Monday, January 30, 2006

Two African cities embrace 'clean ups'


No one's against orderly streets. But when this is used to push out the poor, it isn't a clean up. It's an eviction drive masquerading as good government.

Condos for Christiania

Copenhagen authorities plan condos for the city's notorious squatter enclave. The Copenhagen Post reports.

Hidden in the article: Squatters in the 'hood will be facing rent increases of at least 1,000 percent.

No, that's no misprint.

Are squatters polluting Mexico City?

El Universal reports that squatters are continuing to erect shacks along the Mexican capital's canals. "Unchecked growth could contaminate the city´s water supply and worsen its already notoriously bad air," the newspaper reports.

Though it's hard to imagine how squatters could worsen air pollution in the hazy high-altitude city, the point the article is missing is that there need to be alternatives for the squatters if they are to stop occupying sensitive areas.

Also, despite the alarmist tone of the article, if you read down you will discover that, in the past two years, authorities have seen 100 new homes sprout up along the canals--which is hardly a massive influx. It's also unclear who these squatters are. True desperate squatters would be in the homes already. So these homes are probably being built by speculators who are taking advantage of the city's lax enforcement to make a few quick pesos.

So long, Lagos squatters

The Tide reports that the government is planning a 'surprise attack' against 5,000 squatter businesspeople operating kiosks under Lagos bridges. (use Internet Explorer for this link--for some reason it won't display with Mozilla Firefox.)

A little understanding, please

A Kolkata commentator sees the good in gentrification: "Does gentrification improve the urban landscape to any extent? Yes, it does." Of course, the author fails to mention the collateral damage created by that landscaping job: poor people get evicted.

Another article in the Kolkata daily says that squatters, slum-lords and politicos form a "coalition of illegalities" and suggests that the squatters should not be given the right to vote.

And I thought India was a country noted for its tolerance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Forced evictions in Lagos make thousands homeless - Amnesty International

Amnesty International denounces an eviction campaign in Lagos. Read it an weep:

Hundreds of Nigerians are still sleeping out in the open nearly nine months after bulldozers and armed police arrived in the Makoko community of Lagos, demolishing homes, churches, a mosque and a medical clinic. After three days of destruction, the community was obliterated, leaving about 3,000 residents -- many already destitute -- homeless.

"The poor of Lagos pay a heavy price for living on land that has increased in value: seeing their homes razed to the ground by government bulldozers," said Felix Morka, Executive Director of Social and Economic Rights Action Center, Lagos. "These evictions and destruction have got to stop."

Amnesty has called for a moratorium on evictions in Nigeria.

If current trends continue, greater Lagos will have 24 million inhabitants by the end of this decade, and it will become one of the two or three largest metropolitan areas in the world--truly Africa's leading megacity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Temporary Reprieve for Rhino

Residents of Rhino, one of Geneva's oldest squats, win one in court: Edicom reports (in French) that a Cantonal (state) court vacated the eviction order for the building. If I understand the French correctly, the court ruled that state prosecutor and the police had no right to enforce a private eviction. The landlord can appeal the decision to federal court.

If anyone more versed in French than I am could clarify the ruling, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Did you know that the UK has between 15,000 and 17,000 squatters? The Independent Online reports that when squatters get apartments from local town councils, they often flee public housing and return to a new squat--because the squats are in better condition and offer more personal control. Most observers suggest that the squatters are hard working and care for their buildings. Still, laws have been tightened in favor of property owners of the past 10 to 15 years. Also, "court verdicts have now made it harder for squatters to persuade gas and electricity suppliers to connect them."

Sem teto -- Without a roof

Sao Paulo squatters take over a 22 story building in the center of the city. Guardian Unlimited has the story: "At first glance Prestes Maia, which sem-teto members occupied in 2002, resembles a chaotic, multi-storey shantytown; cardboard spews out of its cracked windows, graffiti litter its walls and children rattle through its wide corridors on bicycles. But the community is meticulously organised. Residents contribute R$20 (£5) a month to the upkeep of the building, and a rota system exists for cleaning each floor's communal bathroom." Sounds like chaotic democracy.

Brutality against squatters

South African cops are accused of pistol-whipping squatters during a raid on the settlement. It's not the first time the cops have been brutal towards squatters, the Cape Times reports.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Beach War in Rio

The Associated Press reports, accurately, I have to presume, on a flare up between two rival favelas that played out on Rio's famous Ipanema Beach.

Quite quaint for Rio, actually: two groups smacking each other with beach chairs for 15 minutes or so. This in a city where rival gangs normally blast away at each other with assault rifles.

Still, to link this small brawl with the "arrastoes," or mass robberies, that have occurred occasionally in the past on the beaches is quite misleading. Also, to cite the "everyday violence of the slums" without noting that most of the homicides in the favelas are due to police shootings is downright irresponsible.

The drug gangs are terrible, but the police are worse.

Drought Makes Kibera Thirst

Water rationing in Nairobi has hit Kibera hard,The Daily Nation reports (via allafrica news.)

How's this for an outrage: Joseph Kimani, the technical director of the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company believes that the million or so squatters in Kibera "want free water." Yet it's well know among the cognoscenti that Kibera residents and the city's other squatters actually pay ten times more for water than people in the legal neighborhoods of Nairobi.

And here's another outrage: "The situation in the slums is so bad, Mr Kimani says, that because of the illegal connections, the company loses between 30 and 40 per cent of the water it distributes to Nairobi."

It's high time for the government to muscle out the vendors, both legal and illegal, who buy water from the city and sell it at a profit to squatters. It's high time to give squatters what they deserve: decent, affordable and high quality municipal water service. Saving that 40 percent of this precious resource is worth the cash cost.

As the cliche goes: Just do it.

The problem with relocating squatters out of town

Six years after they were removed from the center of the city, these Botswana squatters still must travel 7 kilometers to town to do their shopping, the newspaper Mmegi reports. It's all because of local zoning that prevents businesses from opening on residential lots, a local official says. Oh, and by the way, the article implies that the relocated squatters still don't have water and other services.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Problem of Property

Id21, published by the Institute of Development Studies of the UK's University of Sussex, has a spate of articles devoted to property ownership in the developing world.

Here are some representative quotes: "The value of properties in Black Townships is currently estimated at 68.3 billion Rand. These properties could provide significant collateral for low income households to secure credit for a range of business uses."

"Governments should provide at least short-term security to residents in informal settlements and, in the vast majority of cases, cease to evict settlers and demolish houses."

"Urban poor people are using systems that better suit their needs than the formal alternatives."

As you can see, these essays argue diverse position. But the research and conclusions are always interesting.

Friday, January 13, 2006

950,000 displaced in South Africa

Talk about burying the lead. This is from the 4th paragraph of this story from IRIN Africa, a news service run by the UN:

950,000 black South Africans have been illegally evicted from white owned farms in the 10 years since the end of apartheid - 200,000 more than were evicted during the final 10 years of the former regime.

This is the kind of news that makes you spit up your coffee: 25% more people have been evicted from farms since the transition to majority rule in South Africa than were evicted during the final decade of apartheid rule.

These displaced people, a study by The NKUZI Development Association suggests, have fueled the rapid rise of shantytowns and squatter communities over the past decade.

'Only hip-hop can save us'

Guardian Unlimited talks with Cidade de Deus's MV Bill, favela rapper extraordinaire. His music is real. And he's a thoughtful fellow, too. Consider:

Because record companies were scared of the political content and ghetto commentary of bands like NWA and Public Enemy, they injected rappers with so much money that all they can talk about now is money - or female degradation. The record industry has emasculated hip-hop in America.


City of God didn't portray life here properly. Most people in the community did not see the film because they can't afford the cinema, and the ones that did see it didn't like the fact that it showed only the negative side of life. It suggested that everyone in the favelas is black, violent and ready to be judged.


When I go to the shantytowns to speak to the kids, I'm one of them, so they are completely honest with me. What struck me most was the hope that they all had. I had barely got back to Rio when I started receiving calls from the mothers of the teenagers to tell me that their children had been killed. My next project was to film all of the funerals. How can I be just another rapper going 'yo yo yo' after that?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

World Bank Invests in Nigeria's Squatter Areas

But so far, all that's been set up is a 'conflict resolution center,' the The Sun News On-line reports. The communities of Makoko, Iwaya, Agege, Ajegunle, Ijeshatedo, Badia, Amukoko, Ilaje and Bariga are all scheduled for upgrading. But what, how, and for whom the article doesn't say. Sounds like they might need that conflict resolution center.

More on Mumbai

The Mail & Guardian Online reports on Mumbai's squatters. Developer Mukesh Mehta, who originally was pushing for a plan to modernize housing in Dharavi, the city's largest squatter community, has now become the spokesperson for a plan to rid the city of all squatter communities over the coming 15 years. I'd be more inclined to believe Mukesh, who I met while I was in Mumbai, if he had consulted with the squatters and gone ahead and shown what can be done without all the government fuss. Otherwise, these big plans tend to obey the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mapping the squatter zones

The Jamaican government is planning to map all the squatter communities on the island, a Jamaican radio station reports. This could be a good move, a prelude towards recognition of squatting as a legitimate enterprise. But, ominously, the Ministry of Land and the Environment has announced that it will set up zero-tolerance zones, where informal settlers will not be tolerated. And what will become of the longstanding squatter settlements that are in these 'no-go' zones?

A better strategy would be to work with the squatters to map their own communities. Including them in the process will make these maps a point of community pride.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

'We've Lost Hope'

Evicted under Operation Murambatsvina, many of Zimbabwe's squatters are now little more than beggars. When they were living in the cities of Bulawayo or Harare, they had jobs and the hope of a better future.

Friday, January 06, 2006


When last I heard, residents of Rhino, one of Geneva's oldest squats were facing immediate eviction. Then the story disappeared from the papers. Now, Swiss reporter (and former squatter) Philippe de Rougemont has sent this update:

Rhino appealed to the federal court against the evacuation order that was set for mid-November. They used procedural grounds. And won. Now a Geneva court has to rule again and has time till March to do so.

Still, there is no "suspension of evacuation" delivered by the federal court. The Geneva prosecutor has the legal right to evict the squatters. Worse, the owners have refused to sell the building to the city of Geneva, which had sugested it could then keep the inhabitants.

As far as I can see, the countdown to evacuation has started. But the future is not written, and you never know for what reason, Rhino may be around in 10 years time, but new squats can not flourish: no empty buildings left (except those reserved for commercial or industrial purposes, those are no-no places to squat, immediate police evacuation). We'll have to wait for the next period when prices will hit the ceiling and owners will keep buildings empty in order to sell them fast at the good moment, and then the next owner does the same thing. Then those buildings stay empty and theres a possibility.

Visit for more info (in French).

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Developments in India

Chandigarh is planning to open up 320 acres for development, with 20% destined for market rate development to subsidize homes for squatters. Expressindia reports.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, the state government is talking about freeing up so-called salt pan land to house squatters. The Times of India has a brief story.

Of course, these projects have been announced before. We shall see whether it's all bluster--or whether there's any meat on the bones. And, of course, where is the consultation/partnership with the squatters themselves?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lagos Overstretched

The Nigerian Federal Government has put together a committee to create a new city plan for Lagos. But there's not a single squatter, or even a single poor person who lives in Lagos, on the panel. How many times do countries have to learn it: the elite alone cannot solve the problems of the urban poor. Squatters from Lagos must be involved on the ground level for any plans that affect their lives.

three years and you're out

The Maharastra state government has announced a plan to rid the city of encroachments (that means relatively recent squatter communities) within three yearsThe Times of India reports. That means building 200,000 apartments (2 lakh in Hinglish.) Developer Mukesh Mehta says, with appropriate rules, developers will pay the full price tag. All of this has been talked about before, as this article from MidDay notes. MidDay also asserts that it will take more than 200,000 homes to guarantee all of the city's squatters a place to live.

The key, here, is to work with the squatters. The government tried simple demolition. It didn't work, and the public outcry was immense. If Maharastra is serious, it will work with squatter communities to plan for what they want.

'Ek het geval' (I have fallen)

The Mail & Guardian Online reveals a subculture of the new South Africa: white squatters.

Human drama on the move

Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese daily, reports on Philippine Railway squatters, and the TV show that celebrated their lives. "Home Along the Rails" was on for a dozen years and President Gloria Arroyo even appeared on the show when she was running for office. The article gets the tone just right: the neighborhood, though deprived, has forged businesses and intense human connections over its decades of survival.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Zopadpatti Police Panchayat

Community Policing in the squatter neighborhoods of Mumbai. A great approach, and one that ought to be followed in every city in the developing world. Transliterated from the Hindi, the effort is called Zopadpatti Police Panchayat, and the program has reached 132 different squatter communities in Mumbai.

The details are a bit different than community policing as it's thought of in the U.S.:
"Every Zopadpatti Police Panchayat (ZPP) comprises seven women and three men from the slums. They are empowered to hear and resolve disputes within the area
Once a dispute is brought to the ZPP’s notice—a written complaint is mandatory—the accused and victim are exhorted to arrive at an amicable solution
Case details are recorded in a register. The ZPP gathers at a date decided by the 10 heads, but in an emergency, it can be held in any place, at any time
A police inspector and constable from the local police station or the beat chowkie are always present during hearings."

The project is a joint effort between the Mumbai Police Department and the National Slum Dwellers Federation, an important squatter organizing effort founded a generation ago by Jockin Arputham, who is still a squatter in the city.

This approach is similar to a community court in Behrampada, a mostly-Muslim squatter area adjacent to Mumbai's Bandra railway station. The women of the community banded together, with the help of the local Navjeet Community Center, to hear cases. Those they don't solve, they are empowered to refer for court or police action.