Beyond participation: SDI showcases partnership models at Afri-Cities Conference

The recent Afri-Cities conference was held in Dakar, Senegal and took place under the theme - ‘Building Africa from its territories: which challenges for local governments’. About 5 000 delegates from African cities and beyond converged in the coastal  city of Dakar to deliberate issues confronting modern cities guided by the conference’s theme.

The concept of territory in the theme referred to, among other things, exploring the role of Africa’s institutions and resources as major components for catalyzing the growth of the continent. In particular, the focus was centred on the local government sphere as a critical institutional space for mediating development processes. This year, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) was able to send a delegation consisting of 5 countries namely South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe accompanied by Mayors from cities where affiliates have established strong links. The 5 countries through the various presentations were able to highlight how they had escalated their engagement with their respective cities from the usual examples of participatory models to brokering of meaningful agreements and equal partnerships.

The session on ‘Strategies for people’s participation and citizenship’ saw Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe sharing experiences from their countries on the topic. The Zimbabwean delegation presented the Harare Slum Upgrading Project that is being jointly implemented with the City of Harare as an example of how a partnership had evolved out of slum improvement project. The presenters narrated how the relationship had evolved first through land allocations that supported community participation to more equal relationships grounded and firmed up with memorandums of agreements. In Harare, it was noted that the slum upgrading project  had not only improved the slum conditions but more significantly had provided a site to test alternative solutions to the challenges that slum dwellers face in slums. Construction of ecological sanitation units (ecosan toilets), for instance, under the project was one such alternative that the partners were able to pilot in the Dzivarasekwa Extension settlement where previously families had to content with pit-latrines. Besides testing practical solutions, the Harare Slum Upgrading Project has also enabled the City of Harare and the alliance of Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and Dialogue on Shelter to develop a slum upgrading strategy for the city, undertake a review of the building regulations and learn around the establishment of a city-wide pro-poor slum upgrading finance facility. For example, the upgrading strategy would now act as a protocol detailing a set of procedures for dealing with slums. On the other hand, the city-wide slum upgrading fund initiative was an important step in innovating joint funding mechanisms that combine city and communities resources. These activities were reported as significant milestones in addressing the systemic causes underlying the emergence of slums in the city.

In Ghana, the presenters from the alliance of Ghana Federation and People’s Dialogue related their interaction with local government indicating how this had birthed very strong partnerships. The Ghana experience centred on the Land, Services and Citizenship (LSC), a 3-year project targeting mobilization of savings groups, community infrastructure profiling and mapping and organization of city-wide forums. To date, the first phase of LSC has seen 18 slum settlements have been mapped and profiled in two cities and a memorandum of understanding signed with Ashaiman Municipal Assembly. A Project Implementation Team (PIT) has been set to jointly oversee the implementation of project activities. Municipal Assembly staff provide the technical assistance to anchor the profiling and mapping activities while local councillors support the Federation groups around community mobilization efforts. It is through such projects presented by the Ghana delegation that interactions with city governments have been changed from undertaking once-off projects were communities simply participate to carrying out partnership projects with enduring results that that alter relations as well as increasing the scope for going to scale.

Afri-CitiesThe SDI delegation from Uganda was supported by Mayor of Mbale, Presidential Advisor on Poverty Alleviation and the Commissioner of Urban Development from the local government ministry. In Uganda, central government , local governments and urban poor communities have been brought together around a project dubbed ‘Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU). Like their Ghanaian counterparts, TSUPU is also supported being by Cities Alliance and the project aims to establish urban forums at various tiers of government, develop city development strategies, undertaking mapping and enumeration of slums and setting up of community upgrading funds. The Ugandan presentation centered on the TSUPU project which is being undertaken in the cities of Mbale, Jinja, Arua, Mbarara and Kabale. In three of these cities, that is, Mbale, Jinja and Arua, MOUs have been signed with urban forums having been set up - which are community-wide development platforms that rally together all urban stakeholders. During the session, the Mayor of Mbale commended the Ugandan Alliance’s achievements and committed continued support for the Federation process. The next session in which SDI participated centred around the Know Your City Project (KYC) being supported by Cities Alliance and the panelists were from the Zambian Alliance, Lusaka City Council’s Director of Planning, Mayor of Kitwe, Mayor of Ndola, Mayor of Harare and the representatives from Burkina Faso. The Zambian presentation commenced with Lusaka Council outlining the background and context of slums in Lusaka. It was indicated that the Improvement Areas Act was piece of legislation that provided the necessary legal ingredients for upgrading as it set out the procedures for undertaking upgrading. Therefore, armed with such legislation, communities and local authorities had joined hands  in Zambia’s 2 major cities under the Know Your City Campaign to collect and document information that would feed into slum upgrading. An MOU had been signed between Lusaka City Council, Zambia Homeless People’s Federation and People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia earlier in 2012 and this helped to define the roles and vision of the partnership. The Zambian Federation reported that with support from Lusaka City Council they had been able to conduct profile, enumerations and mapping in slum areas like George Compound. A National Housing Forum had subsequently been convened to discuss the findings from these information gathering exercises and 3 slums had so far been declared improvement areas by government. It is through execution of these project activities jointly that the partnerships have engendered trust and confidence amongst the partners. Through this co-operation, urban communities from these slums have been given that chance to proffer solutions to their challenges and design sustainable strategies together with local government. 

These SDI sessions were capped with a presentation from Rose Molokoane during a political session on Africa’s Integration where she presented alongside the former presidents of Benin and Cape Verde. Rose stressed how SDI had shifted gears from participation to partnerships with local governments. She also emphasized that urban poor communities had a great deal of information which cities could use to transform slum settlements hence it was imperative to forge partnerships. Whilst African leaders had established the African Union, slum dwellers had also rallied together around their own African Union of the Urban Poor through the SDI network.