Sarah Nandudu: Communication for the 23rd Session of UNHRC on the Human Rights Approach to Participation of Persons Living in Poverty

Communication from Sarah Nandudu

Vice Chairperson of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda


Sarah Nandudu

Sarah Nandudu, Vice Chairperson of the NSDFU, was asked to participate in the 23rd session of the UNHRC in order to assist the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to prepare a report on the human rights approach to participation of persons living in poverty in decisions that affect their lives. Unfortunately due to travel complications, Sarah was unable to travel to the meeting, but this was her communication on the objectives of the report which will be considered by the relevant parties.

To me it is an obvious thing that many people living in poverty have not been to school. A person who has not been to school has trouble being heard. You find it difficult to express yourself. You have trouble accessing the information you need to speak about. Secondly, poor people in most cases do not have where they belong. Meaning that someone stays in a place, like a slum, and they have trouble accessing their leaders. They are looked at as people who don’t matter in the community. Nobody minds about them or thinks they have something valuable to add.

They think we are just the ones that cause havoc and dirty the city. Another issue is that policy makers, when they are carrying out their policy issues they will always consult those they think that know most – the elites – and they forget about the people and they are therefore deprived of their voice. Also, when the policies are made they are not disseminated or explained to the poor people. First they are written in a language the poor and uneducated people cannot understand and they are not explained to the people so they cannot engage in discussion about them. Much as they have put in those policies no one is there to interpret the policies to the poor. Then the policies remain in books, but not in action. If people are included in the policy making process they can understand and then the policies can be implemented. Uganda is said to have the biggest gap between good policy and bad implementation and this can be a reason for that.

There is also a difference between participating in design and implementation. I will give you an example from TSUPU (Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda). Sometimes the poor are consulted in identifying issues, but not in implementation of solutions. This deprives me of my right to own the interventions. In TSUPU we identified projects we needed in our communities and we wanted to implement them but the council said no they need the implementation to follow policies that we don’t know and use professionals that are registered and approved.

When it comes to evaluation, communities cannot evaluate or monitor what they did not understand in the first place. This leaves room for corruption because the beneficiaries who are supposed to provide some checks and balances are left out. As a poor person, the opportunity to sit with your local leaders and air out issues concerning your community is not there. This is often because the leaders think they know best.

We can also generate employment if we increase participation. There is a lot of upgrading work that can be done by the community itself. When you include the community you can make the price of work lower, you can upgrade the settlement, and also help by providing jobs. I can give an example of Jinja – where I am from – where we as slum dwellers secured a piece of land from the municipality. We constructed a sanitation unit with bathrooms, toilets, and a community hall. We did the construction ourselves and when you compare the cost of our unit with theirs you see that the thing they created was only half of what we did for the same cost. This to me shows that the community should be involved in all steps of the process.

We need to create awareness in our communities to appreciate they are poor but they can come out of poverty. Because of what has been going on previously, people think that a municipal council is a place where poor people cannot go. People didn’t know they had a right to go to the municipal council and be heard. They didn’t have the information to know who they should speak to and why they would ever hear from them. That makes them feel small and fear. This also applies to meetings at places like the UN and World Bank.

But as part of the federation they have now known they have a right to speak and they don’t need an elder or a politician to speak for them. As much as they are poor, they know what they want. They build their capacity through savings and organizing themselves and the council is coming to know that these slum dwellers care about their community and can help to improve it.

For us in Jinja our recognition came after we carried out enumerations. The enumeration was not only for us, but for all people in Jinja. We did the enumeration in conjunction with them and they started recognizing our presence and that we could do something. After we made the report it was evident that we had captured the true picture of what was on the ground. This made them respect us more than they had. We began to start afresh and work together.

Now we have municipal development forums. Here, the slum dwellers sit together with the municipal officials and others to discuss issues facing the communities. At these forums communities can speak out and be heard. Previously to meet the Mayor or Town Clerk was a tug of ropes, but now we all sit at a round table – poor, rich, educated or not – and discuss development. We hope as this process goes on it will make a better way of living and improve the way policies are made. We even have a national urban forum where the slum dwellers can even sit with Ministers and discuss their issues. This process is just a new process, but it needs to be more than just sitting and talking. Already we have got slum dwellers to sit on the municipal planning and budgeting committee, which is a good step toward making sure the participation has results.

Without coming together as a federation in the SDI family, nobody would know us. But, as a group, we can announce we are present and we can do things, we have been able to be heard. And now, as an individual I can bring all the information from the federation and I speak for them and they speak for me. Now there is a very big achievement that I have been selected to sit on the CUF board and now even the Town Clerk cannot approve a project for slum dwellers without me on behalf of our slum communities.

If you don’t involve the communities in planning, and implementing, and evaluating your interventions people will not take you seriously and your projects wont get done.

I thank the UN for seeking the representation of slum dwellers at your meeting and I am very sorry I could not attend.

Who Owes Matopeni Settlement an Explanation?


matopeni, Kenya

**Cross posted from the Muungano Support Trust Bulletin**

Matopeni is a settlement in  Muungano wa Wanavijiji’s Mombasa North Network. Currently the community is undertaking daily savings with the aim of securing land tenure and acquiring the piece of land that they are currently occupying. The settlement has been divided into two clusters (Matopeni A and B) for the purpose of collecting accurate and detailed profile and enumeration data. The settlement sits on government land managed by the Municipal Council of Mombasa.  However, according to the data collected, Cluster A has been transferred to a number of individuals (tycoons) who are planning to build a City Mall depsite residents application to have the land allocated to them. Unfortunately the community has not been allowed to respond or have input in this decision despite the council having a service charter that demands that any written correspondence should be acted upon within seven days.

Astonishingly cluster B has also been transferred to an individual in the name of protecting the land from grabbers. If this is the case, why was the land transfered to a private individual and not  the council or a registered government entity?  Many questions are still left unanswered even amongst the council’s staff; why is it that the green card of this parcel of land is missing ? Or perhaps is the card kept in an important drawer somewhere in the building?

To get things moving in situations like this requires community support. The community needs to speak with one voice – a factor that is still missing in the settlement. Instead community members are betraying and informing on one another. Key leaders have been compromised and sell community strategies to land grabbers who in turn link their controversially allocated portions of land to the main road further undermining and marginalising neighbouring families. These families risk either forceful eviction without compensation or peaceful eviction and peanuts for compensation. Unfortunately, because of fear, bitter community members felt they could not challenge the sale. Some claim they do not have a say over an individual selling their property while others claim they fear black magic.

matopeni, Kenya

To further exacerbate the situation someone within the community is passing on information from meetings and discussions about land to land grabbers. As an attempt to access information, the grabber is currently attempting to join the saving scheme that is advocating for the legalization of the said piece of land with the aim of being allocated the parcel.

For residents to enjoy secure land tenure, good settlement leadership is mandatory. Resident’s need a leadership to steer the process and community solidarity to back up those who are involved. They also need some level of political goodwill which is currently not the case. Political leaders are working towards evicting some people in order to get a portion of land while others collude with  “grabbers” to ensure they can access land.

MUUNGANO WA WANAVIJIJI has built a community resource and learning centre in the area that supports 105 learners. If the leaders who are expected to work towards securing the future of these learners (through negotiating land and tenure)  are the same people who are selling the land on which the centre is located it is clear that they are doing a grave disservice to not only their current community but to future generations.

Weaving Cities: Creating a National Voice of the Urban Poor in Bolivia

Bolivia National Conference

By Celine d’Cruz, SDI Secretariat 

Planning for the National leaders meeting in November began in June 2012. This was a gradual outcome of several exchanges to and from Bolivia over the last three years by SDI. In June 2012 the Government of Bolivia came out with a regularization law, which created a lot of commotion amongst the informal communities. There were many rumors spreading and the leadership did not understand the implications of this new law for the land that they occupied. There are informal settlements on municipal lands, state lands, private lands and so on. Ownership for much of these occupied lands is unclear, creating numerous complications as the law has different implications for those residing on different types of lands. 

For the Bolivian support NGO, Red de Accion Comunitaria (RAC), the first response was to strengthen and consolidate the slum enumeration process in District 8, a settlement in Cochabamba, which started long before the law was in sight. This settlement data proved to be mouth watering to both the national and local government who have no information at all. The local officials in District 8 are in dialogue with the community leaders who are mostly men. District 8 was one of the first settlements to respond, but similar concerns were raised by informal settlements in other cities.  This prompted the need to plan for the November meeting in Cochabamba where the leadership – both men and women – from the four cities would have the space to discuss the law and its implications for residents of informal settlements across Bolivia.

During the planning phase it was decided that the objective of the November meeting was 1) To understand the new regularization law and its implications for informal settlements with regard to issues of land ownership, and 2) To consolidate the voices of the leadership from the four cities to create a national federation of the urban poor. 

Participants at the conference included about 150 community women from the 4 cities in Bolivia, 4 representatives from neighboring countries of Brazil, Ecuador and Columbia with three representatives from SDI including SDI Coordinators Celine d’Cruz (India) and Rose Molokoane (South Africa) and SDI Board member Sonia Fadrigo (Philippines). 

Bolivia National Conference

In addition to these participants, about 7 – 8 local government officials (men and women) and one representative from the National government (also a woman). This configuration ensured maximum participation from women during the course of the conference. It was amazing how well some of the women narrated their stories about issues around the regularization of their land, their collective savings, and how their experiences with banks and micro credit institutions captured the attention of the both the local and the national government officials present. This is something all the officials will take back home. For the community leaders it was the first time they had the chance to speak in public; this event was a good opportunity for them to understand their own capacities and skills. 

This conference was the first time that the leaders from the four cities were meeting each other. In her introduction, Sonia Fadrigo said, “You are all women and are all saving. You are clearly on the right track.”

There are signs of a relationship being formed between communities, local governments and national government in all four cities. This needs to be pursued consistently and strategically.

The two women leaders from Brazil were very motivated after this meeting. For example, they asked Maria Eugenia Torrico of Bolivia if they could come for 15 days in January to spend time with the community leaders to learn and go back home and strengthen their own community savings.

Rose felt that SDI was doing so much good in all these places around the world especially with these very poor women from Bolivia.

The woman from Ecuador had a lot of experience with housing and had come to both share and learn. Their community-based organization is free to learn about the SDI rituals and replicate them in their context.

Adriana from Colombia plans to take some of the lessons and test them out in Colombia with the agency working on poverty issues. We also started a dialogue on possible ideas of strengthening a people’s process within a national government program.

The Peruvian women did not arrive as one of them was sick and so the other did not want to travel alone. This would be their first time out of their country without any NGO support and this may have caused its own set of dynamics within their community and with their men. Eli and Maria will follow up with them and understand better what transpired. It has been a struggle finding a support NGO in Peru.  It was decided that if the community leaders who are saving do not want to continue then we may want to stall Peru for awhile till we find an individual or an NGO willing to walk through this path. SDI needs to review this. 

Bolivia National Conference

There were a number of key outcomes of the conference. There was an MOU signed between the Director of Housing from the national government and RAC. However, with no federation in place yet none of the community leaders could sign this MOU. Government, community leaders and RAC are learning to work with each other while building their separate capacities.

This meeting enabled both the local and national government representatives to better understand the community building process through community savings, slum enumerations and slum upgrading works. The Villa Vista upgrading was a good example to the all present.

As a result of the conference, RAC better understands the need for a national level leadership that they will work in tandem with. The idea emerged to create and build a collective leadership, which is more horizontal, and not just a couple of leaders who have power on the top.

RAC will work in the coming month to select the national leadership from a locally driven process. RAC estimates that there are at least 20 leaders in the four cities who can take on the responsibility of national leadership. 

Bolivia National Conference

A brief outline of the conference events is included below:

Day 1: After the inaugural speeches the group divided into ten groups according to their land titles and discussed issues relevant to their land ownership. There was a very good reflection within the groups, which the leaders presented at the end of the day. A lot of very important issues came up and the local officials sitting with these teams had a chance to respond or advise the group on how to take this forward. Maria and her team worked to  consolidate some of the important lessons for each of the groups and what needs to be followed up.

Day 2: The morning was spent on presentations by the women to the National government representative on their savings, their experience with the local banks and with micro credit. The government is planning to have a new bank law encouraging micro credit. Listening to the stories of the women pressed panic buttons with the Director for Housing who said she would try to see what she could do about this. There was an MOU signed with the Director before she left. She has promised to work on a couple of pilots with RAC so that they can refine their learning together.

The afternoon session was on slum enumerations and the leaders broke up into groups and discussed the progress of the settlement profiles in their respective cities. Sonia and Celine wrapped up by presenting the SDI perspective on slum enumerations. 

Day 3: Event planned at District 8 to inaugurate the slum enumeration process in one of the new settlements. Ended with a closing ceremony and street theatre. 

Day 4: Morning, reflection with RAC and the core leadership on the event and the future steps to be taken. Afternoon spent time with the core leaders and the some of the District 8 leaders on explaining some core ideas and concepts of savings and enumerations.


Discussing Slum Upgrading Strategies: SDI Attends Habitat III

Conference in Rabat

By Joseph Kimani (Muungano Support Trust, Kenya) and Joseph Muturi (Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, Kenya) 


Imagine a world without slums. Fine, let’s keep it close: imagine the city of Nairobi, Cape Town, Mumbai or your favorite city without a single informal settlement, slum or shacks. That is exactly the thing…your mind is probably saying, “Well it is possible.” Perhaps you are also wondering how this could be possible and, in reality, how that could happen. Most likely you are also pondering whether we have the same definition of slums or shacks. Are the favellas in Brazil the same as the ghettos in Kenya, or are the slums in India the same as those in South Africa? Can slums in Nairobi, Mumbai, Brazil, South Africa or anywhere be defined the same way? Are access to sanitation, water, infrastructure and services and secure tenure the only indicators that we should use to measure the extinction of slums? These were some of the main issues addressed at Habitat III, a UN Habitat sponsored international conference that took place in November 2012 in Rabat, Morocco. 

Conference Objectives: 

The three-day conference was organized by the Government of Morocco under the patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and under the authority of UN-HABITAT as an effort to share best practices on policies and the implementation of slum upgrading, eradication and prevention programmes by local and national governments around the world. The organizers invited 20 top countries that have been rated as having performed best in making slums history. The specific objectives of the conference were:

  • Develop specific recommendations and guidelines for slum improvement policies and the development of well-adapted housing alternatives to prevent new slum formation (the Rabat Declaration). 
  • Devise the strategy required to revise Target 7-D of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and adjust it more closely to the diversity of national conditions and circumstances. 
  • Share successful experiences, methodologies and evaluation methods with regard to slum reduction. 
  • Broaden the scope of experience-sharing within the conference to bring in Least performing Countries (and African countries in particular), to help them implement effective slum reduction policies. 
  • Strengthen partnerships between Morocco and other African countries. 

Conference Participants: 

The Rabat Conference brought together over 150 participants representing 24 government delegations. The countries identified as the 20 best performers in slum upgrading invited were: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam.

Summary report of the plenary discussions, workshops and expert group meeting: 

Some of those who spoke at the conference included the Minister of Housing, City Planning and Urban Policy of Morocco, the UN-Habitat Director, Cities Alliance, World Bank and SDI. In our main presentation, we were able to present SDI’s background, mandate and experience by highlighting the role of the community in slum upgrading. We then shared our perspectives on slums post-2015 MDGs or perspectives that we thought stakeholders in slum upgrading need to consider as UN HABITAT proposes to develop Sustainable Development Goals. We presented three key points that we argued were important in helping a slum upgrading process to take shape, and some of our perspectives regarding the development of Sustainable Development Goals. Here our main argument was with respect to the issue of community organization and the role of the rituals of the federations in promoting community ownership and community led initiatives. We provided examples of Huruma Slum Upgrading in Huruma, Kenya and our experience of the Kenya Railway Relocation Programme. Our second point stressed that land delivery was a prerequisite for any slum upgrading to happen. 

Using our Kenyan example again we shared the challenges of attempting to make slums history when in a situation like Nairobi in which 50% of the slums are on private land and another 40% are on land considered to be unlivable (i.e. riparian and railway reserve and high-risk zones such as those living under the high voltage electrical powerline). This allowed us to highlight the need of government and all actors address the issue of land. Our third point was the need to scale up successful cases by not only choosing to deal with the settlements that are appealing, but to also invest in finding solutions to deal with informal settlements that appear to be difficult. Our major issue on this matter was to encourage all players to consider looking at slum upgrading as both functional and spatial and as a broader strategy of poverty alleviation. 

Conference in Rabat

Joseph Muturi of Muungano wa Wanavijiji addresses the audience. 

Below is a sample of comments and suggestions captured during sessions by SDI representatives. 

“We would have wished to see more representation of the slum dwellers, especially from the case studies, shared in this conference. One would have hoped that the hosts would have had in this conference representative of upgraded areas as well as those that have not succeeded or waiting to benefit”.  – Joseph Muturi, during the thematic workshop session on Planning, Land Management and Urban. 

“In the spirit of sharing could we have in the future conferences representation by countries considered to be under performing in slum upgrading processes or those that have the potential and yet challenged in whatever form. It is amazing to hear stories of change and success and one hopes some of countries would have benefitted a lot from the experiences shared here and could have re-kindled hope to those that have despaired and lost hope of assisting the poor.” – Suggestion by Joseph Kimani, Program Manager at MuST during the South-South Cooperation Session. 

“I want to acknowledge and appreciate that this conference has provided most of us with valuable knowledge and experience. In fact I kind of agree with most of the presenters who holds that we can make slums history in our world. However I strongly propose that we ensure that the message we are taking home to all our governments and slum upgrading stakeholders is that the role of the community in this processes should not be underrated at all. In fact is it possible for all of us professionals and Government as well to allow the slum upgrading process to be led by the slum dwellers while we journey with them in this process, so that the issue is not just mere participation and inclusion for the sake of it but to carry with us the spirit and commitment that requires the people to be at the center of their own developments.”  – Statement by Joseph Kimani during the Expert Group Meeting.  

Our main question: Is it possible to make slums history? How did the Morocco attain this goal? 

The Moroccan speakers took all the participants through their journey of making slums history in their nationwide “Cities without slums” programme which focuses on improved shelter conditions for over 1,742,000 people living in informal, substandard housing, contributing to better urban inclusiveness and social cohesion. We learnt that since 2004 the Morocco programme has achieved over 70 per cent of its overall objective. The speakers too acknowledged there were challenges that they are facing as a government while implementing the programme but emphasised that the 70% success so far has been as a result of the strong push of their strong leadership, political will, well defined objectives, an appropriate modus operandi and adequate budgeting. 

In a nutshell as documented in the National Report (2012) the ‘Cities without Shanties” programme has made it possible to: 

  • Reduce the demographic weight of household dwellings in shanties across Moroccan cities and towns from 8.2% to 3.9% between 2004 and 2010; 
  • Improve the living conditions of roughly 1 million inhabitants; 
  • Declare 45 cities without shanties out of a total of 85. 

In achieving the above, Morocco and many other countries in the world have managed to beat MDG Target 7-D by a multiple of 2.2, namely to “significantly improve living conditions for at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.” UN HABITAT estimates that, between 2000 and 2010, a total 227 million people in developing countries have experienced significant improvements in living conditions. 

General lessons drawn from the conference:

The presentations by best performing countries like Brazil, China, Morocco, Turkey highlighted the extent countries and their governments can go to to improve the standards of those living in informal settlements through scaled-up housing developments. However, it should be noted that caution should be taken to ensure that the large scale housing developments do not create shells of void, silence and emptiness by ignoring the value of human development. This is summarized in the quote below:

“What we aim at… is not simply to have shanty-free cities, still less to set up soulless concrete slabs which thwart all forms of sociable living. We rather intend to evolve cities that are not solely conducive to smart, friendly, and dignified living, but also investment-friendly and productive spaces – urban areas, that is, which are attached to their specific character and to the originality of their style.”  – Extract from the Speech delivered by His Majesty King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the National Convention of Local Collectivities Agadir, 12/12/2006. 


The fact that some of the presenters and participants appreciated and acknowledged the role of SDI in facilitating and enabling urban poor communities i to be the drivers of slum upgrading and human development was very encouraging and inspiring. It is with this same spirit that we hope those of us within SDI will continue to work hard in ensuring that slum upgrading does not only become a rhetoric of the state authorities and institutions but remains real and focused towards addressing the economic, social and physical needs of the people. It is our desire to see countries like Kenya respond by speeding up efforts to scale up slum improvements. The ability is there, the resources are with the public and private institutions, and all that we hope for now is the government’s goodwill and commitment.

Beyond Participation: SDI Showcases Partnership Models at AfriCities Conference

AfriCities 2012

SDI delegates take part in a reflection on the Land, Services and Citizenship Project hosted by Cities Alliance at Africities


By George Masimba, Dialogue on Shelter, Zimbabwe 

The recent Afri-Cities conference was held in Dakar, Senegal and took place under the theme – ‘Building Africa from its territories: which challenges for local governments’. About 5 000 delegates from African cities and beyond converged in the coastal  city of Dakar to deliberate issues confronting modern African cities. The concept of territory in the theme referred to, among other things, exploring the role of Africa’s institutions and resources as major components for catalyzing the growth of the continent. In particular, the focus was centered on the local government sphere as a critical institutional space for mediating development processes. This year, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) was able to send a delegation consisting of five countries (South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) accompanied by Mayors from cities where affiliates have established strong links. Through their presentations, the five country affiliates highlighted how they had escalated their engagement with their respective to the brokering of meaningful agreements and equal partnerships.

The session titled ‘Strategies for people’s participation and citizenship’ saw Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe sharing experiences from their countries on the topic. The Zimbabwean delegation presented the Harare Slum Upgrading Project that is being jointly implemented with the City of Harare as an example of how a partnership had evolved out of a precedent-setting slum improvement project. The presenters narrated how the relationship had evolved first through land allocations that supported community participation to more equal relationships grounded and firmed up with memorandums of agreements. In Harare, it was noted that the slum upgrading project had not only improved slum conditions but more significantly had provided a site to test alternative solutions to the challenges that slum dwellers face in slums. Construction of ecological sanitation units (ecosan toilets) under the project, for instance, was one such alternative that the partners were able to pilot in the Dzivarasekwa Extension settlement where previously families had to rely on pit-latrines.

Besides testing practical solutions, the Harare Slum Upgrading Project has also enabled the City of Harare and the alliance of Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and Dialogue on Shelter to develop a slum upgrading strategy for the city, undertake a review of the building regulations and explore the establishment of a city-wide pro-poor slum upgrading finance facility. The upgrading strategy now acts as a protocol detailing a set of procedures for dealing with slums. Additionally, the city-wide slum upgrading fund initiative was an important step in innovating joint funding mechanisms that combine city and communities resources. These activities were reported as significant milestones in addressing the systemic causes underlying the emergence of slums in the city.

AfriCities 2012

Mayor of Harare officially launching a book at the Cities Alliance booth at the Africities Conference in Dakar, Senegal


In Ghana, the presenters from the alliance of Ghana Federation and People’s Dialogue related their interaction with local government indicating how this had birthed very strong partnerships. The Ghana experience centered on the Land, Services and Citizenship (LSC) program, a 3-year project targeting mobilization of savings groups, community infrastructure, profiling, mapping and organization of city-wide forums. Under the first phase of LSC 18 slum settlements have been mapped and profiled in two cities and a memorandum of understanding signed with Ashaiman Municipal Assembly. A Project Implementation Team (PIT) has been set to jointly oversee the implementation of project activities. Municipal Assembly staff provides technical assistance to anchor the profiling and mapping activities while local councilors support Federation groups around community mobilization efforts. It is through such projects that interactions with city governments have been changed from undertaking once-off projects were communities simply participate to carrying out partnership projects with enduring results that alter relations and increase the scope for going to scale. 

The SDI delegation from Uganda was supported by the Mayor of Mbale, the Presidential Advisor on Poverty Alleviation and the Commissioner of Urban Development from the local government ministry. In Uganda, central government, local governments and urban poor communities have been brought together around the ‘Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) project. Like its Ghanaian counterpart, TSUPU is also supported by Cities Alliance and aims to: establish urban forums at various tiers of government, develop city development strategies, undertake mapping and enumeration of slums and set up community upgrading funds. 

The Ugandan presentation centered on the TSUPU project, which is being undertaken in the cities of Mbale, Jinja, Arua, Mbarara and Kabale. In three of these cities, (Mbale, Jinja and Arua) MOUs have been signed with urban forums having been set up. These forums are community-wide development platforms that rally together all urban stakeholders. During the session, the Mayor of Mbale commended the Ugandan Alliance’s achievements and committed continued support to the Federation.

The next session in which SDI participated centred around the Know Your City Project (KYC), also supported by Cities Alliance. The panelists for this session were from the Zambian SDI Alliance, Lusaka City Council’s Director of Planning, the Mayor of Kitwe, the Mayor of Ndola, the Mayor of Harare and the representatives from Burkina Faso. The Zambian presentation commenced with the Lusaka City Council outlining the background and context of slums in Lusaka. It was indicated that the Improvement Areas Act is a piece of legislation that provides the necessary legal ingredients for upgrading, setting out the procedures for undertaking upgrading. Therefore, armed with such legislation, communities and local authorities joined hands in Zambia’s two major cities under the Know Your City Campaign to collect and document information that would feed into slum upgrading. 

An MOU had been signed between Lusaka City Council, Zambia Homeless People’s Federation and People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia earlier in 2012, which has helped to define the roles and vision of the partnership. The Zambian Federation reported that with support from Lusaka City Council they had been able to conduct profiling, enumerations and mapping in slum areas such as George Compound. A National Housing Forum was convened to discuss the findings from these information gathering exercises and government declared three slums improvement areas. It is through joint execution of these project activities that these partnerships have engendered trust and confidence amongst the partners. Through this co-operation, urban communities from these slums have been given a chance to offer solutions to their challenges and design sustainable strategies together with local government.

These SDI sessions were capped with a presentation from Rose Molokoane during a political session on Africa’s Integration where she presented alongside the former presidents of Benin and Cape Verde. Rose stressed that SDI has shifted gears from participation to partnerships with local governments. She also emphasized that urban poor communities have a great deal of information which cities can use to transform slum settlements. Whilst African leaders have established the African Union, slum dwellers had also rallied together around their own African Union of the Urban Poor through the SDI network.


10 Years of Okwegatta: A Milestone in Uganda

10 Years of Okwegatta

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat (Uganda)

On 12/12/12 the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) celebrated its 10th Anniversary. From a few savings groups in Kisenyi, the federation has spread over the last decade across Kampala, to Arua in the north, Mbale and Jinja in the east, to Kabale and Mbarara in the west. The federation is now comprised of over 38,000 slum dwellers and approximately 500 savings groups. NSDFU and its support NGO ACTogether Uganda decided it was important to mark this milestone and bring together members and partners for a very special event that would serve as a time not only for celebration, but reflection and mobilization.

Planning began in November. NSDFU members and ACTogether staff decided to approach Uganda’s most famous artist, Bobi Wine, known affectionately as the “Ghetto President.” They asked Bobi whether he would be interested in helping Uganda’s slum dwellers to celebrate the event and generate publicity for the work of the federation. At the meeting NSDFU member, Katana Goretti, who hails from the same slum as Bobi Wine – Kamwoyka – explained the work of the federation, its history, and its hopes for the future. ACTogether and SDI explained the larger movement to which the NSDFU is part. Bobi listened intently and asked many questions about federation work before informing the group he was honored to be approached and would work with ACTogether and the NSDFU to put on a historic event. He instructed his management team – Angry Management, led by the tireless Lawrence Labeja – to give full support. It was decided that a free concert for slum dwellers would be the grand finale of the anniversary celebrations.

NSDFU was committed to ensuring the event be more than a mere celebration. One of the most frequent pleas of federation groups is to gain access to markets for their goods. It was decided the event would provide such a space. With Christmas a mere two weeks after the event, the timing for a huge slum dweller’s income generating activity market was right. A Savers’ Convention and SUUBI (Urban Poor Fund) sensitization drive would also be held on the day. Housing and sanitation models would be displayed, and donor and government partners would be invited to attend. The event would also provide the perfect space to launch the Federation’s book, 10 Years of Okwegatta: A History of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda Narrated by Members. In the book, member stories are transcribed to tell the history of federation work, federation regions, federation slum upgrading and livelihood projects, as well as federation achievements and challenges. The book can be viewed at this link: www.knowyourcity.info

 At the November National Executive Council (NEC) meeting members were briefed on their respective roles and responsibilities. The logistics involved in hosting such an event were managed with ease by the well-organized federation. Each region was charged with coordinating the savings groups in their networks, arranging transport for members, providing lists of those wishing to participate in the livelihood market, and producing t-shirts to sell, and making a banner to show who they are. The federation in Kampala searched for a venue for the big day. The NSDFU was keen to host the event in Kampala Central, where the federation began, and it was decided that the most cost efficient option for such a huge crowd was Old Kampala Secondary School. The school has two huge football fields and the management agreed (special thanks to Mr. Okumu) to give the federation free use of tables and benches for the exhibition, and toilets on the day. Once the venue was set, the advertising began.

10 Years of Okwegatta

10 Years of Okwegatta

Flyers were produced and Angry Management arranged for truck drives which would announce the event and the work of the federation over a loud speaker from the back of a truck as it drove through the slums of Kampala. Federation member and aspiring DJ, “DJ X” from Makindye, took the microphone and did a fabulous job of inviting all slum dwellers to attend the NSDFU’s anniversary. Cloth banners were also hung by the Angry Management team around Kampala’s slums to raise awareness (shown below). Pioneer Easy Buses – Kampala’s city-wide bus company – showed advertisements for the event on the televisions in all buses.

10 Years of Okwegatta

Uganda’s national newspaper, the New Vision, was approached to continue its work to raise awareness for issues facing slum dwellers. With support from the South African Trust the New Vision dedicated a significant amount of space in its papers in 2012 to highlighting the work of Ugandans to improve living conditions in the country’s slums.  It also trained journalists in community engagement and identification of change makers in slums. During the feature, the NSDFU was profiled twice in full-page color articles. The articles can be viewed at the following link:

NSDFU and ACTogether asked the New Vision to announce the winner of the Ugandans Making a Difference urban feature at the event, provide advertisements for the event free of charge, and compile a full page color write up following the event. The New Vision was also requested to provide a cash sponsorship of UGX 8,500,000 (USD $3,400). The New Vision Group eagerly agreed and special thanks must be extended to Ben Opolot, John Eremu, Cathy Mwesigwa, and Daniel Komunda. Following discussions with New Vision, ACTogether staff member Helen Nyamweru and newly appointed board member, Dr. Steven Mukiibi, were asked to sit on the panel which choose the winners. An article about the competition can be viewed at the following link:

On the 11th of December members from the furthest municipalities from Kampala began their journey. Members from Arua (approximately 480km from Kampala) and Kabale (approximately 420km from Kampala) had a long journey to make. NSDFU members agreed that no regions would be provided accommodation support for the event, as the costs would become too great resulting in fewer members being able to attend. Arua region decided it would still come the day before and members would sleep in the community hall of the Kisenyi III federation sanitation unit. The unit was the first NSDFU project in Uganda and there could not have been a better way for it to be used on the anniversary! Members slept on the floor, in hallways, and in chairs. Some members took it upon themselves to ‘guard’ the others and report that the federation members were in high spirits despite the cramped conditions.

Though the event did not officially start until 2pm, members came to the site early to help set up. Groups with tent and chair rental projects were asked to bring them to the event and erect them early before the anit-terrorism unit arrived to conduct a sweep. Pepsi Cola agreed to provided tents, chairs, and 2,500 free sodas in sponsorship of the event. Nile Breweries agreed to supply tents. Barefoot Solar generously decided their sponsorship contribution would be to outfit one of the federation’s sanitation units with solar power in 2013. Pioneer Buses – Kampala’s city-wide bus system – offered free promotion of the NSDFU anniversary on all its buses and social media, while Record TV also provided free coverage. Individual donors Heather Gardiner, Christine and Tiree Dobson, and Caroline Power also provided sponsorship support.    

Each region selected 10 ushers. These members were charged with all the logistical responsibilities involved with setting up and clearing up their income generating activity and project displays. Regional ushers were allocated tags (shown below) so they could be easily identified by security personal. It should be noted that security was a very serious concern for the federation and the authorities. In the lead up to the event, NSDFU member Lubega Edirss and NSDFU chairman Hassan Kiberu did an exceptional job securing permission to host and secure the event from the Inspector General of Police, the Kampala Metropolitan Police, the District Police Commissioner, the Kampala Capital City Authority, and the Anti-terrorism Authority. Securing such support required endless trips to these offices and Lubega now boasts of having the phone number of every high-level security officer in the country!

10 Years of Okwegatta

All 11 regions of the federation were allocated a space to exhibit and sell their goods. Some of the livelihood projects included: candles, liquid soap, clothes, beads, bags, briquettes, shoes, jewelry, grass mats, baskets, amaranth products, bread, donuts, cookies, soaps, mushrooms, clay stoves and more. The vast majority of these projects were initiated and are managed by women. 

Approximately 70% of all NSDFU members are women and they constituted the bulk of those in attendance on the day. The groups reported good sales on the day both from fellow members and guests. In addition, members moved to their fellow savings groups for ideas and contacts during the day so they can test the income generating activities of fellow members in their own settlements.

10 Years of Okwegatta

NSDFU is planning to create more regional livelihood projects in 2013 following the success of the Nakawa Region Candle Project in which numerous candle-making groups came together to form a regional alliance. Networking the project groups regionally means they can fulfill larger orders and access larger markets. Since the event, the Nakawa candle makers have been asked to fill another large bulk order. Members are exploring other regional projects through contacts made at the event and groups they learned of in the 10 Years of Okwegatta book. 

The book and the exhibition at the anniversary highlight the incredible array of skills to be found in the NSDFU and also the power of collective action toward livelihood improvement. The savings groups in the federation extend small loans for livelihood projects and their organizational capacity allows them to grow their businesses, account for their monies, and diversify their products as they learn from fellow slum dwellers in the network. The partnerships the federation forges with municipal councils helps these groups get access to the Ugandan Government’s Community-Driven Development (CDD) funds owing to their demonstrable capacity to manage such funds effectively. 

No NSDFU event would be complete without singing and dancing. Many groups in the federation have singing or drama groups, which raise awareness for federation rituals and in many cases also generate income for groups when they are hired for functions. Each region was asked to prepare a performance for the anniversary celebration. The performances were so colorful and inspired and a delight for fellow federation members and guests to witness. The groups performed songs and plays about savings, women’s empowerment, and lifting oneself out of poverty. 

10 Years of Okwegatta

They performed in the traditional style of their region highlighting the great diversity of culture within the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. The Bakiga from Kabale performed the Ekizino Royal Dance, full of vigorous stamping and jumping. The Lugbara from Arua were painted in the traditional style and performed a thrilling local dance. The Baganda people from Kampala peformed the ever-delightful Bakisiimba, traditionally performed for the Kabaka (King), while the Basoga from Jinja, the Bagisu from Mbale, and the Banyankole from Mbarara delighted with songs, plays, and dances from their respective cultures.

As mentioned, members decided the event would also provide the perfect space for a massive SUUBI sensitization effort and savings drive. SUUBI is Uganda’s Urban Poor Fund, which was established in 2010. It has extended loans for housing, sanitation units, and livelihood projects to federation groups throughout Uganda. SUUBI is designed as a basket fund to which the urban poor, their partners in government, and donor agencies contribute. The unique element of SUUBI is that is a fund that the urban poor control themselves. The monies that their small daily savings and organizational capacity leverage are directed to projects the members prioritize, design, and implement themselves.

At the event federation leaders explained the function of SUUBI and members were encouraged to save to SUUBI that very day. There was a competition for SUUBI savings, with the winner receiving a 10 million shilling loan for a community slum-upgrading project. On the day, members saved over 3,400,000 shillings (USD $1,400) and DFCU Bank – in which the SUUBI account is held – was invited to participate in the verification and banking of member savings on the day. 

10 Years of Okwegatta

Chairman, Hassan Kiberu, announced the savings of each region and declared Arua region the winner. Members from Arua saved, on average, close to 4,000 shillings (USD $1.60) per person. At this announcement Arua region came running onto the main field waving their pink saving books, dancing and ululating with excitement!! The win was consistent with Arua’s history as the federation region with the strongest daily and SUUBI savings. Since returning to Arua, the members decided to use the loan to construct a sanitation unit – a project prioritized following community conducted enumerations (slum surveys) – and have already negotiated for land in Arua municipality. 

In the lead up to the event, federation members, led by Robert Kakinda, Vicky Nakibuuka, and the ACTogether engineer, Waiswa Kakaire, constructed models of the sanitation units being built by the federation and a low-cost, multi-storeyed house model. The models were exceptionally detailed and Robert Kakinda spent the day explaining the designs and costs to guests and federation members. These models helped visitors to appreciate the kinds of projects SUUBI makes possible thanks to the exceptional organizational capacity of the NSDFU members. The models helped demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of federation projects and the fact that good design can reduce cost and simplify the construction process so that slum dwellers can build for themselves. At present, the NSDFU has one housing project in Jinja, an sanitation unit projects in Kisenyi, Kinawataka and Bwaise in Kampala, as well as Mbale, Jinja, and Mbarara. The sanitation units are double-story and house a community hall on the top floor which is used to host regional federation meetings and rent out for income generation. The sanitation facilities, including toilets and showers, are for men and women and have provisions for the disabled.

10 Years of Okwegatta

The guest of honor, State Minster of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Rosemary Najjemba officially opened the event and spoke to those gathered about the work of the Ministry. She praised the efforts of the federation and encouraged them to continue to work hard and resist the temptations of corruption as they grow. Robert Kakinda and Sarah Nandudu explained the models to the Minister, who asked many questions and then signed the NSDFU message board with the following message: “I would like to see cities without slums therefore I support the NSDFU!”

The federations travelled with many of their municipal council partners. Mbale municipality came with the Mayor as did Nakawa Region. Many regions came with councilors, and Arua came with its Community Development Officer. One member, Sarah Kiyimba, told me, “sometimes municipal council representatives – and even members – don’t really believe the federation has so many members and does so much work, but at the event they really saw.” Mbarara region even made a sanitation unit model out of cake (shown below)! The cake was auctioned off by the Mayor of Nakawa to raise funds for the completion of the unit in Mbarara. The total raised was UGX 230,000 (USD $92).

10 Years of Okwegatta

Bobi Wine arrived at about 4pm to greet the federation and whip up excitement for the concert to come. Bobi Wine was also presented with an award by New Vision for the work he has done in Kamwoyka to improve drainage and sanitation. His car, with its “Ghetto” number plates was parked at the entrance of the school, much to the delight of passers by.

In the evening Bobi performed a free show in front of thousands of screaming slum dwellers. He spoke of the ingenuity to be found in the ghettos of Uganda and the potential within each and every person in attendance. He spoke of his own rise from a slum dweller to an international superstar. Bobi sang live, with a full band, and his opening acts were members of the Firebase Crew. Joining him for the main show, was fellow Ugandan sensation Nubian Lee.

10 Years of Okwegatta

10 Years of Okwegatta

The NSDFU and ACTogether know that the challenge in 2013 is for the slum dweller movement in Uganda to consolidate the impressive gains made in the past 10 years (to build an autonomous urban poor movement, raise awareness for the issues faced by slum dwellers, begin to work at city-scale, improve sanitation, become an established learning center in the SDI network, achieve national recognition, create an urban poor fund, and promote good governance and womens’ empowerment) and intensify the leveraging of slum dweller social and political capital for greater improvements to the lives of the urban poor.

To see a fun video of the event, please view this link:


Diary of BM Section Fire: Community Empowerment in Crisis

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

By Andy Bolnick, CORC & iKhayalami, South Africa 

31st December 2012


File photo. Image by: MIKE HUTCHINGS / REUTERS taken from

1st of January 2013


AFP Photo / Rodger Bosch –

On the 1st January 2013, Tuesday in the early hours of the morning a man in the furthest eastern part of BM Section informal settlement in Khayelitsha fell asleep while he was cooking food on a hotplate stove. A fire started at 4am. With gale-force winds blowing the fire quickly swept out of control. With the strong southeaster and being hampered by lack of access the middle of the settlement the fire department failed to contain the blaze, finally ‘putting out’ the fire at 10.30am when it had virtually run its course – blazing a trail of destruction right through the settlement leaving approximately 5000 people homeless, 1 000 shacks guttered, 3 confirmed deaths and one person in a critical condition. On January the 2nd of January a fourth body was found in the debris and on the 4thof January the man who had 80% burns passed away in hospital.

On the 2nd of January, Wednesday Phumezo Sibanda who resides in Khayelitsha and is a leader of the ISN called Andy Bolnick from Ikhayalami to talk to her about the disaster and start thinking through what kind of support could offered. It was agreed that Phumezo would go to site to assess things and meet with the BM leaders. 

Shortly after Phumezo’s call one of Ikhayalami’s main funder for disaster relief/re-blocking efforts (for the past 6 years), Mr. Gerald Fox from the Percy Fox Foundation, called. He had heard about the devastating fire and offered immediate resources so that Ikhayalmi could respond with a sizeable number of shelters in order to potentially attract more resources to a response effort and to do a re- blocking. Bolnick then sent a letter to senior Corc and SDI staff and ISN leaders (who have access to email) in an attempt to bring everyone on board and develop a coordinated response.

In the meantime Phumezo who rallied support from two other ISN leaders in the Khayeltisha area – Thozama and Nombini Mafikhana – attended the tail end of a Disaster Management meeting at the OR Tambo hall, which has since become the nerve center of relief efforts.  Following the meeting they engaged with some of the BM leadership.


Phumezo then asked Bolnick to come to site to meet with some of the leadership who informed us that they ‘want the city to level the area and open up roads’. They said that this is what they discussed in the meeting with the city that morning.

Bolnick enquired about whether the leadership had a list of all the residents of BM. The leadership said that there is a list that the city has. Bolnick suggested that they get hold of this list, verify it and if need be start compiling their own list. Phumezo and Bolnick also spoke about the potential of spatial reconfiguration in addition to merely demarcating roads. Mention was made to the potential of the availability of between 150 – 200 shelters from Ikhayalami (20 immediately and the remainder after the 15th) to assist with a spatial reconfiguration/re-blocking if the community decided to go this route. There was also some discussion about the potential of arranging an exchange visit to Sheffield rd and Mthisni Wam for BM leaders.


While on site the leaders were informed that a fourth body had been found in the debris. We left the leaders to attend to the pressing issues at hand. 

The site is so vast – standing in the middle of the site – on the one side people were still collecting rubble and clearing the site, on the other side the site was almost cleared. 

3rd of January, Thursday community leaders and NGO support staff attended a joint meeting of stakeholders. Those present were members of a crisis committee that was formed the day before comprising of a few leaders from BM section, delegates from the city (Disaster Management dept), Social Dev Services, SASSA, Home Affairs, Law Enforcement, KDF, SANCO, VPUU, Amaxesibe Traditional Council, an ANC delegation, a church group and other people from the community and our delegation. Important points were raised but no one was listening to each other. As soon as an important point was made another person would talk about something inconsequential or petty and the vital point would be lost. There was also information that a separate disaster response committee comprising of provincial government members was meeting separately in Belville. This created further frustration. Party political issues were being raised that included laying blame and arguing. The BM leadership were getting angry and wanted action.

Issues that were raised pertained to insufficient food, the need for more mattresses, frustration that the city had not started leveling. The city called for all the debris to be removed by the community, talk also revolved around how to take care of people’s debris who were still in the Eastern Cape on holiday – where could it be stored and how the city would take care of the debris so that when construction began people could get their burnt material back to use for reconstruction. It was agreed that all the debris would be removed from site by 2pm the following day. There was also an urgent plea to get the ‘list’ verified. This task was given to the Principle Field Officer (PFO) and VPUU.

Bolnick suggested that it would be imperative that the BM leadership be involved in this process. On behalf of the SDI alliance delegation attending the meeting she offered support to the city and VPUU to work with the leadership on getting the list of victims sorted. This being a key SDI tool it was felt that it could act as an entry point for ISN to start mobilizing the community and give them the power with regards to information (the list) and start building a working relationship with VPUU.

Bolnick also mentioned that should the BM leadership and the people of BM (as well as the city) agree to do a blocking out Ikhayalami had raised funds for the provision of 200 shelters and would support this process together with our alliance partners.

With regard to the ISN supporting the City, VPUU and the leadership in compiling a verified list the first time Bolnick mentioned this, the point was lost. The second time she managed to get the offer accepted by City’s the Principle Field Officer.

After the meeting the ISN members as well as NGO support staff met with four of the BM leadership to discuss a way forward. It was agreed that at 4pm that afternoon an exchange would go from BM section to Sheffield Rd and Mshini Wam. Vuyani and Nkokeli felt that ISN should not be involved with supporting the leaders, VPUU and the city in sorting out the list of victims. Their rationale was that the leadership knows their own communities. Corc staff felt that they could not support the BM leadership if ISN had decided not to assist with the compilation of a verified list. At 2pm we all left the OR Tambo Hall.

Vuyani and Nkokeli went to Du Noon to offer support and assess the situation following a fire that occurred there on the 31st of December where 125 shacks had burnt down. A meeting was arranged for the following morning at the Corc offices for ISN and staff to regroup especially if we needed to make a decision concerning supporting Du Noon and or BM section.

At 4pm Melvyn from Ikhayalami and arrived at the OR Tambo Hall to fetch members of the BM community who had been elected to visit Sheffield Rd and Mshini Wam. The exchange was positive. The leaders from BM who attended the exchange were able to get a better grasp of what was meant by blocking-out.


4th of January, Friday – the regroup meeting scheduled for 8.30am was called off. Nkokeli reported that people in Du Noon had already rebuilt their shacks and that ‘we should focus our attention on BM’. It was agreed to meet at OR Tambo Hall to attend the crisis committee meeting. The Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, Councilor Sonnenberg, E.D Mr. Seth Maqetuka and Head of Informal Settlements Department Mr. Zwandile Sokupa as well as other officials from the various departments’ attended this meeting.

The Mayor would hear non-of-this and became angry that people were meddling in politics while there was a crisis at hand. She also confirmed all the support that the city had provided up to that stage. Fortuitously Naledi Pandor the Minister of Home Affairs walked into the meeting. She too said that it was not a time for politics and that the focus should be on aiding the people and moving forward. Minister Pandor made a number of practical recommendations with regard to processing ID’s and the immediate provision of portable toilets.

A site-specific report was given. Mr. Maqetuka reported that ‘the City is working on a short-term plan and is also developing a short to medium term plan’.  The Mayor asked that the meeting focus on the immediate disaster response. The city engineer reported that ‘there was an agreement for Solid Waste to clear the material and that they were on site and machinery will come on site this afternoon to do leveling’.

Councilor Sonnenberg stressed the importance of a verified beneficiary list. Mr. Sokupa and Mr. Maqetuka acknowledged Ikhayalmi’s offer to support the process with the provision of 200 shelters should there be a need for a re-blocking.

The Mayor agreed to be part of the crisis committee and said that all her engagements will be done through the Ward Councilor in line with protocol.

After the meeting Mr. Maqetuka and Mr. Soup met with the SA SDI Alliance delegates briefly. Bolnick requested access to the site layout for fire-breaks/roads. They informed us that the City was not yet sure in which direction the relief effort would go as they were in consultation with the Province and there was a likelihood that they would embark on a UISP project, so as of yet there were no concrete plans. They asked us to be a patient and said they would draw us in when needed. Thereafter most of the officials and political leaders went on a site visit. The alliance delegates stayed in the vicinity of the hall and managed to meet a city engineer who said that there was layout for the roads but that he did not have it with him.

On 5th of January, Saturday Phumezo, Thozama, Nombini and Bolnick went to the OR Tambo Hall to meet with the engineer and attend the crisis committee meeting. Disaster Management chaired the crisis committee meeting. The Mayor and officials who had been in the meeting the previous day were not present. Disaster management reported on progress with regards to the delivery of more mattresses, medi-packs and nappies. The responsibility of distribution had been given to the BM leadership. The confirmed number of people registered and staying in the OR Tambo hall was 1660 made up of almost an equal number of males, females and children and 55 babies. The confirmed list of fatalities were given – 3 deaths reported on the 1st, one found on the 2nd of January in the rubble and the fifth person who passed away in hospital from 80% burns on the 4th of January.

It was also confirmed that disaster management and social services would remain on site until further notice. Discussion arose around WB Section where there had also been a fire on the 31st Dec affecting 54 households. People complained that WB Section was not getting the same kind of support that BM was getting. It was reported that people in WB had already received the city’s starter packs and that most people had rebuilt their homes. The crisis committee agreed to find ways of supporting victims in WB section.

With regard to work on the site it was reported that two front loaders and one digger loader where on site clearing and leveling the land and that a land surveyor was on site assessing where the firebreaks should go. Another plea, this time from SASSA was made for the urgent need for a verified beneficiary list. The meeting was then adjourned.


Phumezo, Nombini and Bolnick decided to go to site with two BM leaders. En route they checked the measurement of an existing road to get a sense of scale in anticipation of finding out the width that the city was planning to use.

The main reason why they decided to go to site (apart from viewing the leveling) was to find a land surveyor, engineer or even a truck driver, in fact anyone who could give them some information about the proposed fire breaks as these would be key starting points in thinking through a new layout and at the very least to consider if the proposed roads make sense to the community. 

While on site they found a city official who was able to disclose the type of information they had been seeking. Firstly he told them that the width of the roads would be 5m. Secondly the City is planning on putting in two roads through the settlement and one ring road around the area that was burnt (there was previously a road at the bottom of the settlement) and thirdly the city was going to arrange for a plane to fly overhead and take high-resolution aerial photographs. From these photographs the proposed roads would be confirmed.  As things progress it is clear that these images will be vital for planning purposes and are images that the alliance should try to access as soon as possible.

After this engagement the group walked to the middle of the site to assess things and think things through from a spatial perspective.

Looking at the site it did not make sense to put a ring road around the burnt area (the sides and bottom were virtually from one section of the settlement to the other so this could make sense but the top section still has shacks that did not burn and is about 17m to the main road). The width of the burnt out area looked around 35m wide with a length of approximately 100m. The top part of the ring road was the road that did not make sense as in essence if they are to go ahead with this it would mean that 500sqm would be taken up (over and above the other justifiable roads) for purpose of a road as apposed to land for those affected. It would make more sense to extend the two roads in the middle of the settlement to meet Landsdowne Rd. From the edge of where shacks still remained to Landsdown rd it is approximately 17m. This would mean that 17m x 5m x 2 roads = 170sqm would be used for roads as apposed to 500sqm. It is reasons like these that it is important that community leaders get drawn into the design processes so that they can make recommendations that make sense and work better for the broader community.

On the 6th of January, Sunday at 9.30am Mr. Sokupa phoned Bolnick to confirm the number of shelters that Ikhayalami could provide, how soon and how many per day. Bolnick confirmed that should a plan be reached and all parties including the BM leadership and ISN agree then Ikhayalami could make 20 shelters available immediately and from the 17th of January when factories re-opened could supply 20 per day.

Thozama, Nombini and Phumezo went to the OR Tambo Hall to attend the crisis committee meeting where the Mayor was scheduled to attend. The Mayor and the Premier arrived at the confirmed time, that being 2pm. They insisted that the crisis committee and other people in the boardroom vacate so that they could hold a meeting with the Ward Councilor. People who were in the boardroom (where meetings had been held every day since the disaster) were outraged. After some commotion two separate meetings took place –one with the Premier, Mayor and Ward Councilor and one with the crisis committee. The Ward Councilor came to the crisis committee meeting and said that he would represent the crisis committee in the meeting with the Mayor and Premier. At times he came out of the meeting to consult with members of the crisis committee.

The Premier and Mayor stated that only 250 families will return to the site, the rest will be relocated to the area next to the OR Tambo hall and others next to Busasa on SANDF land. The BM leadership informed the Ward Councilor that the Premier should not put a set number to how many households will return to the site ‘as the community intends to work on their own layout that would accommodate many more than the 250 households

On Monday the 7th of January it was time for the SA SDI alliance to regroup. A meeting was convened to reflect and strategise going forward. Vuyani, Nkokeli, Bunita, Olwetu, Zipho and Andy formed part of this meeting. A report on the past 5 days was given comprising the above.

In the reflection meeting it was agreed that the situation in BM is a complex and that the community is ‘about to go to a big war without any tools’ (Vuyani). As such it is imperative that the ISN work with the BM leaders with whom there is now a connection and go deeper so as to reach the street committee leadership and the community at large. The idea is that three Khayelitsha ISN leaders who have been involved in meetings on site since the 2nd of January will work with Vuyani and Nkokeli to develop a strategy on how to deepen ISN’s presence within the broader community. It is also vital that FEDUP get drawn in into this process so that woman can start supporting one another in this difficult time.

It also became clear that Vuyani and Nkokeli’s reluctance to get involved had to do with fact that they are not from the Khayelitsha area, that they view the situation in BM as highly political and that previously in 2010 as leaders of the ISN they did not succeed (through no fault of theirs) in doing what the BM leadership had asked of them and were worried this would come back to haunt them. It was agreed that in spite of all the difficulties and complexities it is vital that the ISN support the BM community in their time of need.

On Tuesday the 8th of January Phumezo, Nkokeli, Thozama, Vuyani and Nombini met at the OR Tambo hall. They agreed that they should call a meeting with the BM leadership that includes the street committees. Unfortunately this meeting did not materialize and ISN are planning to do it as soon as possible. That evening a leader from BM called Phumezo and Bolnick saying that the crisis committee (of which Ikhayalami had previously been invited to participate by the broader committee) would be meeting with the Mayor on the 9th of January.

Wednesday morning the 9th of January at 9am Ikhayalami’s support at the meeting at the Civic Centre was confirmed by the BM leadership.

In the coming days things will unfold and we will constantly assess what type of support we can offer. Politics is firing and misfiring everywhere from petty politics to political mud slinging to high level politics. The petty politics and mud slinging politics are bedfellows. Every community forum/organisation in Khayelitsha has been jostling to be ‘powerful’. Disaster Management and other government relief effort departments are trying to complete their tasks and get the hell out of there. The high level politics are invisible to most, taking place behind closed doors and off site.

In an attempt to offer support and respond to the disaster Ikhayalami’s involvement has been to 1) to support the BM leaders/community to see through and make sense of the murky waters so as to be in a better position to plot an equitable as possible way forward, and 2) to assist them in starting to think one step ahead and to open doors for the ISN and FEDUP.

The alliances role going forward should include the following agenda – to support the BM leadership to negotiate with the state, to act as a bridge between community and the state, to support our city partners in this huge task in a way that gives voice to the BM community, to gain access to the plans and aerial images and draw the community into the planning and to set up women savings groups.

Inclusion: A Sustainability Agenda for African City Growth


This article originally appeared in Perspectives: Political Analysis and Commentary from Africa #3.12.

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat 

An old South African song of the anti-Apartheid struggle is called “Meadowlands”. It commemorates a forced removal of many black and coloured people from the bustling, multi-cultural neighbourhood of Sophiatown in Johannesburg to the suburban township of Soweto in the late 1950s. The creolised tsotsitaal lyrics echo through the African continent’s historic urban transformation, which is well underway today: Ons daak nie, ons pola hie. “We are not leaving, we are staying right here.”[1]

Inclusion. A place to call home. Such are the essential challenges that urbanisation has evoked for ordinary people and communities throughout the continent. The lessons emerging from both the successes and challenges of city growth in Africa suggest that developmentally sound approaches hinge on the extent to which ordinary people are incorporated into the financial flows, planning institutions and political processes by which it takes place.

Yet these lessons are not part of the dominant understanding of processes of urbanisation and development in Africa. This is true whether we look at the worlds of academia and theory, or the worlds of policy and politics. The urban population in Africa has almost tripled in fifty years, and this has been accompanied by a proliferation of informal settlements that lack access to basic services such as water and toilets, land tenure, housing and formal employment.[2] These inequities are the overwhelming experience of the continent’s young, urban population. Over one-fifth of Africa’s population is between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, and in eastern and southern Africa, this proportion rises to one-third.[3] 

Building a Strategy

Economic inequalities track closely with political exclusion. In truth, approaches such as “participation”, while common to the sustainability agenda, carry little weight in the big decision-making flows that actually impact on African urbanisation. Instead, they have been watered down to mean either a) consultation with ordinary people and communities on projects and programs that have already been conceived by large actors in government and the private sector, or b) the ability of communities to hold such actors accountable for promises after they make them.

“Political sustainability”—a broad notion of social and economic inclusion—coupled with environmental sustainability, is quite simply not the dominant paradigm of development and urbanisation in Africa. If we can generalise at all about African cities—a questionable task in and of itself—then the image of fancy skyscrapers rising next to sprawling informal settlements perhaps best represents this process. Economic and political inequality, environmental degradation and social insecurity are all too common as part of the urbanisation process in Africa.

So the task is twofold: first, to understand what we mean by “sustainability” in the first place; second, to strategise for embedding “sustainability” in the influential agendas that drive African urbanisation in the present and for the future. Such an approach has to link housing, land and employment in order to build inclusion into the urbanisation process. It also has to identify where the kinds of citizen groupings and organisations are emerging that allow for more responsive approaches to this triangle of needs. 

Finance, Planning, Politics

The exclusion of the urban poor from planning for growth implicates three major trends.

First, the financial arrangements that determine urban development are exacerbating divides of inequality in terms of access to services, land and employment opportunities. Little finance is allocated in either national or international aid budgets for the upgrading of informal settlements. Local governments struggle to collect property and land taxes, and have little financial discretion to direct resources to the upgrading of informal settlements.[4] Urban development is still an unpopular policy orientation, and the money that is directed at poverty alleviation continues to exhibit “rural bias”. Meanwhile, the finance available to industrial and real estate development in urban areas has a sharp [G1] tendency to not benefit the people and interests that fall outside of the formal sector.

Take two examples of spatial disparities in East Africa, which demonstrate the stark inequalities of financial flows to African cities. In Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, over 70 percent of households are on land whose ownership rights the law does not recognise. In other words, the vast majority of the city is “informal”.[5] Even starker is the situation in Nairobi, where recreational space occupies more total land than do slums. Sixty percent of the city’s population lives in slums.[6] While the formal world is accessing finance and the power it accompanies, the populations that are growing most quickly in African cities experience deeper exclusion.

Second, the institutional arrangements and planning processes that impact on urbanisation build and reinforce inequalities. Planning standards condemn informality in contexts where governments need to embrace and integrate informal populations. Participation is all too often a byword for using the poor as a means of an ex post facto rubber stamp of consent after key decisions around project conception and even implementation have been made by governments, private investors, and external aid agencies.

The challenge is not only a question of whether there is a moral need to include the poor, but even more, a question of how responsive existing institutions are to changes on the ground. The financial flows of urbanisation in Africa currently override the shaping capacity of institutions, especially in both local and national governments. The imperatives of private developers and corporations override the potential for the state to intervene effectively to mitigate the negative effects of the market.

In a sense, this is another version of how economist Joseph Stiglitz described what has happened to Western financial institutions in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, in which processes of economic growth have been “privatizing gains but socializing losses”.[7] Charles Sabel and Sanjay Reddy have identified the key institutional problem as an inability to “learn”.[8] Hence they propose steps for “learning to learn”, a method for examining the constraints of both supply and demand that policy-makers and institution-shapers must address. This means identifying new problems for policy, and opening up decision-making to be more accountable and, in fact, empirical.

Yet this can come off as pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Cities in Africa are a crucible for both the new global order of nations and new institutions that make the decisions that impact on economic growth patterns. In such areas, as Mark Swilling, director of the Sustainability Institute in South Africa, recently noted, institutions and ordinary people alike require “the ability to learn and unlearn very quickly in the blink of an eye as context shifts”.[9] How can Sabel and Reddy’s “learning to learn” framework possibly address this reality?

The third and related cause of exclusion, and the necessary impact of inclusion on the sustainability agenda[G2] , concerns the political processes of urbanisation in Africa. In essence, the current exclusion of the poor from decision-making, project conceptions and fundamental re-imaginings of city development fundamentally impedes a more responsive set of institutions along the lines of “learning to learn”. When the urban poor are considered objects of developmental decisions of others—when ordinary people are a nuisance to be ignored or evicted—informality continues to hinder economic growth and the development of social fabric in cities.

Most poverty alleviation approaches are focused on supporting individuals and households to achieve basic human needs. But from the sustainability perspective—understood broadly—this actually undercuts the need for political inclusion. Given the constraints on political agency and economic opportunity that exist among many communities of the poorest of the poor, representative organisations of the poor are of particular significance.

It is therefore time to pay more attention to the kinds of popular institutions of the poor that can be effective at influencing formal institutional structures. These exist in many parts of the world currently undergoing rapid urbanisation. Even those cities that are not in Africa offer significant learning opportunities for alternative political approaches. A few different types include a) city-wide community networks of informal settlement dwellers in Thailand that work with a government program for slum upgrading called Baan Mankong; b) street committees in places like Karachi, Pakistan, that work with local government through the Orangi Pilot Project; and c) national and city-wide slum dweller “federations” in many countries in Africa and Asia, that are part of a global network called Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). In all of these cases, the most important lesson concerns the ability of government, especially at the local level, to reform existing institutions or create new ones that allow communities and officials to speak with each other as equals and to make decisions jointly.

Investing in Community Organisations and Networks

With this triangular framework for understanding the challenge of the sustainability agenda as it pertains to urbanisation in Africa—finance, planning, and politics—we need to begin understanding the strategy for actualising such an approach. We need to get deep into the real-world practices that, over time, cohere to create this kind of impact-driven approach to sustainable urbanisation. The notion of “learning”, as Sabel and Reddy, amongst others, have put it, is useful for describing how small changes in institutional practice can be geared towards exactly this kind of high impact.

In particular, we need to consider the lessons of communities that are actually involved in a learning process with elements of local bureaucracies. These relationships help to develop alternative mechanisms for delivery and to construct deeper bonds of citizenship through the links of community associations with state bureaucracies.

An instructive case is a set of interactions between community associations and low-level bureaucrats in the Informal Settlements Unit of the Department of Housing in the municipality of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

The informal settlement of Langrug is home to about eighteen hundred households, according to a community-led household survey in 2011. The settlement had gone with approximately forty toilets for all eighteen hundred families for many years. In 2010, a rich landowner nearby threatened to sue the municipality for the polluted runoff coming from the settlement on to his property.

The rich were making the claim in this case. But it is the poor who have gained attention from the claim. The municipality had long tried to provide services to Langrug through ad hoc, top-down methods. These previous attempts had been met by vandalism and destruction, as the community felt that there was no consultation about the needs or priorities of the settlement.

Over 2011 and 2012, both the community and low-level bureaucrats have changed. The bureaucrats visit the community much more often and sit in joint meetings with community leaders to plan improvements for the settlement. The city has also begun employing community members, who work on upgrading projects through short-term public works programs. In just a year, the community has achieved more toilets and water points, reorganised shacks near small flood plains in the settlement, and cleaned drains. The community and city government have begun working together to formalise the settlement and provide land tenure to residents. The community has also begun to alter and deepen its governing structures in the wake of its new experience in working with local government. Leaders have created smaller block committees, as well as issue-based committees (e.g., to plan for a new community hall that will serve a number of businesses and social organisations, and a health committee).

These lessons echo throughout the country and throughout the world. Langrug is linked to the Informal Settlement Network, a social movement that is part of the global SDI network. SDI has therefore used its international reach to bring communities and city officials from elsewhere in South Africa, and from other countries in Africa and Asia, to learn from the approach that the Langrug community and the Stellenbosch authorities have been exploring.[10]

Merging the “Top” and the “Bottom”

From the perspective of actors working at the “bottom” of urban politics—community organisations, professional NGOs, legal advocates—“sustainability” too often turns into small projects that appear sustainable, but that do not make any impact at the large scales of financial flows, planning institutions and political processes. Without an articulation of precisely this sort of impact—a broad theory of change to achieve sustainable urbanisation in Africa—we cannot expect to see sustainable cities emerge from the urbanisation process well underway. Often this means that the “bottom” needs to be prepared to find new modes of working with large “formal” actors, especially the state.

From the “top”, the sustainability agenda demands the inverse of such a critical perspective. National and local governments in Africa have struggled to build in the adaptive responsiveness required to deal with rapid change in populations, built environment and economies. Those that have are learning to develop and invest in partnerships with community-based groups and organisations, especially those that constitute themselves at the city-wide level. This is not the simple decentralised model of private-public partnerships, but an approach to partnership that leverages the strategic strength of the grassroots to strengthen public institutions in their ability to perceive and adapt to the rapid changes of urbanisation.

“Path-dependent” views of development have long suggested that historical and especially colonial legacies condemn people in Africa to overwhelming poverty and suffering. Consequently, intervention by aid agencies, multilateral institutions, private actors and national governments has too often manifested in a context that either ignores these legacies and “path dependence” altogether, or assumes that their outcomes make the urbanisation of poverty a historical fait accompli. This mix of hubris and fatalism has led to flows of funds, institutional designs and political power that not only ignore, but actively exclude the poor. Ordinary people continue to persist as objects of interventions by those who are much more powerful, and therefore have little voice.

So we return to the old South African song, “Meadowlands”. Such a collective plea for belonging needs to underpin the sustainability agenda if it will be able to impact on an alternative view of urbanisation in African cities. This means investing in the capacities of communities, just as much as it means investing in the projects and programs that are geared towards achieving the physical “outputs” of inclusionary development: basic services, land, housing, employment.

This also means investing in community organisations, and the networking of these organisations—especially at the city-wide scale—in order to build the political processes at the city and national level that can achieve such physical outcomes. An integrated approach to sustainability will embed the human need for belonging to place, to land, and to community, within the broader processes of urbanisation. This may be our only path to upending a phenomenon that, in Africa, has thus far exhibited all-too-prevalent tendencies of exclusion.

[1] “Meadowlands,” performed by Nancy Jacobs and Sisters. Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (ATO Records, 2003).

[2] John Vidal, “Africa warned of ‘slum’ cities danger as its population passes 1bn”. The Guardian Global Development Blog.

[3] United Nations Population Fund, “Africa: Why Investing in Africa’s Youthful Population Can No Longer Wait”.

[4] UN-Habitat, State of the African Cities 2010, 3.

[5] “Upgrading of Low Income Settlements: Country Assessment Report—Tanzania.” World Bank Institute, Africa Technical Unit.

[6] Florence Dafe, “No Business like Slum Business? The Political Economy of the Continued Existence of Slums: A Case Study of Nairobi”. Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics Working Paper, 12.

[7]Joseph Stiglitz, “The Current Economic Crisis and Lessons for Economic Theory.” Eastern Economic Journal, forthcoming (President’s address at the 2009 Eastern Economic Association Conference, New York, February 2009).

[8] Charles Sabel and Sanjay Reddy, “Learning to Learn: Undoing the Gordian Knot of Development Today”. Challenge, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 50(5), October 2007, 73–4.

[9] Mark Swilling, “The Power of Quiet Encroachment”. Lecture delivered at TedXStellenbosch, 29 July 2011. http://youtube/GBnN62-Lp7U

[10] Walter Fieuw, “The art of ark building in Langrug, Stellenbosch”.