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Cancelling debt to house the poor: The experiment is now possible in Nairobi


Photo: Francesco Fantini

On October 27, 2006, the agreement cancelling the bilateral debt owed to Italy by Kenya was signed, thus freeing resources that are meant to go to programs concerned with reducing urban and rural poverty. Rather than pay the debt, Kenya will invest 44 million Euros into its public policy, starting now and until 2016.

The representatives of the W Nairobi W! Campaign, which is tied to the Zero Evictions Campaign run by the International Alliance of Inhabitants, are greatly satisfied that they have achieved a solid goal that offers a real alternative to the inhabitants of Nairobi’s slums who are being threatened with eviction.

Now it is time to enter the action phase, all the while ensuring that the funds are use appropriately and on the basis of social participation. A “People’s Fund for Land and Housing” will need to be established in collaboration with the inhabitants and through decentralized cooperation.
This innovative example of people joining forces in solidarity shows that it is possible to transform two issues that weaken society, the threat of evictions and foreign debt, into a strong boomerang that supports social policies on housing.
During the World Social Forum 2007, the International Alliance of Inhabitants will discuss the idea of a global mobilization process that is so essential in order to cancel debt and to guarantee housing for the world’s poor ; all allies, whether they are members of social movements, NGOs, local authorities offering support, or progressive governments who will want to share in these proposals, are welcome to participate in the discussion.
The figures: the foreign debt currently stands at 2.597 thousand million USD, of which 523 million are owed by the poorest countries; in order to improve the housing conditions of 100 million slum dwellers, an aim which is echoed in Millennium Development Goal 7-11, $ 92.4 billion US is needed (barely 3.5 % of the debt); however, $924 billion US, or 35 % of the total debt, is needed to provide housing for a billion homeless and those living in substandard dwellings.
Is this possible? At this time, yes: let’s therefore try it out in Nairobi’s slums.
Press release:

Meeting of the W Nairobi W! Campaign– Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Sentinelli: Italy has cancelled Kenya’s debt, now it’s up to the civil society
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Patrizia Sentinelli met with the delegation representing the W Nairobi W! Campaign to discuss the recently-signed agreement on debt-for-development swap between Italy and Kenya
As part of this agreement, Kenya is committed to investing 44 million Euros in programs concerned with reducing urban and rural poverty during the next 10 years.
“This important outcome is the reward for the fight and solidarity of thousands of people in Kenya and Italy against evictions and for the upgrade of Nairobi’s slums” , explains Father Alex Zanotelli. “We are asking the governments of Italy and Kenya to be coherent: the participation of civil society is essential for the use of funds. We are proposing to try out the upgrade of Korogocho and Soweto, two of the 200 slums in Nairobi. Collective ownership of land and the moratory of 300 000 evictions, planned for some time,” stresses Zanotelli, “are therefore vital.”

“With this agreement, the Italian government wants to mark a new approach with Africa,” declared Sentinelli. “That is why, from the time that I have been in charge, I have shared the proposals of W Nairobi W! and we have committed ourselves to support the realization of their goals.”
Further meetings have been scheduled over the next few days between the minister and W Nairobi W! to draw up the proposal of the rules of action that must be established with Kenya, keeping in mind the active participation of civil society in particular.
Next due date: the World Social Forum that will take place in Nairobi January 20 to 25, 2007.