Tuesday, February 27, 2007

one squatter community's surprising position in global trade

Here's a story that might surprise some European fishermen: their catch is being processed in one of Lagos, Nigeria's most notorious shantytowns.

The squatter community of Makoko, home to perhaps 200,000 people, is most famous for its small riverside population. For almost 100 years, the people here have fished the local waters and have built their homes on stilts above the placid and increasingly polluted lagoon. Here, women paddle canoes between the houses, selling bread and cassava, candy and cloth, sodas and staple goods. Some even cruise the waters selling home-cooked meals.

Occasionally, one of the wooden homes looks like its on fire: smoke slides between the rough boards and billows out the windows. A closer look reveals that these seemingly burning buildings are local smokehouses. 50-year-old Ogun Dairo tells me that she's been smoking fish for better than 30 years. She purchases the fish from a local refrigerated warehouse that's also in Makoko, but on dry land. For all of the 30 years she's been in the business, she reports, the fish has been imported from Europe. She buys between five and seven large boxes of fish every day, then she smokes the catch (each fish has its tail stuck into its mouth, making it shaped like a ring) over a fire stoked with wood and sawdust (other Makoko merchants purchase the firewood and sawdust from nearby riverside sawmills and transport it to the community by canoe.)

Ogun Dairo sells the fish to retailers who work the streets and markets of Lagos.

There are many smokehouses like Ogun Dairo's scattered across Makoko. They are all buying European fish, proving that squatter communities like Makoko have long had a role to play in the global economy.


By the way, Ogun Dairo's fish tastes great: delicate rather than overpowering, and really refreshing in the Lagos heat.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Squatters face key South Africa Court Date

The city of Johannesburg has appealed a court decision blocking it from evicting downtown squatters. High Court Judge Mohamed Jajbhay had ruled that the city first had to find alternative accommodation for people being evicted and said the city had a duty - in terms of the constitution - to have a proper housing policy in place before people could be removed. The city claims the buildings the squatters occupy are hazardous and a health threat. The case has now been filed with the Supreme Court of Appeal and could affect squatters in many South African cities. The Star has details.

Risk to squatters around the Mumbai airport

As the Hindustan Times reports, 60,000 families are fearing for their future now that the Mumbai Airport Authority plans to evict them from their communities to make way for an expansion plan.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

sit-down strike against no-sitting ordinance

The city of Olympia, Washington has joined the no sitting bandwagon, passing an ordinance that blocks anyone from sitting on the sidewalks in parts of downtown during daylight hours. In response, homeless people and advocates have erected several tent cities. Now the City Manager has vowed to demolish the encampments.

Here are several articles from The Olympian that tell the story:

tent city built

tent city raises concerns

disband or else!

[thanks to Dj Nuts & Bolts, Free Radio Olympia 98.5, for the heads up]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Losing everything in the Jakarta flooding

Though the horrific flooding has affected everyone in the Indonesian capital, consider this, from the Asia Sentinel: "Illegal squatters who live in 30-year-old “temporary” plywood houses occupy areas along the riverbanks. Efforts to evict them are ongoing and heavy handed but this time the floods have done the work. While five-star hotels are offering discounts to the wealthy in search of shelter, tens of thousands of the poor have lost everything in the last few days."

And as The Jakarta Post points out:

Poor public discipline and the disgraceful national habit of destroying the environment and dumping garbage into rivers are certainly a factor, along with unchecked growth in the capital that has resulted in more and more squatters on water catchment areas and along river banks.

But much more damaging has been the corruption in the bureaucracy and the power of lobbyists to win the day for commercial interests above all else.

The root cause thus lies in the immense power of vested interests in the government, the military and business conglomerates.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Homeless encampment at risk in Japan

The city of Osaka, Japan is mulling a plan to evict 3,500 squatters as it prepares for a major sporting event. Japan Times has the ugly details.

(thanks to Anthony George for sending the link)

[And, for anyone who may have been wondering why this is my first post in more than a week: I'm in Lagos, Nigeria for the coming three months as I start work on a new book. I'll be posting new items from Lagos at some point soon.]