Habitat International Coalition
Global network for the right to habitat and social justice
The Inhabitants of Africas’ Contribution to the Right to the City
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Soha Ben Slama, IAI Tunisia Coordinator

GPR2C African Regional Meeting Report

Two events at the AfriCities VII summit in Johannesburg in late 2015 discussed the right to the city. Both events were held in preparation for the People’s Social Territorial Alternative Forum , launched by the World Assembly of Inhabitants (WSF, Tunis 2015) and the People’s Committee for Land (resistance platform to Habitat III set up in Quito), and the United Nations Habitat III conference (Quito, October 2016).

The first event, a day before AfriCities, was the Regional Meeting of the Global Platform for the Right to the City, which received a warm welcome from a packed audience. A variety of presentations provided a rich and interesting debate on the definition of the Global Platform for the Right to the City, its charter, its goals, and its participatory and inclusive process, and the definition of the concept of the Right to the City in the African context, in order to promote the platform and mobilize social movements and their convergence in the region.An even more productive and specific debate was facilitated by the working group sessions, enabling a more in-depth discussion and exchange of views on the political, legal and institutional frameworks as they work in Africa.

The large turnout of participants, with many, from local and regional inhabitants’ organizations, including the African members of the International Alliance of Inhabitants, enhanced the debate with their various experiences from different regions. However, the discussions also highlighted a concern that was expressed by a number of participants with regard to the risks that may be associated with the right to the city in terms of the endless expansion of cities at the expense of the countryside, which also affects the inhabitants of urban slums and squatter settlements, often living in unsanitary and high risk conditions where they face insecurity and the threat of eviction. These concerns are justified, since the eradication of these human settlements in the name of unbridled urban expansion, sometimes hidden behind policies to improve and clean up neighbourhoods, has often resulted in massive human rights violations instead of supporting the implementation of a genuine right to the city.

For these reasons, several speakers condemned the hidden facet of the new Urban Agenda being adopted by Habitat III, which considers that the world’s future is urban and that cities are the driving force of development, justifying neoliberal policies which view everything as a commodity, including common goods like ancestral and communal land.

The debate continued in the session "Inhabitants and Local Authorities on the road to Quito”, as the International Alliance of Inhabitants, member of the Global Platform for the Right to the City, launched a discussion of how to establish the fight for the right to the city in the different African regions that make up the continent and thus contribute to the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

The organizations participating were numerous and varied and a significant representation from African local authorities served to underline a substantive agreement to strengthen the African Network of Inhabitants, which has done everything in its power to ensure that alternative housing and urban planning policies are implemented. The presence of local authority figure Fatimetou Abdel Malick, Mayor of Tevragh-Zeina in Mauritania, a "daughter of the people” who is politically active and attentive to the needs and opinions of the inhabitants of her commune, further animated the debate. It centred on the issue of indigenous people as the builders of their towns and villages, working to improve their impoverished neighbourhoods, slums included, and asserting their rights and their need for development policies which work in favour of their environment. Finally, the political significance of this session was emphasized by the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG-A) ’s adoption of the recommendation to establish monitoring committees in order to ensure that the inhabitants and the different local authority representatives proposals’ s are being implemented. It is important not to lose sight of the Zero Eviction campaign to house millions of inhabitants in dignity and in harmony between urban and rural dwellers, city and countryside, which are essential conditions in promoting people’s participation and governance in the day-to-day running of their city. All of these tools are important, and mobilization and organized efforts by inhabitants, will ensure their implementation at the local and regional level, thanks in particular to the African Network of Inhabitants, which has been reinforced by the Johannesburg event. Effective mobilization will guarantee that real progress in solving housing and urban planning problems will be made by the time Africities VIII (Brazzaville, DRC) takes place in 2018.

The need to rethink the debate on the right to the city in Africa was underlined. The reality in the West and in Latin America is not the same as the reality in Africa. While elsewhere the focus is on condemning the eviction of the working classes from city centres and the domination of functionalist urban planning which considers cities as technical objects, the problems in Africa are more concerned with the precarious situation of slum dwellers, territories under threat of land grabbing, insecurity, uneven growth, and poverty. Another major concern is solving the problem of dependency on foreign aid, the new face of a modern-day colonialism involving various forms of property speculation driven by multinationals and corporations from China, Singapore, the Middle East and Europe, and including institutional players like the European Union, World Bank and IMF. These organizations are fuelling the rate of urbanization in Africa, the highest in the world

In essence, it is more a case of the right to land, and even to territory in some formerly colonized regions. For some, "city” has more of a political and administrative connotation, which accentuates the problems for indigenous populations in rural areas and violates the most basic rules for human rights by not providing equal access to land or the most basic services.

Consequently, the right to the city must be neither a slogan nor a concept, nor should it be limited to accessing the urban resources, which are essential for a liveable environment. It should not merely lead to adequate housing, employment and mobility but to the right to land, all the more so today when every citizen is entitled to participate in local political debate. It would be better to speak of the "right to the city and the land.” A right which should be asserted through the efforts of inhabitants across the African continent, in order to incite political action up to Quito and beyond.

• Housing and Land Rights / Right to Adequate Housing   • Right to the City   

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