Friday, July 29, 2005

Demand Drainage After Monsoon Carnage

The death toll from the rolling monsoon waters in Maharastra -- the heaviest rains in a century, according to official statements, has reached 700, reports. And read how 18 squatters died due to the mistaken rumor of a tsunami approaching Mumbai.

It's time for the city to get serious about sewers and drainage.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Monsoon Update

Strong rains can be deadly, as squatters in India found this week. As this AP dispatch on Yahoo! notes, two days of fierce downpours (37.1 inches of rain in one day) have caused landslides and killed more than 500 people in Maharastra state. Now, false rumors of bursting dams have claimed several more lives in a squatter area on the outskirts of the city.

Here's a roundup of monsoon damage from the Times of India. And here's a column from the tabloid Midday.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mumbai Out of Bounds for Workers, Slum Dwellers -- But Politicians Cash In

Despite a six-month respite in Mumbai's drive to demolish squatter neighborhoods, the Inter Press Service News Agency points out that gentrification continues apace as the city's former textile mills have been sold off at astoundingly high prices. "Last week, the new, unabashedly pro-rich, approach was confirmed when a chunk of 243 hectares of prime property owned by defunct textile mills was sold to the very politicians who had made their careers opposing such sales," reporter Sandhya Srinivasan wrote. The article provided no documentation that politicos are involved in the land grab, but other reports (see noted that one property, Kohinoor Mill, was bought by a concern promoted by Manohar Joshi., a leader of the Shiv Sena, the political party that ruled Mumbai until last year.

Zimbabwe Police Resume Drive to Raze Slums

Despite a serious verbal strafing from a UN envoy and a commitment from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to visit the country,The New York Times reports that Zimbabwe has resumed its efforts to crush squatter homes in and around the capital. Here's an Associated Press dispatch, along with several other articles questioning Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe, courtesy of

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A false raid on Rocinha?

Xico Vargas, a writer for the web site no minimo, suggests (in Portuguese) that the recent police raid and shootout with drug dealers in Rocinha was a charade. Citing the plethora of equipment, including armored cars, motorcycles, helicopters, not to mention 1,000 police on foot, he claims that if the authorities were serious about capturing the drug lord known as Bem-Te-Vi they would have. Indeed, he says, Bem-Te-Vi and his partner Soul were drinking whiskey and beer in the Valao (a neighborhood of Rocinha) while the police made sure to have their shootout "a secure distance away." He calls the police action "a grand choreography" staged for the newspapers and TV cameras.

(Thanks to Gabriel Ponce de Leon, who is always hip to all interpretations, for sending me this clip.)

Truth Telling on Zimbabwe

The New York Times editorializes on Zimbabwe demolitions and also reports that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will visit Zimbabwe to personally view the devastated communities and converse with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mugabe fiddles, Zimbabweans burn

The Toronto Star offers an article on the demolitions in Zimbabwe. The reporter found this quote from the country's information minister, George Charamba, in the magazine New Africa: "What Zimbabwe has sought to do is remarkably mundane to a point of not being newsworthy. Clearance of slums is an abiding feature and dynamic of urban settlement, in fact as mundane as the appearance of slums themselves."

Lovely: The fact that 700,000 people have been made homeless and five to 15 percent of the economy destroyed by government decree is humdrum stuff.

In other matters, UN envoy Anna Tibaijuka's report on Zimbabwe is now available in a pdf version here.

Here's one of her key findings: "the Government clearly violated its own national laws and the constitutional rights of its people, and that those responsible must be brought to remains the strong recommendation of the Special Envoy that the culprits who have caused this man-made disaster are best handled and brought to book under Zimbabwean national laws." And also: "evictions took place before alternatives could be provided, thereby violating human rights and several provisions of national and international law." Strong words from the usually circumspect UN.

Another interesting observation in the report: one-third of the people evicted are immigrants who never became citizens of Zimbabwe. Instead, they are long time residents who came to Zimbabwe from neighboring countries seeking work. Tibaijuka recommends that these people immediately be made citizens and given rights.

Oddly, though most observers (and most newspapers) translate Zimbabwe's Operation Murambatsvina as "Operation Drive Out Trash," the UN doesn't. Tibaijuka instead prefers "Operation Restore Order." Does anyone know the reason for this discrepancy?

Sunday, July 24, 2005


A while back I was interviewed by a Philippe de Rougemont, a reporter for Switzerland's Datas news agency. His article appeared in Switzerland and is now available (in French for all you francophones) on the web at the datas news agency's site.

More on what to do in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe government has asked South Africa for $1 billion to stave off economic collapse, according to this article from South Africa's Sunday Times via South African President Thabo Mbeki has till now refrained from criticizing Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. But, in the wake of the UN's conclusion that Zimbabwe's drive against squatters created "a man-made disaster," Mbeki may have to take a stance.

In another development, the article cites an International Monetary Fund spokesman as suggesting that Zimbabwe could be kicked out of the Fund because it has fallen massively behind on its loan payments.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Returning Home to Rubble

"I am sitting like a butterfly or like a bird that stays in the tree. No house, no seat." So says Gertrude Musaruro, who lost her home in Zimbabwe's ruthless drive against squatters and is now sleeping on the ruins of what she used to call home, in thisWashington Post article.

In the former squatter community of Porta Farm (itself a relocation camp of people evicted from Harare more than a decade ago for Queen Elizabeth's visit to Zimbabwe), new temporary building-types are emerging: "Old pieces of thatch roof and rusty scraps of sheet metal were fashioned into tiny houses. One 15-year-old girl sewed plastic lime bags into a tent that fit over a frame of branches."

Squatters are incredibly determined and resourceful. Though their houses may look precarious and may lack basic public amenities, squatters treasure their abodes and communities as much as any legal occupant. The squatters will rise up and build, over and over, even facing brutal government opposition. Come to think of it, that's a pretty decent definition of courage and patriotism.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Zimbabwe Showed 'Indifference to Human Suffering,' UN Envoy Says

UN Habitat head Anna Tibaijuka calls upon the Mugabe government to stop demolishing homes and to pay reparations to those who have lost their homes, according to this dispatch from (you can read a BBC dispatchhere.)

Tibaijuka said Zimbabwe's pledge to provide land for the displaced was not feasible given the country's current economic condition, particularly as it assumes that local governments will provide access roads, highway infrastructure and basic services to enable displaced people to build new homes.

The toll of the Zimbabwe government's action: 700,000 people evicted; 2.4 million impacted.

Though the UN's bureaucratic language can seem repressed, the report moved Kofi Annan to say that Zimbabwe had done "a catastrophic injustice" to its poorest citizens. Strong words from the UN Secretary General.

Even with this damning report, there's a question hanging out there for all who care about housing and civil rights: Now what?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Shootout in Rocinha, protesting residents block traffic on the nearby expressway

The Viva Favela website reports (in Portuguese) on a shootout last Friday between cops and drug traffickers in Rocinha. Apparently, the military police invaded the favela because they wanted to interrupt the birthday celebration of the chief of trafficking, Erismar Rodrigues Moreira (known on the street as Bem-Te-Vi.) One resident was shot in the leg in the 3-hour standoff. The war between traffickers and the police in Rocinha has claimed five lives. This time around, some Rocinha residents blocked a nearby highway tunnel in protest against the violence. The community was set to have a meeting about the violence today. I'll try to post more when I know more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The sprawling squatter city of Sultanbeyli, on the outskirts of Istanbul. Sultanbeyli is an independent squatter metropolis. Though no one owns, the city has a popularly elected government (yes, a squatter mayor in the 7 story squatter City Hall!) and a massive bureaucracy providing public works and other city services.  Posted by Picasa

Mumbai, India: the squatter community in Borivali National Park. This vast neighborhood was ordered to be destroyed by a court ruling that pitted environmentalists against social activists. I'm not sure of its status since the government's anti-squatter pogrom early this year. Posted by Picasa

Rocinha: the largest and most urbanized favela in Rio de Janeiro. As you can see, squatters not only have electricity, they have satelite tv. Posted by Picasa

The mud and stick city of Kibera: no water, no sewers, no toilets. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The cities of tomorrow are the squatter cities

I'm very sorry to have taken a week off, but I was attending the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England (I know, I know: it's not impossible to post things from overseas....but, hey, I needed a break.)

Here's a BBC NEWS dispatch about my presentation and a few others on urbanism at the conference. And here's how to find out about TED.

I'll post some photos and new political info about squatters early this week.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Zimbabwe: World Anger Mounts

Will it make a difference? This story from Zimbabwe's Financial Gazette notes that even usually moribund bodies like the African Union are troubled by Robert Mugabe's decision to drive out urban squatters. Outside of Africa, New Zealand's Foreign Minister called Zimbabwe a "rogue" state as is talking about tough sanctions.

The article leaves one key item until the 2nd last graf: the $3 trillion investment in housing the government says its poised to make? It's unbudgeted.

Doesn't that just make you feel better.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A way forward in Bangkok

Several Thai squatter communities are designing, funding, and managing their own improvements, according to this report from the United Nations.

A new level of chutzpah

A Zimbabwean official tells an international housing seminar that his country has invested 3 trillion dollars in the relocation of the squatters whose comes have been destroyed. The demolition, he insists, was part of the country's housing plan. Sometimes it's just hard to keep a straight face when reading things.

Rags despite riches

A UN report gives a sense of life in Arhiba, a squatter community of DJIBOUTI CITY, capital of a country that's rich on paper and poor in reality.

Here's a horrific statistic: "A hard day's labour at the port - heaving 50 kg bags of food aid in sweltering heat - earns a labourer around 500 Djiboutian francs, about $2.80. A bed in room shared with 10 other people in Arhiba costs 10 times that each month." In other words, a bed in a shared room in a squalid squatter community costs 1/3 of a workingman's monthly income. At rents like that, having your own room is simply beyond your wildest dreams. Talk about a housing market that's out of whack.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Squatters still survive in Hudson, NY!

Eighteen riverside squatter shanties remain in Hudson, NY. The occupants have fended off the government for decades--and public officials concede they've achieved a stalemate. "They're clearly squatters on city land and don't pay taxes, but they're not bothering anybody," Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera says. "There's no potential development plan for the land anyway. They're tucked away next to a sewer treatment plant and an abandoned sewing factory. I consider it a case of out of sight, out of mind." Here's an Albany Times Union profile of these two throwback communities, one in the lagoon at North Bay, the other on Middle Ground Flats, an island in the Hudson River. Great historical detail: back in the 1930s and 40s, when Hudson had a hard core working waterfront, bar owners posted an illuminated sign in the river to lure passing boaters to the town's 68 taverns.

A bit of good news from Bombay

I missed this item in Mumbai's Economic Times. The Bombay High Court weighed in on squatters rights a few weeks back. Denouncing "cosmetic surgery" like temporary plots during the monsoon season or forcing squatters to live outside the city limits, chief justice Dalbeer Bhandari commanded the government to come up with a long term strategy to rehouse squatters whose homes were demolished back in December and January.

UN chief warns on dangers of Zimbabwe

Kofi Annan is ready for African governments to speak out about the Zimbabwe demolitions, the Financial Times reports. “What is important and what is lacking on the continent is [a willingness] to comment on wrong policies in a neighbouring country,” the UN Secretary General said when he stopped in on the paper on his way to the G8 meeting in Scotland.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

“We must clean the country of the crawling mass of maggots bent on destroying the economy."

That's Zimbabwe's National Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri justifying the continuing mass evictions in his country, from a fascinating, horrific take on the evictions courtesy of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Many of the people who have been exproriated originally emigrated to Zimbabwe from nearby countries--most notably Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia--in the colonial era, seeking jobs in the mines of what was then called Rhodesia. For instance: 80-year-old Ganizani Banda came to Zimbabwe as a sixteen-year-old boy to work in the mines. “The government says we must go back to the rural area, but I don’t have one,” he told IWPR. “I left Malawi in 1941 and I have never gone back. I have not been in touch with my relatives there.” Banda said he used to work at a mine in Kadoma, 176 km southwest of Harare, before being laid off in 1985. Banda subsequently worked on a white-owned commercial farm at Chegutu, near Kadoma, until Mugabe’s land invasion campaign, beginning in 2000, drove hundreds of thousands of black farm workers and their families out of their homes and employment. When his farmer employer had his farm confiscated, Banda moved to Porta Farm. “My whole working life was spent in Zimbabwe’s mines and on Zimbabwe’s farms,” said Banda as he looked at the wreckage of his home. “My wife [72-year-old Molly] and I don’t have homes we can go back to in Malawi.”

And here's a horrific irony: Porta Farm, a dense squatter area that was recently destroyed, was established by Mugabe’s government 14 years ago to tidy up Harare ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Zimbabwe for the 1991 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The squatters there were actually placed there by the government.

Finally, the squatters had an intense face-off with Anna Tibaijuka, the UN representative sent to monitor the situation. "If you can, please ask our leaders what crime we have committed to deserve such punishment," one young woman asked her. Tibaijuka counselled patience: "I am upset by what I have seen here, but please remain calm. We are going to work together, just be patient. The secretary general is much concerned, that is why he sent me here. We are definitely going to do something about the issue, but we cannot solve the problem at once."

A prior IWPR dispatch provided a good description of the communities being targetted: The houses destroyed by Mugabe’s soldiers and police are described as shacks. But “shack” is sometimes too grand a term to describe the corrugated iron, plastic, asbestos and cardboard shelters that house the majority of Africans south of the equator, covering entire landscapes. Enter a shack and it is like walking through the looking glass. Interiors are immaculate, the dirt floors covered with lino, kitchens lined with units and gas-fired stoves, beds in the back rooms, the walls papered and lined with posters of footballs stars and religious icons. All of it - everything the owners possess from a lifetime of struggle - kept spotlessly clean by “mamas” who often spend their days working as domestic staff for better-off black and white people.

In all, IWPR says almost one in ten Zimbabweans (1 million out of a population of 11.5 million) have been rendered homeless by Operation Drive Out the Rubbish. Human rights organisations estimate that about 300,000 children have dropped out of school as a result of the assaults on their homes.

Homeless and hopeless

More bleak news from Zimbabwe. "Soon there will be no country left at all," one young man tells Guardian reporter Duncan Campbell.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

UN criticises Zimbabwe slum blitz ... but still too politely

Here's Habitat leader Anna Tibaijuka after touring Caledonia Farm, one of the demolished squatter communities in Zimbabwe, according to Agence France Presse via the BBC:

"I think it was very clear that they all seem anxious to get their lives improved....When I asked them if they were happy, I got a resounding no. So definitely there are challenges that we have to sort out."

I suppose that in the strange curtailed lingo of the UN, "challenges that we have to sort out" means "a complete recipe for genocide...a tragedy of unprecedented enormity," as Methodists meeting in South Africa labeled the demolitions (see BBC report here.

The absence of outrage does seem suspect.

Styles of Organizing, abroad and at home

The most recent issue of Ford Foundation Report features two of my articles on organizing efforts around the world.

1. Here's a profile of a notable squatter organizing strategy from the developing world, as seen through the operations of Slum Dwellers International.

2. This is a feature on MOSES, a interesting faith-based organizing initiative to demand that the suburbs share their tax base with the city in Detroit.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Death in Zimbabwe

Four squatters are reported dead, 10,000 evicted, in Zimbabwe's continuing demolition drive, The New York Times reports. This as UN-Habitat biggie Anna Tibaijuka is in Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission.

The Associated Press quotes Mugabe as telling Tibaijuka that the demolitions had resulted in some "temporary discomfort," adding, "obviously there is some degree of suffering when you break down a slum. Yes, there is discomfort now, but discomfort in order to get comfort later." Mugabe has previously said his government will create new housing once the squatter communities are destroyed. Does anyone believe him?