African campaigners renew call for slum upgrade to spur growth

Monday, June 12th, 2023 01:30 | By
Kibera slums.
Kibera slums. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The upgrading of informal settlements that have sprung in Africa’s densely populated cities should be placed at the heart of the continent’s quest to achieve inclusive growth, durable peace and stability, campaigners have said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi Thursday evening, the campaigners stressed the urgency of revamping infrastructure and amenities in the slums in a bid to tackle unemployment, pollution and infectious diseases.

More than 60 percent of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums that lack basic amenities like decent shelter, safe drinking water and sanitation, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).Rose Molokoane, the coordinator of the South African Homeless People’s Federation, said tackling the informal settlements crisis in Africa required political goodwill, smart investments and improved urban planning.

Molokoane also underscored the role of data, enhanced monitoring and community engagement in a bid to avert mushrooming of shanty towns that breeds social ills and environmental pollution.

Expanding access to decent shelter, education, health, clean energy and safe drinking water to slum dwellers could unlock vast potential in Africa’s mushrooming cities, said Rebecca Ochong, the associate director for Global Affairs and Advocacy at Habitat for Humanity, an international charity.

Ochong added that securing land tenure for slum residents and incentivizing the private sector to invest in modern low-cost houses will unleash positive economic, social and ecological outcomes in the continent’s cities and towns.

African governments should leverage partnerships with donors, businesses and local innovators to scale up investments in affordable housing for slum residents as part of their urban renewal agenda, said Caroline Kabaria, a research scientist at Nairobi-based African Population and Health Research Center.

Kabaria called on governments to address data gaps, under-funding, policy and regulatory hurdles that have derailed the implementation of slum upgrading projects in a rapidly urbanizing continent.

UN-Habitat officials said that while lack of housing was previously seen as a problem faced by developing countries, it had become a global crisis with many rich countries such as the United States, Britain and Germany all facing shortages.

“The global housing crisis is present in all world regions today,” said Edlam Yemeru, head of the Knowledge and Innovation Branch of UN-Habitat

“Although the manifestations differ, almost all countries are grappling with the urgency to ensure that their citizens have access to adequate housing.”

Data from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development shows that costs of housing have risen faster than earnings and inflation in many member states in recent years.

Kenyan President William Ruto, who came to power last year, has made affordable housing a centrepiece of his government’s development agenda and announced plans to construct 250,000 houses annually for low income-earners, including those in informal settlements like Kibera.

“Realising that more than half of Kenya’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, we have integrated universal housing as a critical pillar of the national bottom-up economic transformation agenda,” Ruto told delegates at the UN-Habitat Assembly on Monday.

He said this would include green buildings, green spaces, adoption of low carbon energy, including low carbon transport solutions, as well as urban agriculture and effective waste management.

But the financing of the affordable housing programme - which would impose a 3% levy on employee salaries with employers contributing the same amount - has been heavily criticised by the opposition and sparked protests by labour unions.

Joseph Muturi, chair of Slum Dwellers International - a network of the urban poor from more than 18 countries - said governments needed to focus on upgrading slums, rather than relocating slum dwellers to housing projects outside cities.

Previous examples of moving families from slums to poorly serviced new housing schemes on the fringes of cities had left them isolated with few job options and forcing them to eventually move back to the slums, he said.

“You can’t relocate slum dwellers far from the cities. They have the right to participate as citizens of these cities just like everyone else,” said Muturi.

More on News