Meeting: “Towards a Pan-African network of inhabitants organizations”
The meetings of African associations of urban citizens at convergences like the WAI 2011, the USF and Africities 2012, have shown the consensus to establish a continental network of organised inhabitants. The IAI has proposed to debate the issue on the occasion of the WAI of Tunis. The interested parties are called to participate and share comments and suggestions ahead of this seminal meeting on the path to an empowered citizenry across the continent.
After a series of exchanges between representatives of African associations of urban citizens at convergences like the World Assembly of Inhabitants (Dakar, February, 2011), the Urban Social Forum (Naples, September 2012) and Africities (Dakar, December 2012), there is a growing consensus to establish a continental network of organised inhabitants that will solidify linkages between these activist groups across Africa. The International Alliance of Inhabitants has proposed that interested parties come together on the occasion of the World Assembly of Inhabitants to explore the potential for an African network, to debate and discuss what form this could take and how it would be managed and funded.
Given the wide range of regional, national, and urban realities that face our peoples, it is important to have a wide-ranging discussion that embraces diversity in a horizontal and non-ideological manner to identify commonalities, to acknowledge differences and to determine a productive outcome. Our engagements with a variety of urban organisations encourages us in this endeavour and we think there is a growing understanding amongst local organisations that our struggles are the same across the continent even if the local circumstances do vary. Everywhere urban people are fighting to assert their rights: the right to respect and dignity, the right to shelter and to security of tenure. Our people should be the agents of the urban experience, not merely the passive recipients of ‘service delivery’ or ‘good governance’ or, even worse, living fearful and insecure lives waiting for the bulldozers to force them out of their homes because some capitalist or elitist clique wants the land to make a profit from gentrification or slum clearance or some mega-project or to make the city ‘world-class’ – all of which usually means further suffering and impoverishment of the already marginalised and poor.
When national governments are the tools of the rich who care nothing for the rights of citizens especially those who stand in the way of profit, those that they exploit have few options when faced with forced evictions. Sometimes appeals to the national judicial system can be successful, although even favourable judgements can just be ignored: sometimes direct action can delay the destruction or result in a ‘better’ resettlement deal. There are several strategies that can be pursued depending on the circumstances but it is becoming clearer and clearer that international solidarity should be a major tool of resistance. Solidarity that is not just petitions and support messages, although these are important morale builders, but one that includes direct action at the international level putting pressure on developers and their funders, identifying their weak points and undermining their profit-seeking. But this sort of action needs a network that is dynamic and driven, one that can expose the linkages between, for example, developers in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and municipal bureaucrats and capitalists in Durban, South Africa who seek to expel tens of thousands of residents to build a ‘world-class city’ and mobilise activists to oppose these alliances .
While only a fraction of relevant organisations will be physically present in Tunis, we intend to involve as many groups as possible both in the discussions before Tunis and during the meeting itself (through an internet feed). The meeting represents a real opportunity for exchange, reflection and discussion to promote the establishment of a continental network of inhabitants organizations from different regions of Africa.
We ask therefore welcome comments and suggestions ahead of this seminal meeting that constructively contribute to discussion and debate leading to concrete developments on the path to an empowered citizenry across the continent.
Mike Davies, Interim Convenor, International Alliance of Inhabitants Southern Africa <email@example.com>
Jules Dumas, Interim Convenor, International Alliance of Inhabitants Central Africa <firstname.lastname@example.org>
 Another example is pressure put on the World Bank over evictions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2010 or the network of activists in Zimbabwe and unionists in South Africa that blocked an arms shipment for the Mugabe regime from China