The idea for such a summit is laudable, considering the critical issues that will be discussed – issues that will continue to be key challenges for both Africa and U.S. policy towards the continent and as part of addressing the chronic need to raise educate the public about the realities of the different countries that make up Africa, unknown success stories and it’s untapped economic potential.
Unfortunately, unless a major change is made, the summit risks simply becoming an AU heads of state road trip with a photo-op at the end to confirm that they visited Washington before returning home.
Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).
Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.
This is how a man in Chad’s capital N’Djamena described to us the destruction of his home in February 2008:
I bought this place more than 38 years ago. On 29 February, some policemen and the people from the mayor’s office came and covered the walls in paint. They told us that we had six days to leave. When we asked them why, they said we did not have the right to ask questions because it was a state of emergency. We could not get together and talk about it among ourselves, it was forbidden. The residents took their personal belongings and left. Some of them who have money will not have any difficulty in renting another house, those without money will go to their village or to Cameroon.
Together with him, 52 other people who lived in his compound lost their home. In the whole city, tens of thousands have been made homeless by their own government.
Chadian authorities are not alone in this blatant abuse of human rights and international law. Across Africa – in what can only be described as a human rights scandal – hundreds of thousands of people each year are forcibly evicted. In many cases, this means being left homeless, losing one’s possessions without compensation and being denied access to sources of clean water, food, sanitation, livelihood or education.
Today is World Habitat Day, and many organizations like UN Habitat or Habitat for Humanity are raising awareness on issues of adequate housing and shelter. This year, Amnesty International is joining them by launching today its one year campaign to end forced evictions in Africa. We are specifically calling on the governments of Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to end the practice of forced evictions and to ensure compensation for victims. While I don’t think that hard numbers can capture the amount of human suffering that is created by forced evictions, here is a brief overview of the facts:
Angola: More than 10,000 families in Angola’s capital, Luanda, have been made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes since July 2001.
Chad: During the past two years, tens of thousands in Chad’s capital N’Djamena have been left homeless after being evicted by force and having had their homes demolished by the government.
Equatorial Guinea: About 1,000 families have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for roads, up-market housing and hotels and shopping centers since 2003.
Kenya: More than half of the capital city Nairobi’s population – two million people – live in informal settlements or slums where they have no security of tenure, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness.
Nigeria: More than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in different parts of Nigeria since 2000.
Zimbabwe: From May to July 2005, government security forces launched Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), a program of housing and informal business demolition that displaced approximately 700,000 people.
The phenomenon of forced evictions in Africa is a massive scandal that should be stopped immediately. As long as governments can force people from their homes without being held accountable, thousands of people remain at risk of forced evictions and of being stripped of their dignity.
PS: To see shocking satellite images of housing demolitions in Chad and Zimbabwe, check out our new Science for Human Rights website.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.