SDI at Habitat 3 Regional Meeting for Africa

by James Tayler


As the UN-wide Habitat 3 Conference draws closer, SDI is being invited to and involved in an increasing number of events to prepare for both the conference and the release in May of the Zero Draft of the much anticipated New Urban Agenda. Over the course of preparations for Habitat 3, SDI continues to pursue our global advocacy mandate of promoting a people-centred citywide upgrading approach in the global arena. Most importantly, our advocacy work is rooted in the experiences and struggles of our grassroots federations of the urban poor, and our partnerships and activities on the global stage are determined by the anticipated impact they will make on federations’ local processes. The aim is that participation in high-level advocacy events will afford federations with opportunities to showcase successes and share lessons learned in order to build citywide, regional, and international alliances that escalate impact.

Towards the end of February 2016, SDI delegates from the Nigerian and Ghanaian Federations, and support NGOs Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) Nigeria, Peoples Dialogue on Human Settlements in Ghana, and Kenya’s Akiba Mashinani Trust, participated in the Habitat 3  Regional Meeting for Africa held in Abuja in preparation for Habitat 3. The Regional Meeting convened stakeholders from across Africa to discuss the issues and priorities of African countries. The formal outcome of the Africa Regional Meeting was the Abuja Declaration — a unified statement adopted by all of the African governments present identifying “Africa’s Priorities for the New Urban Agenda.”

Because this regional meeting was held in Nigeria, it was hosted by the Nigerian Federal Ministry for Power, Housing, and Works (led by former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola), and numerous Nigerian government officials were in attendance. This was a unique opportunity for JEI and the Nigerian Federation to engage with government officials from both Nigeria and other countries simultaneously, and have more informal discussions during side events where they met a Permanent Secretary within the Federal Ministry of Power, Housing, and Works, as well as the Rivers State Commissioner for Housing. Additionally, the delegation met with the Special Advisor to the Nasarawa State Government on the Sustainable Development Goals, who requested a pitch from JEI and the Federation for partnership in supporting work in informal settlements in Nasarawa.

These opportunities for informal meetings with government officials are invaluable to SDI’s federations. These are people who usually take months to see, if they get to see them at all. The experience of SDI federations from across Africa shows that when these connections are nurtured, they can lead to meaningful activities that actually make a concrete difference in the lives of the urban poor. We look forward to hearing more from the Nigerian federation about these developments!

In addition to these connections with Nigerian government, the SDI delegation worked together with SDI’s two key ‘grassroots’ partners, WIEGO and Huairou Commission to put forward collective messaging in order to have greater reach and hopefully greater impact.  Jane Weru (SDI), Victoria Okoye (WIEGO), and Limota Goroso Giwa (Huairou Commission), were all nominated as members of the Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing and making direct inputs on the final Abuja Declaration. Additionally, Limota Goroso Giwa was selected to present a short speech within the main plenary session on the final day highlighting the ‘women’s caucus’ views on the New Urban Agenda. Together SDI, WIEGO, and Huairou drafted a joint statement that incorporated the perspectives of grassroots women, urban informal workers, and the urban poor. Some of the key demands include:

Excerpt of Joint Statement by SDI, WIEGO, and Huairou Commission at UN Habitat 3 Africa Regional Meeting

We want a women-focused New Urban Agenda that calls for the following:

  1. Formalise engagement and partnerships between local government, national government and grassroots groups to sustain collaborative planning, implementation, and monitoring of housing and urban development initiatives
  2. Recognise and support organised networks of grassroots women, slum dwellers and informal workers who contribute to urban economic growth and build movements towards influencing and enhancing their own development and the cities in which they live
  3. Support and utilise community led data collection documenting tenure and informal settlement upgrading priorities and encourage grassroots community learning in the areas of land and housing planning and administration, especially those where women take the lead.
  4. Develop pro-poor laws and other urban policies that mitigate risks of land grabbing and displacement to promote the economic and social security of women and their families and their contributions to the local economy.
  5. Guarantee security of tenure from one generation of women to another through strong inheritance protections and through measures that help women protect the vitality of land against climate change and other environmental threats
  6. Empower local government to be the primary provider of basic social and municipal services, such as sanitation, water supply, healthcare and primary education.
  7. Empower the urban poor and especially women to participate in equal partnership with local government in all urban planning and decision-making, including participation in the budgeting, implementation, and monitoring processes.
  8. Create pathways for incremental formalisation and integration of informal workers and settlements, rather than criminalising the urban poor.
  9. Develop partnerships with communities, the State, and private sector to provide accessible housing and livelihood finance for the urban poor.

Although not all of our suggestions were ultimately reflected in the Regional Meeting outcome document, termed the Abuja Declaration, many of our key priorities appeared in its recommendations. Below are portions of the first three recommendations contained within the Abuja Declaration, with the sections reflecting our contributions in italics.

While we believe that many of the above points wouldn’t have been reflected in the Abuja Declaration without our direct participation, the Abuja Declaration remains imperfect. Areas where the Abuja Declaration is lacking, and where more advocacy is needed during the remaining thematic and regional meetings as well as at the Habitat 3 conference in Quito in October 2016, are as follows:

Excerpt from Abuja Declaration (full Declaration available here)

  1. Harness the potential of urbanization to accelerate structural transformation for inclusive and sustainable growth
    1. Allocate adequate financial resources to promote sustainable urbanization and human settlements development to drive structural transformation for the benefit of all citizens. This should include promotion of land titling and registration, as well as resource generation through land base revenue and land value capture;
    2. Promote inclusive economic growth that translates to full employment and decent jobs as well as improved living standards for all
  2. Enhance people-centered urban and human settlements through
    1. Ensuring access to affordable basic services including clean water, sanitation, energy, health, education and sustainable transport and employment by all citizens in order to realize their full potential, especially youth, women and people in vulnerable groups;
    2. Strengthening institutions and spatial planning systems to foster urban safety and security, as well as healthy environment and promotes inclusion through participatory approaches and consultative frameworks;
    3. Ensuring access to sustainable, affordable and adequate housing and land, and promoting slum upgrading to ensure security of tenure and access to socio-economic facilities, taking into account the diversity of contexts, the potential of informal economies and the rights of the inhabitants;
  3. Strengthen institutions and systems for promoting transformative change in human settlements including through:
    1. Enhancing capacities for rural and urban planning, governance and management, underpinned by sound data collection and use;
    2. Promoting effective decentralized urban management by empowering cities and local governments, technically and financially, to deliver adequate shelter and sustainable human settlements
    3. Facilitating the participation of urban dwellers in urban governance and management

While we believe that many of the above points wouldn’t have been reflected in the Abuja Declaration without our direct participation, the Abuja Declaration isn’t perfect. Areas where the Abuja Declaration is lacking, and where more advocacy is needed during the remaining thematic and regional meetings as well as at the UN Habitat 3 conference in Quito in October 2016, are as follows:

  1. Nowhere in the document are the “urban poor” specifically identified as a key constituency in the New Urban Agenda. Although the general reference to “participatory approaches and consultative frameworks” in Recommendation 2 is important recognition of the need for inclusion in urban planning and governance, the Abuja Declaration doesn’t clearly spell out who must be included.
  1. The terms “slums” and “informal settlements” only appear once (and only in reference to creation of disaster resilient infrastructure in Recommendation 5). Instead, the Abuja Declaration focuses intensely on the concept of “human settlements” (which specifically appears on 21 occasions throughout the document) – which are notably neither specifically poor or even urban. Indeed on no less than 8 occasions in the Abuja Declaration there is reference to “urban and human settlements” which suggests that the New Urban Agenda is not necessarily urban-focused.
  1. There is only one mention of “rights” within the Abuja Declaration (in Recommendation 2), which merely suggests that they should be “taken into account,” rather than referring to the foundational human rights framework of ‘protect, respect, promote, and fulfill.’ This is a notable shift from the UN Habitat 2 outcomes, which were more firmly grounded in the human rights framework and language. This is particularly problematic where development-based displacement, and violent forced evictions of the urban poor continue unabated in many African countries. It is also notable that there is no mention of alternative land tenure models or land and property rights specifically in the Abuja Declaration – although this is not surprising, as there was very little mention of either throughout the plenary discussions by the governments and experts in attendance.
  1. There are only two mentions of “local governments” and one mention of “decentralised urban management” within the Recommendations of the Abuja Declaration, suggesting that the local governments are merely one of a list of actors that need to be “empowered” (see Recommendation 3) and “strengthened” (see Recommendation 5). Moreover, there is no mention of the need to links and active partnerships between local governments and organised communities of the urban poor.
  2. The only mention of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is with regard to strengthening UN Habitat (see Recommendation 7), and there is no mention of the need for the organised urban poor to be key partners in implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals.