By Susanne Trachsel
They are called favelas in
According to the United Nations, in 2001, 921 million people were living in slums. These neighbourhoods host 78.2% of the urban population of the poorest countries. These slums bring shadow over the images of the cities and the chic neighbourhoods.
In Zimbabwe, 700 000 people living in slums found themselves homeless after authorities’ operations “Get Rid of the Garbage” and “Rehabilitate Order” took place (UN Habitat:2005). Motivated by the government’s concern over establishing order in the chaotic urban areas, these expulsions and destructions violated international laws. In fact, these actions were largely denounced by international communities and organisations, such as the UN.
The uproar brought by the destruction of the slums in
The authorities of the city of
Curiously, some residents of the swampy areas possess documents signed by the subprefect of the city and stamped by the
A previous high-ranker in the state’s administration, to whom we promised anonymity, explains that “These documents are not worth a thing, they are even illegal”. Nonetheless, Mr. Bedengue has paid property taxes during fifteen years before the State destroyed his house, which he built with his lifetime savings.
According to Mike Davis, author of the article Planet of Slums, “The local and national political machines usually tolerate illegal housing as long as it can generate profit.” This situation can easily be explained in a country that ranks number six in the list of most corrupted countries in the world (Transparency International 2005).
During the last International Day for human shelters, asserted by the United Nations on every first Monday of October, Kofi Annan declared that “Slums are the result of misguided public policies …destructions and evictions are not solutions ». According to the previous high-ranking state employee we interviewed, it is “…the non-existence of a planning culture and lack of political willingness that explains the existence of these neighbourhoods in
The members of the Bendegue family now live in front of their little business, outside, in a shelter made out of a plastic shield. Every day, they ask their neighbor for water. Mr. Bendegue has tried to explain his situation to the authorities through letters, but has never received an answer. With resignation, he tells me “The State is like God, the State is a force, when the State decides, whether it is right or wrong, it takes action. The State destroys its population.”
Not knowing where to go, Justin has decided to build a shelter at the very same place where the bulldozers destroyed his house: “What do you want me to do, with my kids, I have no job, I have no money…my house is everything I had. I know they will come back to evict me again.” Where will Justin and his family then go? “I don’t know. My house is my grave. »
To legitimize the destruction of the slums in the swampy areas, Cameroon’s authorities remind us that the first role of a State is to protect its citizens. But when it comes to the hundreds of people that are thrown out on the streets by this same State, it is the respect of the law that becomes the legitimizing argument. While all of these political games are going on, hundreds of families have no shelter and are deprived of their fundamental human right and basic need, without any voice to denounce their situation.
I never went back to see if Justin and his family were still living in what used to be their neighborhood, and which has now become a « no man’s land »…