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The challenge of sustainable upscaling of informal settlement upgrading in East Africa¡¨

1. Introduction
On 11th July 2012, the University of Nairobi, School of the Built Environment, in collaboration with partners organized a regional Conference to explore approaches and share lessons on sustainable up-scaling of informal settlements upgrading in East Africa. With only an estimated 23.5 per cent of the population living in urban areas, East Africa remains the least urbanized subregion in Africa. The urban population in East Africa is highly varied but overall experiencing one of the highest growth rates in the world. It varies from a low of less than 10% in Rwanda to 40 % in Kenya. What is notable is the generally high percent of the urban population living in informal settlements, around 65 per cent. Furthermore the rate of growth of urban slums in the region is among the highest in the world at around 5 percent.

UN-HABITAT reports that the proportion of the urban population living in slums in the developing world declined from 39 per cent (2000) to an estimated 32 per cent (2010) as Governments and International Agencies have taken steps to counter the expansion of existing slums, prevent growth of new ones as well as improve the lives of those living in informal settlements. However, Eastern Africa is among the regions lagging behind in curbing the growth of slums and improving the living conditions of slum dwellers while Asia leads the pack in best practice. Urban areas in East Africa are plagued by seemingly ever-increasing unemployment rates, residential overcrowding, and deterioration of already over stretched infrastructure and services, high infant mortalities and violation of basic human rights, environmental degradation and acute housing shortages.

Over the last decade, Governments in East Africa together with development partners have adopted numerous policies and initiated several programs geared towards slum upgrading. In the respective countries, several donor funded NGOs have also undertaken small scale upgrading projects within the slums complementing the efforts of Governments and Municipalities. However, despite the many initiatives little progress seems to have been made leaving the question ¡§Where are we going wrong or what are we not doing¡¨?
In view of the already challenging conditions noted above the conference was convened to explore approaches and share lessons on sustainable up-scaling of informal settlements upgrading in the region. The conference which was held at Panafric Hotel, Nairobi was attended by over 100 participants representing Government and Municipal institutions, Universities, Civil Society and Local Communities drawn from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

2. Conference Objectives

This conference had the following objectives:
1. Share approaches/methodologies for informal settlement upgrading through case studies, examine strengths and weaknesses, and identify successful ways of up-scaling.
2. Explore opportunities and challenges presented by the national constitutions and policies for Implementation of informal settlement upgrading.
3. Develop guidelines, principles and indicators for measuring impacts of implementing sustainable informal settlement upgrading.
3. Conference Activities

The Conference was officially opened by Mr. Tirop Kosgey, PS, Ministry of Housing, Republic of Kenya, represented by Ms. Leah Muraguri, Director KENSUP, while Dr. James Nyoro, Director, Rockefeller foundation Africa, Prof. Tom Anyamba, Dean, School of the Built Environment, and Prof. Peter Ngau, Director, Centre for Urban Research and Innovations, University of Nairobi made the opening statements. One of the highlight of the opening session was the launch of the Mathare Zonal Plan prepared by the residents of Mathare Informal Settlement in collaboration with

The conference was organized into three major sessions: Session 1, Slum upgrading approaches: lessons and experiences; Session 2, New opportunities presented by national constitutions and policies for implementation of informal settlement upgrading; and Session 3, Group discussions - towards sustainable informal settlement upgrading. Sessions 1 and 2 were organized around panels to enable sharing of approaches and lessons on diverse informal settlement upgrading initiatives in the region. The first session had three panels examining contributions from Governments and Municipalities, Universities, and Communities and civil societies. The second session had one panel with representatives from Government, Civil Society, Universities and informal settlement communities and youth. In the final session, all participants contributed insights and lessons from conference and practice on the way forward. Running concurrently with the conference were interviews with key delegates from the region.

4. Conference Resolutions

The following are the key resolutions emanating from the conference:
1.  Acknowledging that East Africa¡¦s future is unquestionably urban there is urgent need for Governments, Municipalities and stakeholders to urgently reverse the negative phenomenon and inhuman conditions presented by informal settlements in the region¡¦s rapidly growing urban areas.
In this regard, Governments, Municipalities, Research Institutions, civil society and urban communities need to take responsibility for slum upgrading and reduction squarely on their shoulders, backing international commitments with bold policy reforms, and thwarting future slum growth with inclusive planning and economic strategies.
2. Adoption of innovative approaches in tackling the dynamic issues within the region¡¦s emerging urban areas.
Urban spaces in the existing and emerging urban areas need to be approached in a more local contextualized way to build on the local community assets and social capital. Professionals involved in facilitating upgrading and development programmes need to embrace innovative approaches, skills and technologies, including negotiation, and partnership¡Vbuilding to address issues in the present and future cities in the region. Universities and professional associations in the region need to .reengineer planning and design education and practice to realize livable cities¡¦ through inclusive practice, action research and extension.
3. Concerted implementation of progressive policies for informal settlement upgrading.
The conference emphasized the urgent need to review existing housing policies and programmes to align them with new Constitutions and international conventions Participatory approaches should be adopted whereby all stakeholders would collaborate on the development and review of local policies that would address the community needs. It was realized that there are no proper indicators to monitor the implementation of policies and programmes thus it was suggested there should be agreed indicators developed via current baseline surveys and situational analysis. It was underscored that there is need for human indicators, beyond the conventional technical indicators if human progress is to be attained within informal settlements interventions. In addition, upgrading projects should embrace negotiated standards to ensure affordability and avoid rapid gentrification. Finally, transparency should be enhanced to stem adverse vested interests and the slow enactment of legal and institutional processes by the government.
4. Building synergy in partnership for informal settlement upgrading.
It was underscored that though there are various stakeholders involved in slum upgrading and up-scaling initiatives and investment, there seemed to be a disconnect among them. It was therefore said that there was a great need for synergy of all those concerned i.e. Governments, Municipalities, private sector, NGOs, Universities, and the communities as they all share a common goal at the end of the day.
5. Visionary leadership and good governance in the management of emerging urban areas in East Africa.
Lack of visionary leadership and accountability on the part of leaders was identified as the greatest obstacle to development, including informal settlement upgrading in East Africa. The countries have developed policies but policy implementation is often lacking. One community representatives from the Mathare slums said that the people in informal settlements lacked faith in their political leaders as there was no significant improvement in their housing and living conditions. An example is the National Housing Corporation (NHC) in Kenya whose programs are not pro-poor with senior officers allocating themselves and friends multiple houses. The Director of Housing from Rwanda, citing successes in his own country, said that good governance was at the centre of all their initiatives and that whenever there is a common direction emanating from the leadership itself, countries can never go wrong in policy implementation. In the case of Rwanda, leadership comes from the top straight down to the grassroots and there is no room for corruption and interference.
6. Broad collaboration of all urban actors and need for multi¡Vdisciplinary teams;
A new dimension of collaboration was brought about during the conference. It was clear that the urban areas and especially informal settlements have different actors who need to work together. In Makerere University Uganda, the Urban Action Lab, a research centre acts as a platform where issues affecting urban areas are discussed by the urban actors and solutions sought. The Centre for Urban Research and Innovation, University of Nairobi is providing similar forum in Kenya. Universities in other East Africa countries were encouraged to establish similar planning and design laboratories.
The importance of forming multi¡Vdisciplinary teams in addressing issues in 21st century urban areas was emphasized by Prof. Jason Corburn of University of California, Berkeley. He pointed out that urban planners and designers need to appreciate other disciplines like law, business, public health and sociology and constitute multi¡Vdisciplinary teams so as to plan while preserving the urban space complexities.
7.  Community led planning and development to address basic needs for infrastructure, housing, and livelihoods;
It emerged from the presentations that urban residents especially in informal settlements are experts of their environment, and therefore have innovative solutions to issues affecting them. The professional experts need to work with them to achieve sustainable results. In the case of Tanzania and Kenya, communities take part in visioning, planning and actual development; making construction materials and building of their houses.

5. Way Forward

The conference was without doubt a successful event, being the first of its kind in East Africa. The general feeling as the conference came to an end was that the East African region which has the highest proportion of people living informal settlements with the worst living conditions urgently need remedy of this dubious identity. It was further noted that countries in East Africa though they have popular visions for national development have extreme inequalities which make those visions unsustainable. A close look at successful countries shows their Governments and Municipalities have taken responsibility for slum reduction squarely on their shoulders and sustainable development must be people centred.

6. Further Information

In addition to the above highlights the conference organizers will be sharing proceedings from the conference in the coming days. Conference photos, interview clips and proceeding will soon be available in our website: We take this opportunity to sincerely thank our partners and all those who participated and supported the conference.

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