Angola’s Contrasts: Forced Evictions and Billionaires

Angola housing eviction

In 2009, as many as 15,000 people were believed to have been made homeless in forced evictions on the southern peripheries of Luanda. The string of land clearances were an effort to make way for gated condominiums and shopping centres. (Photo: LOUISE REDVERS/AFP/Getty Images)

Angola celebrated a milestone when it was revealed in early January as home to Africa’s first female billionaire. While at first this seems like a “You go girl!” moment, the reality is the woman is the daughter of President dos Santos and she had a little help along the way via corruption and nepotism. Less than a month later, Amnesty International learned the government of Angola is once again forcibly evicting citizens in the capital of Luanda. How are these two events related?

There is a severe wealth dichotomy in Angola, where most citizens subsist on $2 dollars a day with limited access to safe housing, running water, electrical services, and adequate healthcare. Conversely, a small percentage of the population is benefitting from the oil and diamond resource boom, accumulating vast personal fortunes. Accompanying this is a demand for luxury housing and high rise office buildings. The government has long engaged in a campaign of violent forcible evictions to make way for these new buildings, destroying the homes of the most vulnerable citizens in the process.

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Top Ten Reasons to Write for Rights

Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.

In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.

Those are some pretty amazing reasons to participate, but in case you need more, here are my top ten reasons to Write for Rights: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Slumming it in Angola

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

A woman sits in the ruins of houses destroyed in the Cambamba neighbourhoods of Luanda, Angola to make room for a luxury housing complex.

Luanda, Angola hosted World Habitat Day last year. UN Habitat’s Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka called upon President dos Santos to allocate 10% of Angola’s oil income to upgrading vital social services such as housing, plumbing, clean water and electricity and praised Angola’s stated commitment toward a slum revitalization program. Approximately 85% of Angolans live in slum conditions surrounding major cities.

In response, President dos Santos stated his government was waging “a sustained war against chaotic urbanization.” I would agree with that analysis. It certainly looks like a battleground when armed forces enter a neighborhood, raze houses, evict families and destroy their homes and belongings. Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented the forcible eviction of more than 10,000 persons from slum dwellings in Angola, often accompanied by violence including police indiscriminately firing their weapons and beating women and children. And the reason why these evictions have occurred? To facilitate urban development projects and the construction of luxury housing.

In April 2009, Angola announced the creation of a special fund to build one million houses over the next four years. That’s great. But three months later in July, three thousand families were forcibly evicted from the Luanda neighborhoods of Iraque and Bagdad, utterly demolishing homes and possessions.

“Armed police, soldiers and presidential guards arrived in both neighbourhoods at 3am on 20 July and ordered people out of their homes before bulldozers began to demolish the houses. The residents stood and watched as their homes were being demolished. Some of those who tried to stop the demolitions were beaten.”

Well, that’s a little awkward Mr. dos Santos. You say you are following up on your campaign commitment to provide housing because you are concerned about social unrest and then you have your government thugs throw families into the street in the middle of the night in winter, beating them up when they try to salvage a portion of their possessions and dignity. Seems like you might want to consider building those houses at a faster pace than the ones you are tearing down.

Help Human Rights Live in Angola. Stand Up Against Forced Evictions in Africa. Take action now.

Nairobi River Clean-up Could Leave More than 100,000 Kenyans Homeless

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

A boy stands in a polluted water course that runs through Soweto East, one of the many villages in Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya. March 2009 © 2009

A boy stands in a polluted water course that runs through Soweto East, one of the many villages in Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya. March 2009 © AI

Nairobi is the world headquarters for both the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat), which are responsible for promoting green development, sustainable cities and adequate shelter for all. Yet these agencies’ presence hasn’t prevented the widespread pollution of the Nairobi River Basin or the growth of Kibera into the 2nd largest slum in Africa. More than one million people live in Kibera, crowded onto just 550 acres of land, most living in tin shacks without electricity or access to basic services like toilets and clean water.

The Kenyan government, UN Habitat and UNEP have developed ambitious plans to clean up the polluted Nairobi River Basin and restore its damaged ecosystem in order to improve the quality of life for city residents.  There’s only one problem: about 127,000 people have settled there. Kibera residents live in uncertainty – they hear rumors that they may be forced out of their homes near the river any day, but they don’t know when it will happen.

Benson has lived near the banks of the Nairobi River in Kibera for 15 years. He runs a small kiosk and his 7 kids attend a neighborhood school.  If the government evicts him, he will lose not only his home and all his possessions, but also his business and his children will no longer have access to education.

Benson’s fears are not unwarranted.  In recent years, more than 20,000 Nairobi residents have been forcibly evicted from their homes, often with little advance notice.  Their homes were demolished and they were left homeless, without compensation or relocation to other neighborhoods.  In July 2009, the Kenyan government evicted more than 3,000 people living Githogoro Village and destroyed their homes. Left without shelter or assistance, many were forced to sleep out in the open by the ruins.

Why doesn’t the Kenyan government come to Kibera to explain the Nairobi River Basin project to its residents, inform them of the timeline for relocation, and help them move to alternative homes in other, less environmentally sensitive areas of the city?  Isn’t that better than forcing them out and leaving them homeless without livelihoods?

Tell President Kibaki that the people of Kibera deserve dignity. The government should adopt eviction guidelines that respect human rights laws, hold genuine consultations with affected communities, identify alternatives to evictions and develop a comprehensive relocation and compensation plan.

By Ann Corbett, AIUSA Kenya Country Specialist

Nigeria: Destroying Homes to Build Cinemas

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

Since 2000, the Nigerian government has forcibly evicted approximately two million people from their homes throughout the country. An estimated 800,000 people have been removed from their homes in Abuja alone since 2003.

A woman resident carrying her child picks up wood from the rubble of demolished houses in the Chika area of Abuja, Nigeria, 6 December 2005.(c) George Osodi

A woman resident carrying her child picks up wood from the rubble of demolished houses in the Chika area of Abuja, Nigeria, 6 December 2005.(c) George Osodi

Do these statistics shock you? Sadly, the story doesn’t end here.

In April 2005, approximately 3,000 people lost their homes after the government sent in bulldozers to demolish houses, churches and medical clinics in the Makoko neighborhood of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Between May and July 2008 forced evictions took place on an almost weekly basis in Lagos, with some communities facing their third forced eviction.

Miriam Usman, 30, gave birth in Makoko in late April 2005, only days after the bulldozers razed the community. This is what she told Amnesty:

My baby boy is four days old. I delivered him here after my house had been demolished. Only my mother was here to help me, and the boy has not seen a doctor or nurse yet. My husband [has] run away after the bulldozers came in on Thursday. Now I spend the nights in the class rooms in the school with many other families. I have no money.

As recently as August 2009, the local government in Rivers State, in the troubled region of the Niger Delta, forcibly evicted thousands of people, to make space for a cinema complex! These people have received no adequate alternative housing, and thousands more remain at risk of similar forced eviction and destitution.

In 2006, Nigeria was named one of the three worst violators of housing rights in the world by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. Thousands of people remain at risk of future forced evictions. The Nigeria government needs to know that we are watching and won’t stay quiet as these atrocities keep occurring.

By Juliette Rousselot, AIUSA Africa Program

Where Do Human Rights Live in Zimbabwe?

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

A seven-year-old boy cries after the destruction of his family home at Porta Farm, Harare, Zimbabwe, June 2005. © Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Seven hundred thousand people. That is the number of people forcibly evicted from their homes and business over a three month period in 2005. This is the equivalent of bulldozing the entire city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Seem incomprehensible? Seem reprehensible? Think something should be done about it?  We think so to.

Between May and July 2005, the government of Zimbabwe orchestrated Operation Murambatsvina; a slum clearance program touted by officials as necessary to decrease rising urban populations by requiring people to return to rural areas. In reality, the purpose was to disperse members of political opposition parties and disrupt their ability to organize. Houses and informal businesses were bulldozed, leaving people with nowhere to live and no way to earn a living.

Currently, thousands of informal traders continue to face forcible eviction as the government targets vendor stalls in Harare for demolition. Unemployment in Zimbabwe remains near 90%. These market stalls provide goods at a price affordable by the populace and generate necessary income for those unable to work in the formal sector. The mayor of Harare defended these actions by claiming the stalls were a health hazard and violated city regulations.

As we continue a week commemorating World Habitat Day, Amnesty International calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to cease the harassment of informal traders, discontinue the egregious practice of forcible evictions which violate Zimbabwe’s obligations under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and provide restitution to those it has previously displaced. Join Amnesty International in its effort to assure that Human Rights Live Here.

Forcible Evictions of HIV-positive Families in Cambodia

Yesterday morning, the Cambodian government forcibly evicted about 20 families living with HIV/AIDS from their homes in Borei Keila and resettled them at Tuol Sambo, a resettlement site just outside the capital, Phnom Penh. The site lacks clean water and electricity and has limited access to medical services. Evicted families were compensated with inadequate housing at the site and 50 kilograms of rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, water jars and US$250, but they were warned that anyone who did not comply with the move would not receive compensation. A human rights worker present during the transition described the families as despondent and noted that those who are ill were exhausted by the move.

When Amnesty International visited the site – in a semi-rural area where houses are built from green metal sheets – villagers in the vicinity saw it as a place for HIV/AIDS victims. The evicted families expressed fears that being forced to live in this separate, distinct location will bring more discrimination and stigmatization than they already are forced to deal with because of their status as HIV-positive.

Forced evictions are a tactic Cambodia has employed more and more often, and this is not the first time the Cambodian government has taken this sort of action against people living with HIV-AIDS. In March 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh resettled an additional 32 families living with HIV/ AIDS against their will in temporary green, corrugated-metal shelters in appalling conditions to make way for the construction of a number of new houses. The families believe that the authorities are discriminating against them because of their HIV status.