Sub-Saharan Africa Should Control Forced Evictions to Fight Extreme Poverty

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch published a report revealing that over 20,000 people would have been forcibly evicted in Conakry between February and May 2019. Bulldozers and other heavy machinery demolished the buildings to free the land for government ministries, foreign embassies, businesses, and other public works. “The Guinean government hasn’t just demolished homes, it has damaged peoples’ lives and livelihoods,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch in a press release.

Forced evictions are, however, not exclusive to Guinea. Demolitions and evictions throughout the national territory, without guarantee of rehousing to all those concerned, have become an ongoing issue in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, vendors were evicted from downtown Accra in 2010 and a project to redevelop the rail system around the country with the support of the Chinese government in 2013, led to more evictions. In Cameroon, 300 indigenous people were evicted using bulldozers to expand the Catholic University in Bamenda in 2014.

 In August 2013, President Alassane Ouattara’s plan to build the Abidjan-Grand-Bassam highway and the plan to embellish the littoral led the economic capital Abidjan to massive evictions. Ever since then, there has been an increase in the speed and frequency of residence destruction. Their main targets are local markets and marginalized neighbourhoods.

Bruno Koné, Minister of Construction, Housing and Urbanisation in Côte d’Ivoire, announced on March 15th, 2019, that the government would demolish several “precarious districts” in the capital city and will not allow the people to be part of the rehabilitation project. Abidjan has about 5 million inhabitants, in which 1,2 million live in 132 of those “precarious districts”. These districts are located in what are considered risk areas due to their vulnerability to foods during the rainy season; where 20 people perished a few years ago.

Evictions and social inequalities

The mentioned evictions have affected the lowest strata of the population. The impact of this effect is so low that its economic figure is not evident in the country’s Gross Domestic Product. This lack of economic evidence could be a reason for the absence of governments’ actions on these evictions.

Evictions have been used since the colonial times in the African continent as a way to control urbanization. Under French’s colonial rule, land registration and titling were imposed by law. For Ocheje (2007), there are three reasons to explain the growth frequency of these massive evictions over the years: inappropriate planning laws of colonial origin, corruption and failure of development, and land reforms.

According to a report by Oxfam, “the wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined”. Today, 6 out of the 10 fastest growing-economies in Africa are in West Africa. However, inequalities rifle as governments do little to nothing to tackle them and fight extreme poverty. In the same study, the NGO observes that “inequality and poverty are not preordained: they are the products of political choices and public policy”.

When governments fail to provide alternative accommodation or compensation to the displaced communities, they are not only violating international human rights law but also deepening the social gap between the rich and the poor, plus reinforcing inequality. As explained by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “forced evictions intensify inequality, social conflict, segregation and ‘ghettoization’, and invariably affect the poorest”. For Leticia Osorio, Coordinator of the Americas Programme at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, “to work against forced evictions is to work for the protection of housing rights, as well as for social inequalities”.

A girl stands in a house after it has been demolished in Vridi-Port-Bouet, Abidjan, in 2015 © Isabel Bonnet

 

‘The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.’

– Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

 

 

 

Absence of land rights

Land rights have been used as a means of discrimination around the world on the basis of socio-economic and gender conditions. Communities at the lowest social hierarchy are less likely to have land rights than those on the upper-class.

In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, titling and registration exist but it is not commonly known. Over 30,000 titles had been granted by 1970 in urban areas. In Abidjan, a person needs the equivalent of over 7 minimal wages (55.82€ per month) to afford the average 1-bedroom apartment price (432.02€). In Amsterdam, the average rent price of a 1-bedroom apartment (1,129€) is worth 0.69 minimal wage (1635.60€ per month).

In 2017, the Work Bank established the $50 million Cote d’Ivoire Land Policy Improvement and Implementation Project, which aims to establish a land tenure program to improve the land use and property rights registration.

Violation of international human rights

In 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Watch unanimously adopted a resolution which states that “forced evictions are a gross violation of human rights, in particular, the right to adequate housing” (Resolution 1993/77). As explained by Amnesty International Ghana, ”the evictors often do not use ethical mechanisms when executing the eviction orders; they use force, demolish evictees household assets, it is generally planned, formulated and unannounced”.

For the OHCHR, each person who has been forcibly displaced has the fundamental right to resettlement and the right for legal actions against the State if they claim their right to protection against forced evictions has been violated. Evictions should be authorized by law, carried out in accordance with international human rights law. They should also be undertaken solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare, reasonable and proportional, and regulated so as to ensure full and fair compensation and rehabilitation.

Some politicians have used evictions as a campaign strategy. “All those who were evicted will be relocated”, promised the Koumassi (Abidjan) mayor Cissé Bacongo, elected in October 2018. Unfortunately, the promises have not been fulfilled. Because the OHCHR guidelines on forced evictions remain the only written rules and regulations about the topic, there is no national policy preventing these governments from violating international humanitarian law during forced evictions.

View of the Abidjan-Grand Bassam highway after the evictions and demolition of houses in 2015. © Isabel Bonnet

Solutions

In Cameroon, a petition created by the Zero Eviction Campaign offers some solutions that would involve tax reductions on real estate transactions relating to social housing programs, reduction of personal contribution requirements for victims of eviction, and establishment of monthly and long-term payment schemes to ease the financial burden on them.