Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fire in Mukuru

A fire in a Nairobi squatter community claims 50 kiosks and homes, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports. The biggest tragedy: it took the city fire department two hours to arrive.

Squatter sanitation

Squatters in Mumbai have started investing in their own sanitation services. The Times of India reports on one community that is hiring 30 of its kids to collect trash. This novel program is a great step towards squatter self-government.

Cop is killed when squatters are evicted

The Times of India and The Statesman report on the Kolkata tragedy. The Statesman also adds that the squatters seemed unrepentant. It's hard to repent when "Bulldozers demolishing the abandoned structures of the squatters was the only sound that broke the silence in the Tollygunge-end of the rail colony this evening." There's no excuse for violence. But there's no excuse for police violence against the squatters--and for evicting people with no provision for where they will go in the future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Abahlali Base Mjondolo

That's Zulu for shack dwellers. News24 reports on a true indigenous squatter uprising in South Africa, led by S'bu Zikode, a 30-year-old gas station attendant and father of four from Durban. "The ANC must use the power that we gave them to deliver," Zikode told News24.

This is exactly what squatters need: a pressure group. This guy's even been on TV in a debate with a government minister. Here's his group's slogan: "No Land, No Home, No Vote."


(Here, courtesy of the hope for south africa blog, is S'bu Zikode's blast from the Nov. 9th Star newspaper.)

Christmas tragedy

A fire kills five and displaces 300 in the Phillipines, this Manila Times brief reports.

Mombasa Squatters fighting for land

Squatters in Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city, are asking the government to intervene in a dispute with a powerful landlord. The homes of 20,000 people are at stake, the East African Standard reports.

Shantytown Dwellers in South Africa Protest Sluggish Pace of Change

Majority rule hasn't bettered life for South Africa's squatters, The New York Times reports (registration required.) Here's how the article describes one Durban squatter community: "since Foreman Road's 1,000 shacks sprang up nearly two decades ago, the only measurable improvements to the residents' lives amounted to a single water standpipe and four scrap-wood privies."

More from the article: "The frustrations of slum dwellers began to boil over in mid-2004, when residents in a shantytown near Harrismith, about 160 miles southeast of Johannesburg, rioted and blocked a major freeway to protest their living conditions. The police fatally shot a 17-year-old protester. Since then, demonstrations have spread to virtually every corner of the nation. In Durban, the city is erecting some 16,000 starter houses a year, but the shanty population, now about 750,000, continues to grow by more than 10 percent annually."

President Thabo Mbeki is promising more for the squatters. But when and how?

(thanks to BC for the link)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Squatters Relocated in Manila

20,000 squatters along an abandoned rail line are getting relocated by the government, according to this article from The Manila Times. Their new homes will be within a 5 kilometer radius of the old squatter community, the newspaper reports.

Police Kill 3 a Day

The Los Angeles Times offers an assessment of police violence against the favelas in Rio de Janeiro: "In Rio de Janeiro state alone, police killed nearly 1,200 people in 2003, according to figures compiled by the local nonprofit group Global Justice — an astonishing average of more than three people a day."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

AK-47s and AfroReggae

Reuters reporter Angus MacSwan visits the notorious Vigario Geral favela in Rio's Zona Norte. It's notorious for police violence (21 people were killed by the cops a dozen years ago in a brazen, thuggish murder rampage), for a low-level war with nearby favela called Parada de Lucas, which is run by a rival drug gang, and also as the home of AfroReggae, a musical/cultural group dedicated to ending the violence.

Next year, next year

For three years in a row, the Kenyan government has been promising that the so-called Kibera upgrading would begin next year. Why should 2005 be any different? So it's 'next year' again for the upgrading plan. And still, neither the government nor UN-Habitat (a partial sponsor of the plan) has revealed what it entails: which communities will be ugraded, with what kind of housing, who will get the new homes, what will the ownership structure be, what will the housing cost for the residents, etc. reprints a short item from the East African Standard.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blame the developers

Here's an article I missed from Nigeria's Tide Newspaper. Good words, and let's hope, a portent of good deeds to come:

Minister blames increasing slums on property developers
• Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Olusegun Mimiko has blamed private property developers for the growing number of slums in the country.

Mimiko said at the opening of the 82nd council meeting of the association of Housing Corporations of Nigeria (AHCN) in Abuja Monday, that the rising number of slums was a national embarrassment.

“The increasing number of slums in our cities and the rising population of slum dwellers are issues of national concern,” he said.

He said that the slums have resulted in insufficient water supply, poor sanitation, lack of security and the presence of disease breeding conditions.

He called on the association to collaborate with government in its quest to provide affordable, cheap and decent houses to the citizens.

He said that the present administration was poised to upgrade the nation’s housing delivery capacity as well as reposition the sector for efficient and effective services.

He said that the recently approved national policy on housing and urban development among others were measures adopted by government to meet the Millennium Development Goals for the housing and urban development sector.

Mimiko urged the association to undertake research in new ways and new materials that would aid mass housing delivery, stressing that “millions of Nigerians cannot yet boast of their own houses.”

Earlier, the minister of the FCT, Nasir el-Rufai, urged the association to support the FCT in the on-going restoration of the city’s master plan.

“As painful as the removal of the illegal structures may be, it is advisable to do it now or else the future generations of Nigerians will never forgive us as it will be done at a greater cost,” he said.

The minister who was represented by the Director, Public Building, Mr Kabiru Maina, tasked the association to ensure good sanitary conditions in estates, provide infrastructure and good environmental management.

Adopt a Light

I missed this when it was published last week. A Kenyan company is bringing floodlights to the major avenues of Nairobi's squatter communities. The Daily Nation (registration required, I think) notes that the cost of the massive 30-meter-tall arrays of 400 watt lightbulbs, will be born by corporations who will be allowed to display billboards on the giant masts. A big deal, but a small deal at present, as the article notes that only four of these light clusters will be put up in Kibera, a neighborhood that boasts 500,000 to 1,000,000 residents.

Has work started? What does it look like? Where is the power coming from (and if Kenya Power & Light can run lines to the lights, why not to the residents?) Please, if anyone from Kibera reads this, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Temporary victory for Ahmedabad squatters

It's sadly typical: squatters under threat of eviction negotiate for a new tract of land. A few years after the deal is cut, the authorities forget all about it and start eviction proceedings to push the squatters from the new land that was legally allocated to them. Expressindia reports on the dispute, and how the squatters won a temporary court reprieve.

A class difference among squatters

Now I understand: the railway squatters who resisted eviction in Kolkata were a bit more well-off than their neighbors who accepted demolition and relocation. The Statesman finally reports the details: though the resistance has now been crushed, the 138 families who attempted to block the demolition of their homes had been on the railroad right-of-way the longest and were living in concrete homes, not sagging stick and mud concoctions. This small sector of the community is getting the worst of the deal--their homes are being destroyed and they are not being offered relocation. A tidbit at the end of the column suggests that there will soon be more demolitions in Kolkata. Scary.

Inefficient leadership

The Independent, a Dhaka daily, reports on a conference on urban poverty in Bangladesh, convened by the World Bank. "The country does not have an explicit policy on urbanisation and urban poverty, and this lack of any coherent, well-thought-out approach is a major challenge in approaching the challenges of poverty in Dhaka and other towns," said World Bank country director Christine I Wallich.

A better policy is a good thing--at least on paper. But it still has to be implemented. Dhaka is a city with 4,300 different squatter communities, the article reports. And perhaps there's some hope in this number. Perhaps squatters squatters can organize to challenge entrenched leaders and seize more control of their own communities. This would do more than a sheaf of policy pronouncements.

Blaze Leaves 1 200 Squatters Homeless

The aptly named Kosovo squatter community in Cape Town burns to the ground. has the story. Authorities say they will distribute 'housing starter kits' to the survivors--which appears to mean that they will be allowed back onto the site to rebuild.

No Refuge

More on the perils of being a squatter in Zimbabwe. from the Los Angeles Times (registration required.) Robyn Dixon reports from the ruins of Killarney, which, until is was destroyed six months ago under Operation Murambatsvina, was a shantytown in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. The squatters were muscled out of town, only to find that they could not support themselves or feed their families outside of the city. So they have returned to Killarney and other areas, erecting rudimentary shacks, or occupying half-built buildings. "When the police come, they'll definitely destroy these shacks," one returnee, Jutias Muleya, 37, told the paper. "We are not really safe here."

The most desperate are dying, and the article features the story of Mavis Mkandla and her daughter Flora. Mavis, HIV-positive and unable to get treatment, died last month. Her six month old daughter died five days later of malnutrition.

Monday, December 19, 2005

'Spit back by the sea'

This Associated Press Dispatch (via the Las Vegas Sun) shows the disspiriting downside of aid as a means to empowerment. Again the lead says it all: "It has been a year since the tsunami laid waste to the isolated Indonesian province of Aceh, but tens of thousands of people still live in a vast archipelago of shanty towns made of scrap wood spit back by the sea." The reporter calls the aid effort "an invasion of good intentions and almost no oversight." Which I guess is why tens of thousands are still living in scrap houses.

Legalisms got in the way: "Only a tiny percentage of people who lost their homes turned out to hold title to their land. Often, their families had lived on the land for generations as renters or squatters, or their ownership papers had been lost in the tsunami. Compounding this were issues ranging from a shortage of timber to poor planning. As a result, thousands of survivors were left in tents and shanty towns that began slowly falling apart as Sumatra's brutal heat gave way to the rainy season."

The reporter doesn't ask about one thing I've heard: that traditional fishing villages are being denied the right to rebuilt on coastal land, while developers of tourist hotels are being given the green light. Certainly fears about the destructive possibility of another tsunami are real. But fishing villages need to be next to the water. This unequal and, indeed, colonialist re-allocation of land may be one of the biggest impediments to rebuilding the communities that were smashed in the tsunami.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Refugees or Squatters?

One hundred and thirty eight Kolkata families insist that they were given land by the state government before 1950 and that they are all refugees, and therefore shouldn't be evicted, The Statesman reports.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cambodia rocks on, with Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever, a California band, joins a Cambodian singer to present a fusion concert on the banks of the Bassac River in the Phnom Penh squatter area known as Tonle Bassac (the Bassac, for the uninitiated, is one of the branches of the famed Mekong River, which flows through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.) This BBC NEWS report evokes the scene:

"The sound system looked like it had been cobbled together from a motley collection of domestic stereos.

The unmistakable stench of raw sewage competed for attention with the aroma from bags of rotting rubbish.

Potholes in front of the stage made dancing a broken ankle waiting to happen.

And yet the crowds came, and gawped, at the sight of Chhom Nimol [the lead singer] backed by five foreigners playing Cambodian rock and roll.

Traditional musicians joined them on stage to add wild, Irish fiddle-like improvisations on an instrument called the trou.

The longer they performed, the more the audience grew in number."

I want to hear the tunes. And I want to journey to Phnom Penh.

eviction sad but peaceful

The Statesman reports that squatters are relinquishing their homes along Kolkata's railway line in sadness but without violence. Aside from a few minor incidents when railway officials pushed the cops to demolish houses that were not affected by the court order, things were calm yesterday.


How's this for justice? If the people evicted under Zimbabwe's Operation Murambatsvina are to qualify for new homes that are slowly being built by the government, they have to:

1. pay a deposit of between $8 and $89 (I don't know why the range is that large)
2. prove that they have formal employment
3. show that they have a specified salary

This has meant that the most desperate people who were evicted under Murambatsvina can't get a new home. The Mail & Guardian Online reports that little by little shantytowns are reforming as desperately poor squatters realize they will be shut out of any government-sponsored improvement.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Day of Dread

The end of the line for the Kolkata's Goboindapur Railway Squatters. The Statesman notes that squatters are dismantling their own homes. Weirdly, they are not yet allowed to go to the new land allocated them by the government.

“We will stay right here,” one squatter told the newspaper, pointing to the ground beside the railway tracks littered with the remains of their now broken shack. “We will not feel the winter cold, you see, because we have skin as tough as rhinoceros’ hide while the government has skin as soft as cotton wool.”

In Abuja, planning outweighs people's right to a home

The administrator of the Nigerian Capital is presiding over destruction of thousands of homes in oder to return the planned city to its original purity, according to this Reuters dispatch in the Khaleej Times. "Disorder was creeping into the development of Abuja and it was becoming chaotic," Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, minister for the Federal Capital Territory, told the news agency. "You cannot develop land in Abuja, you cannot even plant a flower on land in the FCT without a development permit from the federal capital development authority. That's the law."

But residents don't buy el-Rufai's argument that the city plan demands demolition. "This place was our collective effort," said Ibrahim Haruna as he looked out on the rubble that used to be his community. "We didn't get any help from the government but we built our own community. What have we done to deserve this."

As is often the case, the communities that bit the dust were not shantytowns and the residents of the demolished neighborhoods were squatters only in a technical sense. They had purchased their parcels and built homes with brick and concrete. But they never had planning approval, so, in that way, they are unauthorized residents.

And in Lagos, police descended at 4 am to evict thousands of tenants from their apartments because the government plans to privatize the buildings.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Squatter doings in India

Squatters in Kolkata threaten to block the commuter rail line, while pavement dwellers in Pune resist a demolition drive. It appears that in both cases, politicians are pushing the squatters in different directions, and the result may be misery for everyone involved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Legalizing Squatters in Tanzania

IRIN Africa reports on the legacy of Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who will retire after today's elections. Among this socialist's programs: to legalize squatters so they can get loans from the country's well-off banks and capital markets.

It's a wonderful goal, expressed compellingly by Hernando de Soto in his book, The Mystery of Capital. But studies in de Soto's homeland, Peru, have shown that title deeds have negligible value when it comes to getting access to credit. Despite being legalized, the former squatters still find that private sector interests are loathe to invest in low income communities. They've simply gone from total exclusion to redlining.

Legalization is one strategy for empowering these communities--but it is a convenient myth to think that the title deed solves anything.

Even under the ANC

South Africa risks riots unless it does something about the gap between rich and poor, a Cape Town official has said, according to this analysis from Business Day.

The writer suggests that the continuing inequality is due to "the failure of the policies of the present African National Congress (ANC) administration, nationally and locally."

Among other things in the article:

--"The Hout Bay valley outside Cape Town is one of the few places in SA where — due to the continuing effects of past racial segregation — three communities actually live within sight of each other: a well-off white suburb, a poor “coloured” village and a hugely overcrowded black shantytown with 70% unemployment."

--"The schools are also still overwhelmingly segregated. Nevertheless, in the face of established financial power (read white privilege) the education department seems to have buckled and accepted the status quo. If anything, it is this inaction that will create social unrest."

--"There is a desperate need to house the poor, yet the ANC programme is to build matchstick houses in already-existing black townships. In other words, they are simply adding onto apartheid spatial planning — leaving workers with massive transport problems, still desperately far from employment opportunities, plus entrenching many of the chaotic social ills of enduring poverty."

All told, this is a sad judgment on a great liberation movement. But then, remember: Che Guevara was a terrific revolutionary, but a lousy government administrator, too. South Africa is still a young nation.

Another Business Day article reports on the funding shortfalls in Cape Town's plan to replace all its squatter communities and shantytowns with reasonable housing within the coming ten years. Sadly, even the optimistic numbers provided by Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo don't add up. The city currently builds more than 7,000 homes a year, and she wants additional money to up that to 20,000 homes. But with 16,000 families arriving in Cape Town every year, the city will be lucky to keep pace with the influx.

Oh, those communists

The Gobindapur Railway Colony in Kolkata is apparently two separate communities, The Statesman notes. Six hundred families who live hard by the Tollygunge railway station apparently believe that the CPI-M (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) will protect them from eviction and so they have not signed up to relocate to land recently allocated for them by the city. The newspaper believes things could get ugly.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Situation NURMal

That's National Urban Renewal Mission to you, please, India's plan to provide infrastructure to the poor. It's got lots of money behind it, but you know the politicians. Besides, in exchange for the dough, cities will have to dismantle rent regulations. Still, it's good that the politicians are at least talking about this.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Squatter Nation

Ellen Pearlman, of The Brooklyn Rail reviews Shadow Cities.

Follow the money in New Orleans

"Thousands are being evicted by private landlords keen to cash in on doubled monthly rentals after the loss of 200,000 homes to the storm." The Observer reports from New Orleans (thanks to Edesio for forwarding the link).

The article is full of horrific stories:

--Sonia Fabiola, 54, a house cleaner from Guatemala returned to her rental apartment but was then threatened, had her rent check refused, her electricity cut off, had garbage dumped outside her door, and saw her neighbors' possessions cleaned out and thrown away. She was evicted this past Wednesday.

--the Iberville Project on the edge of the French Quarter, in an area now bustling with out-of-state contractors spending their money in the restaurants and bars off Bourbon Street, suffered little damage from the hurricane. But, like the majority of the city's housing projects, its residents remain barred from returning. Indeed, activists in the city say that 3,750, or about half of the public housing units, are either ready for occupation now or can easily be made so. Yet only a few dozen have been reopened.

I have spent a lot of effort blogging about the Gobindapur Railway Colony in Kolkata, which is being evicted. But there, the Mayor at least came through with new land and promised to provide public services, too, like electricity and water. Where's that kind of leadership in New Orleans?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Angola tries its hand at demolition

600 homes destroyed in Angola, ABC News reports. Why do governments insist on this brutal approach to squatters, who are only citizens who are denied homes on the private market?

More name calling from Mugabe

"Damn hypocrite and a liar." That's Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's assessment of UN envoy Jan Egeland, who visited Harare and Bulawayo in the aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, which destroyed squatter communities and retail kiosks in cities all over Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, a 17-year-old single mother who was displaced by Mugabe's anti-squatter drive and is now living in an impromptu settlement challenged the president's assertion that everyone was living well: "People are living like mice," she said. Read Egeland's comments and Mugabe's response, in two articles from The Scotsman.

10 acres

That's the amount of land that has been granted to the 2,729 families of Kolkata's Gobindapur railway colony, The Statesman reports. That's just 160 square feet per family, but better than nothing. The squatters will be far from their jobs and schools. But the municipality has also promised to provide 'civic amenities,' including drinking water and latrines.

Six Days to Hit the Road

Kolkata's Gobindapur Railway squatters have less than a week to get out of their homes, The Statesman reports. "The initial anger of the people, who are soon to be displaced, seems to have been replaced by a strange silence. An acceptance of the inevitable," the newspaper reports. As one squatter told the paper, "We have no time to be concerned about legalities. There’s too much to do, simply to stay alive."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fallout Squatters

Chernobyl: a nice place to live.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has decided to legalize squatters who have seized homes near the power plant that went critical and exploded in 1986, Novosti Press Agency reports. Details are scant in this dispatch, but Yushchenko has apparently ordered that four churches be moved to the site. Locating churches there implies recognizing that the new community is permanent.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The World's Worst Housing Rights Violator

Pop Quiz: which country evicted 3.7 million people over the past decade? Which city in that country was the site of more than 2/3 of those evictions?

The answers: China and Shanghai.

It's a dubious distinction, highlighted by COHRE (the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions) and discussed in this article by the
Inter Press Service News Agency.

We're not moving

A group of South African squatters have taken over an abandoned school, The Cape Argus reports.

The stigma attached to squatters seems the same all over the world. When the school was vacant, kids were breaking in to smoke pot and drink and no one did anything. But now that squatters are there, it's suddenly an emergency.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Rising Rio violence

Three boys plus a 24-year old man were killed by the cops in a Rio favela, Reuters reports. The boys, all members of Bateria Nosso Sonho, a percussion ensemble in favela Morro do Estado in Niteroi, had gone out to buy sodas, their families said. Witnesses said one of the youths was shot in the head after he was already wounded. Another dead youth, shot in the head, was found nearby, but it was not clear whether he was a victim of the same police action.

Amnesty International has called on the Brazilian government to rein in rogue cops who are executing innocents in the favelas. See this AI report for details.

Last week, drug dealers set fire to a city bus, killing five passengers and injuring 13. The following day, four men suspected of committing the crime were found executed, gangland style.

Problems of Property

First the hurricane, now a housing price surge in New Orleans, Reuters reports. "The state lifted a stay on evictions in early November, and relief officials said many evacuated tenants had not been contacted before being kicked out," the article states. Hmmmm: now that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a corporation's human rights were violated because it was not informed of an adverse possession claim, I wonder whether any court in the U.S. will trumpet the human rights of New Orleans renters who have been evicted without any notice. Or do human rights only belong to those with property?

'A war that never ends' in Rio's Favelas leaves 4,000 dead

The Houston Chronicle reports that more than 4,000 people have died over the past five years in the Brazilian beach city's war on drug gangs in the favelas. More than 900 have died so far this year at the hands of the police--some of them killed execution-style.

To be fair, the police note that, on average, one officer is killed each week in the famed beachfront city.

Still, favela residents, most of whom abhor the traficantes, hate the police more. They feel the cops are part of the problem (and in league with the traffickers), not part of the solution

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Blocking the 'Yellow Monsters'

A town council in Botswana has wisely acted to block a national government plan to demolish a local squatter encampment, reports. Mayor Christopher Ramolemana wants people in the community called Baghdad Town to be guaranteed adequate relocation before the bulldozers, or 'yellow monsters,' can start their awful work. As the Mayor sensibly says, "After we have given people plots, we can then monitor squatting and control it."

Squatters have lives, too

Consider just how wrenching an eviction can be: “They [the authorities] think of us as garbage," a Kolkata squatter tells The Statesman. "But what’s the difference between them and us? We are made of flesh and blood just like them. I just want them to come and live here for one day. They have always tried to evict us whenever the children’s examinations are on. My son is currently having his half-yearly exams. How will he study among all this confusion?”

A tale of two Manilas

Makati City, the downtown area of Manila, boasts the head offices of 400 of the leading corporations of the Philippines, the country's stock exchange, 472 banks, 1,832 financial institutions, 149 insurance companies and 86 foreign embassies and consulates. And that doesn't include the five star hotels, upmarket shopping malls and some of the country's most exclusive housing enclaves.

"On the surface Makati gives the impression of a first world city but tucked away from the bright lights is Makati's dark side where thousands of poor live in shacks, surviving day-to-day off the streets."

Here, from Agence France Presse, is a profile of Makati City's Mayor, Jejomar 'Jojo' Binay, who has improved the finances of the city, but stands accused of taking a page from the Three Penny Opera and using the poor hordes who are beholden to him to quash any opposition. Even street peddlers must hew to Binay's policies or risk losing their permits to operate, the article says.

Most tsunami victims still homeless

The lead says it all: "Nearly a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami, almost all of the aid recipients in villages hit by the waves are still living in temporary shelters or camps, according to a survey released on Tuesday." Here's coverage, from

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kolkata update

More jockeying in Kolkata, as squatters facing court-mandated eviction seek firm promises that they will get new land, The Statesman reports.

This seems a legitmate fear. After all, if the squatters had not mobilized to protect their rights, they would have been ejected from the land they have called home for a generation with no replacement site and no compensation. They are, literally, fighting for their lives.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The end of London's oldest squat

UK Police have ejected residents from London's oldest squat. The St. Agnes Place squatters, who held their homes for a generation, have been evicted, the BBC reports.

I don't know all the facts, but why couldn't the squatters t go to court to argue adverse possession, as they had openly and notoriously held their homes for 30 years? And why couldn't the council work out a deal to save some of the buildings, which are likely better than anything new that will be built. Anyone who knows more, please advise.

Here's a more realistic appraisal, from a former resident, via The Guardian.