Friday, February 25, 2005

a chameleon's inspiration

Keep writing with chalk on the walls of the commissariats of the north and the south, of the east and the west of the horrible, beautiful earth.
--Julio Cortazar

Two Killed in Urban Eviction

This dispatch chronicles the violent eviction of a squatter community in Goiania, the capital of Goiás state in central Brazil. The squatters have argued that the language of Brazil's constitution -- which decrees that all land has a social function -- requires that their enclave be legalized and protected.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Awash in plastic

With millions of plastic bags choking rivers and ravines, a UN agency has asked the Kenyan government to tax or ban plastic shopping bags. A good thing, but there are a few other angles to the story. When I was in Nairobi, plastic bags were the way everyone carried important belongings. In a city sometimes called Nairobbery because of the high crime rate, a backpack or shoulder bag was almost an advertisement of the potential valuables within. A bag from Uchumi or Nakumatt -- local supermarkets -- offered a much more secure way to tote a mobile phone or a book or anything street thieves might covet. And, of course, providing plumbing to the 1.5 million people who live in the city's mud hut neighborhoods would immediately cut back on the use of plastic bags as 'flying toilets.'

Tuesday, February 22, 2005 | Daily Nation | NEWS | Firm's bid to use Kibaki name in land scandal

A top story in Sunday's Daily Nation (free, but registration required) alleges corruption involving a UN-Habitat-sponsored project in Kenya. A follow-up on Monday details calls for an investigation. Land -- who owns it, who controls it, who has the power to give it away -- is once again the issue.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Against the grain

Stewart Brand, the contrarian and ahead of the curve author, recommends Shadow Cities. See this article in the Portland Tribune

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Knowing Squat

The Village Voice reviews Shadow Cities.

More favela beats

I found another compilation of funk from the favelas, this one called The Rough Guide to Brazilian hip-hop (see reviews here and here). It contains some nice tracks. Many of the songs riff on Samba and R&B favorites, and some are downright romantic. The track by the pair of convicts who make up the band 509-E (the number of their cellblock in the horrific Carandiru prison), for instance, is pure syrupy pop. The music I heard in Rocinha and throughout Rio’s favelas in 2001-2002, was different: lean, loud, spare, and tough – and sometimes even discordant and grating. This CD seems designed for ears not quite used to the coarser side of Brazil’s hip-hop scene.

Slum Politics

Here's a survey of recent writings on Slum Politics from AlterNet. The reviewer takes some pot shots at my work (I don't know how to react when he says I don't "actually note or promote the development of squatters' political capital" -- as that's an issue that's central to my argument), but I think it's important that the issue of squatters asserting a presence in politics is being aired. Squatters need to organize and engage the system. Only they can determine how their future should look.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Favela Booty Beats

Apparently, someone has released some prohibidao -- music played in the favelas but prohibited in the legal world because of vulgar words and lyrics that glorify crime -- here in the U.S. I haven't heard it, so I can't vouch for the authenticity of the compilation, nor do I know whether local artists were paid for their participation. But here's a review from Minneapolis/St. Paul's alternative weekly, City Pages.

See also
Seattle Weekly
Village Voice

Clueless in Egypt

This article, from the February 2005 issue of Egypt Today, illustrates the casual disregard some people have for squatters. Architects in Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, lament the loss of archaeological sites and historic villas with gardens, which are fast being replaced by highrise apartment blocks. But they support the idea that inner-city slums (the unfortunate term of art for squatter settlements) have been 'removed.' What a casual word. As if that removal hasn't disrupted, uprooted, and evicted hundreds (perhaps thousands) of families, causing homelessness and misery. And this is a city where 30 percent of the residents are squatters. No one's against modernzation and beautification, even the poor. But the work should not go on at the expense of poor people. It should be done in partnership with them.

What if it was your kids that were being ejected from their home?

Dilip D'Souza considers the demolition of squatter communities from a very personal standpoint

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

India Together: The unbearable lightness of seeing, P Sainath - 10 February 2005

P Sainath, author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, on Mumbai's drive against squatters.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

favela president's jail term questioned

When I was in Rio de Janeiro, I got to know Rumba Gabriel, head of the residents association of Jacarezinho, a large favela in Rio's tough, working class Zona Norte. He was tremendously involved in bringing city officials and the Bauhaus architectural group into his community to make major improvements in the favela. Now a Commission on Human Rights report from December 2004 reports that that he was accused of working with drug traffickers -- and convicted under fishy circumstances. I'll try to find out more through our mutual friends. In the meantime, here is the summary of the weirdness surrounding his case, taken from that Human Rights report:

"On 15 June 2004, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the
situation of human rights defenders sent an urgent appeal to the Government of Brazil in relation to the situation of Antônio Carlos Ferreira Gabriel, also known as “Rumba”, a community leader who has been particularly active in denouncing cases of police violence in the shanty town of Jacarezinho in the city of Rio de Janeiro. According to the information received, since the launch of a public campaign to denounce incidents of police kidnapping of local residents in 1999, Mr. Ferreira Gabriel has been the victim of constant acts of intimidation and harassment, including anonymous threatening phone calls and a raid on his house during which he was threatened at gunpoint by members of the police force. It is reported that his wife lodged a complaint with police station No. 25 regarding the latter in July 2001. However, following numerous anonymous threatening phone calls from the police, she was forced to withdraw it. According to the information received, on 4 April 2002, “Rumba” was requested to present himself to the police where he was arrested on charges of drug trafficking and placed in detention for four months. He was acquitted by the 34th Criminal Court on 4 February 2003. However, shortly after the visit of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to Brazil in September 2003, which included a visit to the Jacarezinho favela and during which “Rumba” was actively involved in informing the community of her visit, the decision of the 34th Criminal Court was appealed by the Public Prosecutor to the Rio de Janeiro State Court of Justice. On 11 December 2003, he was sentenced to eight years in prison without parole. The court judge reportedly made this decision without having reviewed the evidence that had led to his acquittal in the first trial. A habeas corpus appeal has been made to the Brazilian Supreme Court. Concern has been expressed that “Rumba” was targeted for his human rights work on behalf of the residents of Jacarezinho. In particular, it has been alleged that the legal proceedings for drug trafficking charges and the decision to appeal his case may be in reprisal for his work to involve the community in reporting police violence to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and may be aimed at preventing him from carrying out his human rights work."

In Bombay, a battle over slums |

The Christian Science Monitor, from Feb. 3rd, on the situation in Mumbai. The quotes from Bollywood biggie and housing rights activist Shabana Azmi (a fan page here, an explanation of her activism here) are on target.

On second thought, though, she might want to reverse her idea. Azmi tells the Monitor, "The one thing I tell the middle class is, if you don't like slum dwellers, then the best way to get rid of them is to stop giving them employment. Then your life will come to a grinding halt."

But what if the squatters were the ones to declare a bandh, or general strike. That would truly bring the city to a grinding halt. If 350,000 squatters led others in a coordinated action, it would be a powerful statement. As the old cliche has it: don't agonize, organize.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Davos v. Kibera

This article from South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online contrasts life in Kibera with the fact that the Kenyan government pays 40 percent of its annual budget to service its $9 billion national debt and forks out $6.3 million a month to phantom Health Department employees who are no-shows at work. At the same time, many of my friends in Kibera survive on between 2,000 and 3,000 Ksh ($26 to $39) a month.

And while on the subject, check out this, noting that Kenya's chief of anti-corruption activities has resigned.

Things have gotten so bad that the U.S. is cracking the whip, freezing aid. U.S. ambassador William Bellamy actually said this: Kenya has "an executive branch of government in whose ranks the kingpins of corruption operate." Strong words for a diplomat. Here's more:
East African Standard
Daily Nation (registration required)
Juma Kwayera in the Tanzania-based Guardian

Friday, February 04, 2005

an uplifting story from Kibera

Non-governmental organizations, even sports groups, can do good things on a case-by-case basis. This recent article from Guardian shows how tennis pros are working with kids in Kibera, the sprawling mud hut city of Nairobi. A warning here, though: the 13-year-old quoted in this article as saying "If you can give a quarter of what you have, it will be enough to make us have a better tomorrow" is sadly articulating a common theme. Dependence on donors is big business in Kibera. Some charity is certainly good. But when it becomes an addiction, as I believe it has in much of Kenya, it can become dangerous.

The BBC on India's 'biggest slum demolitions'

At least one foreign news organization has recognized that the move to eject hundreds of thousands of squatters in Mumbai is a story. Read it here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Plastic bags at night

Dilip D'Souza has been kind enough to remind me of the time I told him about flying toilets. Find out what they are here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Maharashtra state's Chief Minister tells the Indian Express that some squatter areas were demolished by accident. He says he will allocate 4 billion rupees (400 crore -- a crore being 10 million), or about $80 million in U.S. currency, to build 350,000 small apartments. Does anyone believe him?