SDI at Habitat 3 Regional Meeting for Africa


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.

Takeaways from New York: Reflecting on the Path to Habitat 3

Upon her return from the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York City, Beth Chitekwe-Biti shared some key takeaways on SDI’s participation in the processes and activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Beth highlighted in particular the challenges of grassroots organisations operating within such formal systems, the need to target city governments for implementation of the SDGs, and the obvious links between implementation and the work of SDI, particularly around the Know Your City campaign, which calls for community-driven data collection as the basis of active partnerships between organised communities and their city governments in order to co-produce inclusive upgrading and development solutions:

“The SDGs on paper seem an improvement. But of course it’s about how much political will there is on the ground to actually create tangible benefits to the urban poor. There seems to be a commitment to get the urban poor involved, but there is always a chasm between intention and what actually happens.

The systems seem very formal, so you are forcing grassroots people to be quite formal in how they work and engage with each other… I wonder if this really allows for creative engagement between different grassroots organisations and whether this really works with getting the grassroots voice heard in the UN. But at least the space if there for us to use the best way we can…

…Some of these commitments are pitched too much at the national level when it is really city government that will make a difference.  This was emphasised at the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme event, but is missing in a lot of other discussions. This fits in with SDI’s Know Your City message and hopefully governments who sign on will realise that it is at the city level that things really need to be implemented.”

To read more, and listen to an excerpt from Rose Molokoane’s talk at an even on implementation of the SDGs, click here. 



SDI Attends Launch of World Urban Campaign’s “The City We Need”


While cities are increasingly central to global development agendas, the precise strategies of city development remain contested. In almost all cities in Africa and Asia, the allocation of resources and political will towards provision of land, services, and shelter for the poor is woefully inadequate. Dominant methods of delivery through “public-private partnerships” and centrally planned strategies have made little impact on the lives of the poor. SDI has inserted a clear voice into this debate to build the voice of the poor to influence more inclusive city development processes. 

On 4 March 2014 at Ford Foundation’s headquarters in New York was the official launch of The City We Need, a key event leading up to the 7th World Urban Forum to be held in Medellin, Colombia this April. The City We Need is a multi-stakeholder, collective contribution to the urban agenda created by World Urban Campaign partners, which have been engaging the international community, public, private, and civil society actors.

Last year SDI officially joined the World Urban Campaign – a lobby and advocacy platform on sustainable urbanization coordinated by UN-Habitat. The World Urban Campaign brings together various urban development stakeholders in an advocacy and partnership platform to dialogue, learn, and share solutions to create a new urban agenda for the Habitat III conference. 

SDI President Jockin Arputham and Rose Molokoane, SDI Coordinator from South Africa, participated in the launch event and emphasized the importance of creating partnerships between government and the urban poor to find solutions to sustainable urban development. To create solutions, one must “Know Your City,” the name of the SDI campaign that aims to address the lack of data on informal settlements. There can be no inclusive or equitable development planning and investment, nor effective city governance if the majority of the residents of informal settlements remain unaccounted for. SDI has demonstrated that cities have to work with urban poor communities to collect baseline data and maps of all informal settlements in the city. Helping the poor to create a voice, a collective identity, and possibilities to participate in transformation and change is an integral aspect of what we all seek in the future of cities. 

SDI will be participating in the World Urban Campaign Special Session at the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia on Wednesday, 9 April at 2:00pm. This event will bring members of the World Urban Campaign together to discuss the new urban paradigm following the theme: The Future We Want, The City We Need. This event constitutes an opportunity to focus new partners around a common objective in order to create concrete goals for the achievement of sustainable urbanization and to mobilize in preparation for Habitat III.

Click here to read the full report of The City We Need launch event.


Change by Design: SDI at the Smithsonian


By Ben Bradlow, SDI Secretariat

From a presentation at the Smithsonian exhibit Design with the Other 90%:CITIES, United Nations, NY, NY

Poor people are the most revolutionary designers in the world today. It may sound ridiculous to say this about people who are living cheek by jowl, without water, electricity or a toilet to shit in. People who are living without secure employment or the secure knowledge that their home will not be destroyed by the police in the middle of the night. But it’s within the extreme constraints of social exclusion and poverty that a new way of designing homes, neighborhoods, and cities is emerging.

I want to use two stories to suggest one broader lesson to rethink the significance of design in the world: Design can be seen as a political tool to support the poor to bridge the divides that exist in cities in the Global South. 

There’s an area in Cape Town called Philippi, which has many informal neighborhoods with shacks almost literally on top of each other. The South African government has built houses for some of the people who live in this area. But like all cities throughout the country, the informal shack settlements continue to grow. Government estimates that today there are approximately 2600 informal settlements nationwide.

Along Sheffield Road in Phillippi, there is a small neighborhood of 167 shack households. The shacks there were locked in a tight configuration where the only way to walk through the area was through a narrow maze of dark alleys. There were no toilets and only a couple water points.  This land was reserved for future widening of the road. Therefore, the city government had no plans to develop the area.  

But the community used design as a tool to (1) organize itself, (2) plan its space, and (3) negotiate with the city. Led by the women in the community, they began saving small amounts of money. They also performed their own socioeconomic household survey and drew a map of the existing neighborhood layout. These residents also worked with a community architect from a local NGO called the Community Organisation Resource Centre, or CORC, to design a method for rearranging the shacks in the settlement to open up public space. They discussed the existing social relationships that existed between neighbors and agreed to arrange the neighborhood into clusters of about 15 shacks. In the meantime, the Cape Town city government, impressed by the initiative of the community, decided to bring toilets and water infrastructure to the neighborhood. This was despite the fact that, according to the city’s own rules, no development should occur on a road reserve.

On the day when the first cluster of 15 shacks moved, the change was remarkable. The cluster was arranged around a common courtyard. That very same day, the women in the cluster erected a washing line spanning the courtyard. Now, when I go to Sheffield Road nearly the entire neighborhood is now organized in this way. Usually children are playing and parents are chatting outside, looking after their children with a watchful eye.

The neighborhood is a model for communities throughout the city. Communities from other settlements come to Sheffield Road to exchange lessons and strategies for upgrading their own settlements.  This network, known simply as the Informal Settlement Network, has come together and partnered with the city government to work on more than twenty such projects throughout the city. So the work of design in one neighborhood has become a seed for a city-wide process.

I have one more story of how communities have used design to build political power.  This time, I’m not talking about hundreds of people, but tens of thousands. In Nairobi, the parastatal Kenya Railways Corporation has long wanted to evict many residents of the railway slums of Kibera and Mukuru, to upgrade the railway line. This is something that is happening in many countries in Africa that want to upgrade infrastructure. The SDI-afilliated federation of slum dwellers in these neighborhoods organized residents to do a massive household survey about five years ago. This put a human face on what the Railway Company had been seeing as an inhuman mass of violence and sickness. The railway company delayed the eviction. Then, SDI facilitated a learning exchange with its affiliate federation in Mumbai, India. In the 1990s, the Indian federation surveyed approximately 30,000 informal dwellers along the railway line there. This operated as a community-driven tool for negotiating with government about both the pace and scale of relocation. Further, this information was the basis for plans to accommodate those who would be displaced.

In Mumbai, the original community maps show the history in vivid detail: who remained, who is waiting to enter permanent housing, and who is now living in housing developments that were designed and partly built by community members themselves. Back in Nairobi, after visiting the Bombay railway line, the Kenya Railways Corporation agreed that a new enumeration should take place to serve as the basis for similar plans for relocation and upgrading shelter where people already live. That activity was completed last year. The community members, armed with their own information, designs, and plans, now have a strong hand at the negotiating table with otherwise powerful interests.

So from Cape Town to Nairobi to Mumbai, ordinary poor people are using design as a tool for a political process. This is a process that changes the way politicians, government officials, the private sector, and other professionals address exclusion and poverty in cities. Often we like to make poverty a matter of “if only we could just find the right technology, the right tool, the right thing.” But poor people are demanding something more. And not just with words, but with actions. Their message is simple: Work with us. We are the solutions to our own problems.

And design is central to this. We live in a world where spatial divides of cities condemn informal neighborhoods to lack of services, transport, employment, adequate shelter, and legal rights. The lack of democracy and political inclusion in the halls of decision-making power produces this kind of exclusion. The design of the home, the neighborhood, and the city is the foundation on which ordinary poor people build networks of knowledge and political power. 

As professional architects, designers, planners, and politicians, begin to recognize the work that the poor are already doing, they will have to imagine new kinds of partnerships with organizations of the poor. These are partnerships to include the poor in institutions that can produce something other than the divided and unequal cities emerging today. The glimmers of light that exist are rooted in the actions of survival that ordinary poor people perform every day. Some are in this exhibit. These are the foundations for building new, inclusive cities.