Regional Learning from the West Africa Hub Meeting in Sierra Leone

Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone

By Mara Forbes, SDI Secretariat 

Thousands of people living in informal settlements lack security of tenure placing them at high risk for forced evictions. In the past few months many SDI affiliates in West Africa have faced evictions – Badia East settlement in Lagos, Nigeria, Adjei Kojo settlement in TEMA municipality in Accra, Ghana, and Kroo Bay in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Most of the SDI affiliates in the West African region began in response to the need to organize communities to stave off eviction threats. In 2003, the SDI methodologies for fighting eviction through community-based data collection were introduced to community members in Old Fadama, the largest slum in Accra. The community was able to organize itself and conduct an enumeration that indicated that over 79,000 people lived in the slum, a number that had been grossly underestimated by government. The federation used enumeration findings to negotiate with government to find alternatives to eviction. The Federation has gained recognition and legitimacy as an organized network of poor communities that work with local government towards pro-poor development strategies. The response in Old Fadama can not only help other settlements in Accra and the rest of Ghana but can also serve as a learning experience to other newer affiliates in the region.

From the 10-14 of February this year, SDI delegates from West Africa – Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso met in Freetown to for their regional hub meeting. The hub meetings provide a platform for regional affiliates to create and strengthen links across the region, to share and learn from each other, as well as support newer affiliate countries in developing their own local processes. West Africa, the youngest of the SDI regions, is still developing how to best strategically use this space to strengthen and support the region. This meeting focused not only on deepening the SDI rituals that are crucial for federation development, but also key issues facing the region such as forced evictions. Delegates of the meeting were able to see first hand the challenges Sierra Leone is facing. Not far from where the meeting was convened is Kroo Bay, a settlement that has faced multiple evictions over the years and was the site of a recent eviction.  

Kroo Bay is one of Freetown’s waterfront slums. Slums such as Kroo Bay are situated on land in which the occupants have engaged in the process of land reclamation by slowly adding soil and sand to build up and create new land on the coast. Although this is done with the slum dwellers own resources and time, government frequently claims ownership of this land. According to Freetown City Council (FCC), Kroo Bay is prime land and Government has the mandate to take back the land at any given time. A section of Kroo Bay settlement is built along the boundary of the most prestigious schools in Freetown, The Prince of Wales Secondary School for Boys. This is a school in which many previous officials or those with influence have attended. On Saturday, 25th January 2014 the Alumni Association of Prince of Wales used its influence to hire police, military and other individuals to vandalize and demolish the houses in this area. The action was undertaken on the assumption that this strip of land belongs to the school. However residents assert their claim to this land through the land reclamation process and that their presence has protected the school from flooding and rising sea levels. 

Eviction Site, Kroo Bay Eviction Site, Kroo Bay

As part of the hub meeting delegates participated in a field visit to Kroo Bay. During this time delegates were able to talk to community members and gain a better understanding of the challenges they face. Following these engagements, discussions at the hub focused on how best to move from a reactive response to evictions to proactive strategies that engage local government.

Sierra Leone, as host of the regional meeting, was able to use this platform as a means to strategically capitalize on its engagement with government. In December 2011 the Sierra Leone affiliate began negotiations with local government over the provision of a piece of land for a community-led housing demonstration project to benefit the slum dwellers of Kroo Bay. A series of engagement sessions were held and site visits were conducted. Given the high demand for land within the city centre, government through the Ministry of Lands could not identify a piece of land within the city center and ended up allocating a piece of land (2.5 acres) in Grafton community for the project. After multiple attempts to engage with local government over this piece of land the process had stalled. By hosting the hub meeting the Sierra Leone Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and its support NGO, Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) were able to demonstrate to local government the power and strength of a network of organized slum dwellers, not only just in Sierra Leone, but also across West Africa.

The Deputy Minister of Lands, Country Planning, and Environment, Hon. Ahmed Kanu, paid a courtesy visit to the hub meeting where he expressed a recommitment to the project on behalf of government and the Ministry of Lands.  He expressed his delight to be part of the movement and shared how it fits into the country’s “Agenda for Change” program that aims to alleviate poverty, in which affordable housing is a key output. Additionally to show his support a meeting was held the following day to discuss the piece of land as well as an ongoing partnership with FEDURP and CODOHSAPA. A smaller team from the hub attended the meeting with the Deputy Minister and two surveyors to solidify the commitment from the Ministry. At this time the affiliate presented the Ministry with a communiqué calling on the Municipality to support pro-poor policies and practices by working with the federation as well as fulfill its promise and materialize its commitment by providing a piece of land for an affordable housing project. Media personnel were also present and captured the engagement, which ran on the evening news as well as in the local papers.

Awareness Times Hub Article

This momentum has opened doors to the Ministry and they now need to deepen and strengthen the relationship through continual engagement, not only around the piece of land but to strategically include the Ministry as a partner in other projects. Having an ally in the Ministry can allow the federation to scale its activities and projects from a settlement level to a citywide level.

Conversations are currently being held in Sierra Leone to think through how to strategically use this piece of land to promote a pro-poor urban development agenda. How this piece of land and housing demonstration project can be used not only to push the their agenda but to also be a precedent setting project that allows the federation and government to invest in similar upgrading projects across the city as well as in other cities. 

Through platforms like the hub, communities are able to share challenges and lessons learned to develop strategies that are responsive to their own local context. More established affiliates such as Ghana and their experience of engaging government around alternatives to evictions can be a tool to others who are still developing their own strategies. Crucial to this meeting was understanding how communities must evolve from short term reactive responses (providing relief after eviction) to a long term proactive strategies to engage and negotiate with government prior to evictions and develop pro-poor inclusive alternatives. 


Urban Upgrading in the Spontaneous Zones Of Ouagadougou


By Chantal Hildebrand, SDI Secretariat

Sustainability is the anthem of the generation. NGO’s have moved from projects formulated a decade ago, where a building was built or a bag of rice given with few programs informing locals on how to maintain said building or plant rice in order to feed themselves in seasons to come, to programs which try to address the question of what will happen when said program ends. Although this is a step in the right direction, it may be wise to re-evaluate the programs we are currently implementing and ask ourselves a question we should have been asking all along: “Are we any closer to a day when programs like this one will no longer be needed?” Questions like this should be forefront of all programs, especially in terms of urban development, if we intend to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goal.

Urban upgrading programs are not a new phenomenon in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou. Its history goes all the way back to 1974 when the UNDP implemented the Cissin Slum Upgrading Program. Since this project, various NGOs and foreign governments, including France and the Netherlands, have built upon the Cissin Slum Upgrading Program or have implemented their own urban upgrading project, often times with the support of the government.  Although these programs successfully decreased irregular and informal settlements in the city up until the late 1990s, they have been unable to manage the increase in urban populations that have taken place in the past decade and have rarely addressed service provisions or facilities in these once informal areas. Due to these flaws, Ouagadougou has continued to struggle with the management and inclusion of “spontaneous zones” (preferred term for the informal settlements of Ouagadougou) in their urban development plans.

Ouagadougou has a population of 1,475,223 inhabitants; about half of the total urban population, but it is unclear whether or not this number includes the inhabitants of the spontaneous zones surrounding the city limits. According to the residents of these zones, housing is still a struggle in Ouagadougou. Walking through the spontaneous zones, you are met with simple mud brick houses (often constructed by the slum dwellers themselves) often separated by slim dirt pathways leading to either the community water pump, the occasional school, or to a main road entering Ouagadougou city (there are wider unpaved roads where cars can access these spontaneous zones more easily). The homes often are two rooms, holding families averaging 7 people. The majority of these households have access to traditional pit latrines, since the community is rarely connected to the water supply system. Although the majority of the population have roofs over their heads, these zones face vast inadequacies in service provision, a very low level of sanitation, and insufficient road networks.



However, despite these challenges, a significant characteristic of these spontaneous zones is that they do posses regular plots. Burkina’s urban planning relies heavily on the 1984 Land Tenure Reform Act, where the land is nationalized and the government sells land by lotissement (subdivision). Between the years of 1983 and 1990, the government implemented a national urban upgrading program in both Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, where more the 125,000 plots were regularized and as a direct result the amount of unplanned areas of these cities were rapidly reduced. Today this lotissement policy is difficult to implement due to market liberalization which has led to an increase in land speculation. Despite the government’s interventions in slum upgrading, the city’s population continues to grow and spontaneous zones are consistently expanding, and due to the lack of investment in infrastructure and service provisions, the zones’ populations continue to live in poor living conditions.

In August 2012, Ouagadougou finished phase two of UN Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Program (PSUP), one of the newest slum upgrading programs in Burkina Faso. According to the UN Habitat website, “[t]he programme’s purpose is to strengthen capacity of local, central and regional institutions and key stakeholders’ in settlement and slum improvement through the use of good governance and management approaches, pilot projects and contributing, where needed, to the policy development, and the implementation of institutional, legislative, financial, and normative and implementation frameworks” ( Using enumeration and profiling techniques conducted by a team made up of urban planners, representatives of the municipality of Ouagadougou, the national government, and key stakeholders(including the participation of community members), PSUP has profiled and mapped three spontaneous zones to provide a better understanding of the organization of the settlements. Presented with this information, the community then chose the projects they feel are most needed in their communities. Implementation of these projects will take place during Phase 3 of PSUP, which is scheduled to begin in January 2013 after the parliamentary elections in Ouagadougou in December.

Although not a new concept, the PSUP’s approach to engaging government institutions in slum upgrading is taking a step in the right direction. Furthermore, as a large project, smaller organizations are able to play a supporting role in the implementation of more grass-root projects which can help sustain the work the PSUP has done in these informal zones. SDI and UCLGA’s Know Your City project is a perfect fit for this role. Similar to the PSUP, the Know Your City project relies on enumerations and mapping as a means of community upgrading; however, our approach is completely community driven, providing a means of mobilising the population to begin upgrading on their own terms. As the PSUP focuses more of its attention on the capacity building of local and national authorities and collaboration between all institutions, Know Your City uses a bottom-up approach empowering the community and its members to take a more active role in their settlement upgrading. Together these programs will enable the empowerment of both groups allowing for a plethora of ideas to be exchanged and the creation of a strong bond and understanding between the national and local government, along with city planners and other key stakeholders’, and the slum populations.

Many factors need to be aligned for a project to endure long after its original architects and designers have left it to its own devices. More than sustainable, projects need to be able to evolve and shift to better fit the world’s ever-changing state. Under this understanding, the overall goal is that current upgrading projects will address the problems of today’s developing world so that future projects focusing on this same issue are unnecessary. So the question remains, will the collaborative programs of SDI and UN Habitat lead to less of a need for slum upgrading projects or will we both merely be adding to the plethora of attempted programs that have yet to make a significant impact? Only time will tell but as slum populations take hold of their own upgrading and begin collaborating with local authorities to plan more inclusive cities, the need for external interference in urban development will likely decrease.