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.

Africa's Human Rights Scandal

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

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.

Research mission to Chad uncovers heartbreak from broken homes

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

Amnesty International researchers just completed a research mission to Chad to investigate the recent mass housing demolitions and forced evictions being conducted by Chadian authorities.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission:

“We are broken, just like our houses.”

Those heartbreaking words were shared with us by a woman describing the agonizing days that led to the destruction of her home, alongside the homes of hundreds of her neighbors, in one of the many parts of N’Djamena that have been cruelly razed to the ground over the past two months.

We are broken.

And what we heard from her and from so many others did tell anguished stories of broken lives, broken lives that people are now rebuilding with tremendous courage and determination.

We have been to about 15 different sites over the past three days and are getting a sense that this ‘human drama’, as one neighborhood leader termed it, has likely effected more than 50,000 people. They come from so many different backgrounds: impoverished and middle class; opposition supporters and civil servants; men and women; young and old; fearful and outspoken.

That has perhaps been the most difficult aspect to understand in the midst of this tragedy – who has been targeted and why? There seems to be no answer. And the fact that there is no clear answer has, in many respects, compounded the sense of injustice and fearfulness. It has shattered any confidence and trust people had in their government. It has left people feeling that they could be next. And that what comes next could be the loss of their home, or any other arbitrary abuse or act of violence.

As another woman put it to me, “I no longer feel like I’m a Chadian.” I recall hearing very similar words from people throughout eastern Chad in late 2006, who felt utterly and completely abandoned by their government as Janjawid attacks rolled across the border from Darfur.

Two things are clear. The first is that destroying homes has in fact destroyed lives. Not only have people lost their shelter, sometimes it is the home their family has lived in for decades. Beyond shelter, livelihoods have been shattered, as seamstresses, ironworkers, hairdressers, mechanics and so many others have lost their businesses. Beyond shelter and livelihoods, children’s futures are now desperately at risk. Many are now separated from their parents and are no longer able to school.

The second is the timing of this rampage. Close to 2 weeks after rebels came close to capturing N’Djamena, the Chadian government declared a state of emergency here on February 14th, and extended it through to March 15th. And it is precisely during those four weeks that the government launched the evictions and destructions. At a time when rights had been suspended and the rule of law was in disarray. At a time when people felt they had no right to speak out or complain. At a time when people in N’Djamena needed a greater sense of security and protection from their government. That is instead when authorities here chose to increase the fear and instability that continues to haunt this country.

Amidst the broken lives, we have spoken with many determined men and women who are organizing to respond to this injustice. Crisis committees and neighborhood committees have been established. People are working to document the extent of their losses. They have begun to petition government ministers. They are looking to lawyers and human rights groups for assistance.

And they very much hope that the rest of the world will put pressure on the Chadian government to right the terrible wrongs that have happened here. We have assured them we will stand alongside them in that struggle.

>> Read more from the Amnesty International Chad mission blog

Documenting Housing Demolitions for Dummies

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

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad.

New report documents housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, Chad. Photo credit goes to Patrick Fort/AFP/Getty Images.

A few days ago we published a new report on housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Here is a little background info about how to conduct such a project.

1. Becoming aware of the problem
In my case, that meant reading the news. IRIN published an article this past January, describing the frightening scale of housing demolitions in N’Djamena. A few weeks before, Amnesty International had published a comprehensive report on human rights violations in connection with the attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. It included a chapter on housing demolitions and forced evictions. This is the key passage for me in the report:

Official figures from the N’Djaména municipal government state that 1,798 compounds were destroyed in 11 different neighbourhoods. It would appear however that there were evictions beyond those 11 neighborhoods. For example, Amnesty International documented extensive housing destruction in the neighbourhood of Farcha, which does not appear on the list of neighbourhoods provided to Amnesty International delegates by municipal officials. (…) The municipal government’s figures are clearly inadequate. Beyond the incomplete figure of 1,798 compounds destroyed in 11 neighbourhoods, no official figures have been gathered. There are no figures indicating the number of buildings in each compound and no information as to how many people lived in each house and/or compound.

Now compare a Human Rights Watch press release (yes, these are two different documents):

According to documents from the office of the mayor of N’Djamena obtained by Human Rights Watch, municipal authorities destroyed 1,798 homes in 11 neighborhoods in the capital during the 30-day state of emergency that ended on March 15. Human Rights Watch saw hundreds of demolished structures in two neighborhoods in the capital that were not included in the official figures, making it likely that the total number of homes destroyed exceeds 2,000. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 10,000 people have been left homeless by the mass evictions. Many of those Chadians who fled N’Djamena following the February coup attempt returned to find that their homes had been destroyed.

2. Analyzing satellite images
In order to provide some of the missing information described in the above quoted excerpts, we ordered satellite images from N’Djamena from 3 different points in time: January 2008, November 2008 and January 2009. We compared and analyzed the images and thus clearly documented the shocking pace of housing demolitions: In a 12-month period, the government had demolished 3,700 homes and businesses, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

3. Sending in the research troops
While the satellite images could provide us with hard numbers of homes demolished, they could not tell us which demolitions were clearly illegal. Our investigators on the ground gathered additional evidence, took photographs and collected testimonies. For example, they learned that the residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 had lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease, pending a final decision. Despite this order, the mayor of N’Djamena continued to demolish the houses.

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Abakar Sakin, who has lost his motorcycle business in N'Djamena. (c) AI

Another story our researchers collected is about two business owners: Abakar Sakin, a motorcycle mechanic, and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako, an auto mechanic, had operated their businesses in the 6th block in the neighborhood of Farcha for 25 years and 23 years respectively. Abakar Sakin employed four others and Ibrahim Abdulayhe Bulako employed five. They were given less than 48 hours notice before their homes, where they operated their businesses, would be destroyed. They lost everything associated with their trades and have received no compensation.

4. Publishing the Results and Taking Action
The analysis of the satellite images combined with on the ground investigations allowed us to show a very clear – and distressing – picture of the scale of housing demolitions and forced evictions in N’Djamena. Our brief report (pdf) gives a good summary of our findings, and you can also find more information on the Science for Human Rights project’s website. And if you feel as angry as me about this outrageous human rights violation, let the Chadian government know.

Extreme Makeover Needed in Chad: Government Kicks Tens of Thousands Out of Their Homes

This is the the first posting in the Forced Evictions in Africa Series
Click on image to see full graphic:
Demolished houses in N'Djamena. Despite a court order to cease the demolitions, the mayor continued with the demolitions. Click on image to see full graphic. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Produced by AIUSA.

Demolished houses in the neigborhood of Chagoua 2 in N'Djamena. Despite a court order to cease the demolitions, the mayor continued with the demolitions. Click on image to see full graphic. © 2009 Digital Globe. All Rights Reserved. Produced by AIUSA.


Authorities in Chad have demolished 3,700 homes and businesses in the capital city N’Djamena, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. We have exposed the pace of housing demolitions – which can only be described as shocking – in a groundbreaking new research project. Instead of giving up after Chadian officials provided us with inadequate figures last year, we turned to the power of satellite technology to put hard numbers behind the scale of destruction. On the ground research confirmed that many of the housing demolitions were in fact illegal and in violation of both Chadian and international law. But let’s not forget that behind these hard numbers and facts are human beings who are now standing before the rubble of their belongings and livelihoods. As a Chadian women – whose family home was destroyed in the neighborhood of Farcha – pointedly described to us: “We are broken – just like our homes”.

Wave of demolitions in wake of armed attack
The first wave of demolitions immediately followed an armed attack by armed opposition groups on N’Djamena in February 2008. Government forces responded to the attack by bombing the areas from which they believed the opposition forces were attacking. Hundreds of civilians were killed or injured and more than 50,000 fled the capital to seek refuge in neighboring Cameroon. The government of Chad – supported by France – regained control of N’Djaména and opposition forces retreated toward Sudan. On 22 February 2008, Chadian President Idriss Déby himself issued a decree authorizing the destruction of what were called illegally constructed buildings and structures. The first decree applied to two neighborhoods of N’Djamena. However, the destruction was later extended into other residential neighborhoods and houses were still being demolished in late July 2009. Many people remain at risk of being forcibly evicted. Most of the forced evictions have been carried out by the security forces. They order people to leave their properties and bar any residents who are not at home from returning. Some families were evicted by the government in direct contempt of court orders prohibiting their removal. For example, residents in the neighborhood of Chagoua 2 lodged a complaint in court, which ruled that planned demolitions should cease pending a final decision by the court. Despite this order, Mahamat Zène Bada, the mayor of N’Djamena, continued to demolish structures in that neighborhood.

Mme Dibie, aged 75, with neighbors in front of the ruins of her home in Farcha, N'Djamena. She had lived there for more than 42 years and supported herself by selling local beverages. © Amnesty International

Mme Dibie, aged 75, with neighbors in front of the ruins of her home in Farcha, N'Djamena. She had lived there for more than 42 years and supported herself by selling local beverages. © Amnesty International

Extreme Makeover Needed
Only a clear policy reversal by the Chadian government can stop the pace of housing demolitions in Chad. So far, the government of Chad has evidently failed its legal obligations: It neither consulted with the affected communities, nor provided proper compensation. The Déby government is doing what it wants with its own citizens and continues to kick people out of their homes. I have my doubts that the government will change its policy from one day to the next, and I believe the international community has a clear responsibility to protest the demolitions and forced evictions. Where are France, the US, the UN, the AU and the EU on this issue? If they remain silent on this blatant crime, more homes and lives will be broken in Chad.