Last week I was attending the 25th session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). To begin with, the Governing Council is an intergovernmental decision making body of UN-Habitat; a programme within the United Nations that promotes integral and comprehensive approach to human settlements; assists countries and regions with human settlements problems; and strengthens co-operation and co-participation in all countries on human settlement issues.
The Theme of the 25th Governing Council (GC25) was: “UN-Habitat’s Contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda in Order to Promote Sustainable Urban Development and Human Settlements”
As I sat to join an acquintance for coffee over one of the breaks, I posed a couple of questions at him. For purposes of this blog post let’s call the person X. “X do you think the world realizes how wide and rapid the income inequality gap is growing?”
“Do you believe in distributive justice while enhancing economic growth?”
“Do you mean giving my hard earned money to the poor through taxation and stuff?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’ll make more money and hire more guards,” he replied.
Urbanization is today one of the most important global trends of the 21st century. It is a transformative force that can be harnessed to enhance economic growth and productivity as well as wealth and state building. Are the opportunities and challenges arising from this trend being harnessed/addressed properly? In my opinion, Yes and No.
This phenomenal trend has been reported to reduce poverty and be beneficial in various development sectors. More than 50% of the world’s population is now urban and this number is expected to rise to 60% by 2030. 90% of the world’s urban population growth during this period will take place in the cities of developing countries particularly those in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, urban population growth will add to the 863 million people who currently reside in informal settlements where access to basic amenities is lacking, and where tenure arrangements are precarious.
At the heart of the United Nations is the principle of leaving no one behind, a principle that is perceived by many as idealistic/ altruistic; in fact the majority find it unrealistic. However the fact of the matter is, no amount of money can save you from the repercussions of a growing desperately poor populace.
Here’s why: Most cities across the globe are witnessing increasing levels of violent conflicts and crises, unprecedented levels of crime and other types of violence. Switch on the telly and watch the daily news, this reality is staring at you square in the face.
The good news is that urbanization can be realized as the transformative force that it is. The growing inequality gap can be mitigated if done well however urbanization in of itself is not the magic bullet. In my opinion this transformation may occur through legitimizing prioritization of the interests of the most marginalized in society and their participation in the process, in this case the poor. Do the poor have access to quality basic services both in the rural and urban areas? Where this is not the case in the rural areas we are seeing continuous migration of people from the rural to the urban areas creating all manner of pressures in the city accompanied with pockets of poverty and crime waves.
Are the poor partcipating freely and actively in addressing these issues such as access to quality housing? Giving an example in Kenya, the goverment began the slum upgrading project which is anticipated to address the challenge of poor housing facilities in the slums. Though from visiting one of the projects one may get perplexed from seeing the number of uninhabited houses or from ‘other tenants’ renting the houses. It soon dawned on me that the people there were renting out these houses or just simply not inhabiting them. The lack of inclusion and engagement in dialogue on adequate housing is evident. Questions on the mapping process arise. Did the goverment inquire succinctly the number of people in the informal settlements? Did they inquire the resources that they have? What the peoples’ desires were? What kind of housing they envisioned?
I however do laud Kenya for institutionalizing these rights. Everyone in Kenya is entitled to decent housing and other basic rights as stipulated in the Constitution and this indeed is the right foundation when addressing this challenge.
My take home from the discussions is that we cannot respond to a select elite few whilst only accomodating the poor when it comes to development. This isn’t something new, we all know this. However the valour and time that we are dedicating to shift this ‘ideology’ from wishful thinking to practical reality is the ringing alarm.
Nyaguthii Wangui Maina is a Pan African enthusiast and activist whose main passion is the youth and girl’s and women’s empowerment; she is a blogger who believes in telling the African story from an African perspective. Nyaguthii volunteers as a weekly columnist of YouthHub Africa; a cyber-community for young Africans involved in social change. She is also keenly interested in governance, democracy and policy issues and blogs on the African Union Commission’s DGTrends platform. In Kenya, Nyaguthii is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and works with the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the UN offices in Nairobi. She tweets @nm_wangui and blogs here
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