners working for the state, engineering consultancies and other organizations have a real impact on the urban form of cities like Blantyre, designing current and future systems to deliver water and sanitation as well as other key infrastructure. However, planning knowledge and practice in Blantyre, like many African cities, is often out of context and ill equipped to deal with conditions of informality. Ideas and strategies describe colonial conditions that no longer exist, classical standards that make little sense, regulations that omit large parts of the population and solutions more suited to the global North settled suburban urbanism than Africa and Asia’s growing urban informality. This is summed up by the African Association of Planning S chools (AAPS) who note:

The history of planning education in African is firmly ensconced in the traditions and models of Europe (especially Britain) and the United States. Most planning curricula were originally formulated during the colonial era, or were devised post-independence to mirror colonial-type master planning systems.

Contesting urban planning norms implies a political re-imagination of how, and for whom, the city should work, and one more in line with the actual reality of how rapidly African urbanizing cities do work.  It calls for a re-casting of informality in all its multifarious densities not as blight on the cityscape, a symptom to be cured, but as entrenched and indicative of the way cities develop. Informality needs to be incorporated into overall strategies, ingenious methods developed to tackle the provision of in-situ upgrading and co-production of knowledge by communities and planners developed as the central treatise in driving the planning process. “ No upgrading for us, without us”

The continuum between planning knowledge and the urban form should not be mistaken as a smooth one. Clearly different types of knowledge fads come and go, gain political traction are taken up by policy, reflected imperfectly on the ground then discarded or perpetuated. Current hot topics include climate change and urban sustainability. Do not mistake this statement as an attack on the validity of either topic it is merely an observation as to their nature; although one would hazard to mention that agendas around climate friendly, sustainable and green future cities embodied by events such as the recent Rio +20 sustainability conference (the green agenda) and the upcoming World Urban forum have conveniently omitted serious discussions around systematic urban poverty (the brown agenda). It is clear that “ideas” and the bodies that disseminate them, given enough political purchase have a significant, but certainly not singular, affect on the evolving shape of cities.

Importantly this “flow” of knowledge also has a spatial component that, in large, mimics the contours of power from top to bottom. One cannot argue that physical urban trends do not express top-down power relations (the actual physical form of this depends on local city context). Ideas certainly swim against this stream, bubbling from the bottom up, but they have difficulty garnering political impetus (A caveat -these are not the only trends that define the shape of the city but they do have substantial impact).

Previous posts have shared the details of joint planning studios between slum dwellers and the African Association of Planning Schools (AAPS) in South Africa and Uganda. A further two studios are currently underway in Malawi, one in Blantyre (Nancholi Settlement) and the second in Mzuzu (Salisbury Lines). Together communities and students Profile informal settlements; land subdivision, infrastructure services, socio-economic issues and housing, which leads to joint development of upgrading plans. This process is led by slum dwellers whose knowledge of their own settlements is the basis for co-operative learning that can be complemented by technical planning and design skills.

Together the students and communities negotiate the details of plans to improve informal settlements and present these plans to the wider community and the city. In Nancholi, circulation and mobility, water and sanitation have emerged as key challenges since the areas is hilly without paved roads or foot paths and sanitation and refuse collection are practically non-existent in the slums with residents relying on shared pit latrines. Drainage is another related challenge and students have begun to map the key footpaths residents take to plan for the possibility of future upgrading. This is not just an academic exercise and the joint plans produced can be used to leverage resources from government through funds and projects such as the “Blantyre Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme”. In Uganda the studio has resulted in the federation delivering comprehensive reports to local municipalities that have created the political momentum to access funds such as TSUPU (Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda). 

Mzuzu Studio-Salisbury Lines-Sanitation

Poor drainage

The studios offer communities an opportunity to practically engage in the planning for the upgrading of their settlements. The intense and interactive studio work end up delivering practical skills to the future professionals and most importantly, to the community team which takes the work forward to upgrading projects. According to one of the community member taking part in the Nancholi studio, ‘‘this work has made us understand our settlement better, now we have maps and enumeration data which show how we live, where we have services, the challenges we face in getting services, proposals for improvement and now we are in a better position to educate other members of the community on the need to upgrade our settlement’’.  It is no doubt that the studios have enabled communities, learning institutions, NGOs and Cities to progress towards a common understanding of the complex intricacies in slum upgrading.

The studios are a “vehicle” for a political message that speaks to the structures that define cities and the knowledge regimes that prop these structures up. The learning, adaptability, strategic innovation and improvisation of the urban poor as expressed through their ideas, strategies and plans for their settlements is a political challenge to the ways in which cities are planned and developed. However merely opposing is a “blunt political sword” unless it presents a workable alternative. Grappling with this alternative way to understand and plan for informal cities is beginning to be expressed through the organised engagement of the urban poor.

Blantyre studio-Community and students work on proposals

Students and Community map Nancholi Settlement, Blantyre