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Slum residents address Africa’s human rights body to demand end to forced evictions

By Francis Makanda Sakwa, Amnesty International Kenya ‘Gender Defender’ and resident of Mathare slum, Nairobi

I live in an informal settlement. I work, pay taxes, and use the money I earn to raise my children and support my family. Mine is a voice that isn’t often printed in my country’s newspapers, or heard by my Government. But did you know that in sub-Saharan Africa three out of every four people living in a city or town live in a slum, like me? That is a staggering statistic: three-quarters – a clear majority - of Africa’s urban people live in homes that are built without planning or other permission. This is a massive hidden crisis for our cities and our governments.

Us ordinary Kenyans living in informal settlements face many challenges. The authorities fail to adequately provide us with essential services, such as water, sewers, roads, schools, health clinics and police posts. But the biggest violation of our human rights we face is the threat of forced evictions.

In early November, supported by Amnesty International, I travelled with slum dwellers from Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Chad to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in The Gambia. We went united to ask for help in demanding an immediate end to forced evictions in Africa.

Chair of the African Commission, Commissioner Catherine Dupe Atoki, heard testimony of our experience of the widespread problem across the continent. The African Commission are an organ of the African Union and the highest human rights body on the continent.

Just this week in Nairobi evictions have been carried out in a manner that contravenes international human rights standards, with bulldozers razing people’s homes and businesses and making hundreds of families homeless.

Our glorious new Constitution guarantees the right to accessible and adequate housing. This right has been interpreted in two cases by the High Court to include protection against forced evictions. However, the government is yet to put in place a legal framework to govern how evictions are carried out.

Informal settlements are full of people who work hard to make the city run, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy of the city. We want to make our capital into a great city, but also a human city, developed for all its people. We are calling for housing bill that clearly prohibits forced evictions to be passed.

With rapid urbanisation, this housing crisis will only increase in African cities. In just fourteen more years from now, Africa will reach a remarkable landmark; more Africans will live in a city or a town than a village. We will be an urban continent. Is our government ready to work with us to beat that challenge?

A full version of this article was first published in Daily Nation, Kenya. Click here to view it.