Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 14 - May 2016
International Developments

Right to the City in Africa

JOHANNESBURG—“This is what I have dreamed of for a long time,” said TJ Ngongoma of Abahlali baseMjondolo. TJ was referring to a pan-African people’s movement of struggling inhabitants and activists on the continent seeking to transform local politics as we know it. That movement advanced at the end of 2015 with a regional meeting on the Right to the City.

The Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C) is promoting debate around the concept and implementation of the Right to the City from the perspective of every region. In Johannesburg, South Africa, on 28 November 2015, GPR2C organized a regional meeting at University of the Witwatersrand hosted by the university’s Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies (CUBES).

Around 60 participants joined the event, representing Angola, Benin, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, as well as Brazil, Italy, France and England. They came from different fields of work—social movement representatives, academics, human rights defenders, public authorities, NGOs and others.

Following an introduction by GPR2C Coordinator Nelson Saule Junior, of PÓLIS Institute (Brazil), South Africa Deputy Minister of Human Settlements Mme. Zou Kota-Fredericks addressed the conference, delivering a message of solidarity and sharing the common 8-point position of African states toward Habitat III.

Habitat III formed a key organizing opportunity at the Africa Regional Meeting, with HIC-HLRN’s Joseph Schechla presenting a GPR2C vision for Habitat III. Barbara Lipietz of University College London’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) shared the outcome of research on the Habitat III national reporting process, which revealed consistent gaps in the intended participatory process and the evaluative content of national reporting on Habitat II implementation. The DPU’s study also reviewed the national reports for content to support the Right to the City.

As Schechla explained, “Habitat III poses an important global organizing and advocacy opportunity for operationalizing human rights in the urban context; however, the Global Platform’s goals are also to build the movement, generate and exchange knowledge, and to achieve local transformation toward realizing the Right to the City.”

Knowledge creation was the purpose of research carried out by GPR2C constituents in an earlier phase through case studies from Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East (full text available here). Additional research products are expected to fill gaps and develop further the concepts enshrined in the 2005 Global Charter on the Right to the City. [Arabic]

Lessons learned from the day’s plenary and break-out group discussion included two consistent messages: (1) the apparent territorial scope of the Right to the City needs to be more inclusive on nonurban areas to be relevant to Africa and (2) African social movements and their supporters already have well-developed understanding and local experience in the principles contained in the Right to the City concept.

The GPR2C event came at a strategic moment, just before local governments and local authorities convened at Johannesburg for the 7th AfriCities Summit 2015, giving participants a chance also to bring their message into the broader discussions under the summit’s theme: “Shaping the Future of Africa with the People.”

Speaking in the civil society forum on “How to Learn and Implement the Right to the City - Building Democratic and Sustainable Cities” within the AfriCities conference, Pat Horn, coordinator of Streetnet International, a Johannesburg-based entity advocating the rights of workers in the informal economy, emphasizes the importance of enforcing the Right to the City in Africa. “We are not yet seeing the practical application of the inclusive urban policies and participatory processes that African mayors spoke about at the UCLG Congress at Rabat [Morocco] in October 2013,” she reminded.

With the coordination of PÓLIS Institute and Habitat International Coalition, the GPR2C Africa region’s participants have formed a follow-up committee to finalize the report of the meeting and begin work on an Africa-wide declaration on the Right to the City. Beyond this articulation of the Right to the City concept in Africa, its practical realization remains a work in progress.


Download the Johannesburg program.

Photos of the meeting

For further information, contact:

Global Platform for the Right to The City




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