SEATTLE, Washington — Around the world, governments forcibly evict individuals, families and communities from their land without proper reimbursement for their homes and without the arrangement of alternative housing. Powerless against the governments, millions of people are left homeless, landless and jobless every year, many of them driven to extreme poverty as they are left with little ability to rebuild their lives after their most valuable assets are taken from them. This is exactly what is happening with forced evictions in Africa.
Forced evictions are the removal of people from the homes and lands they occupy, typically without the provision of adequate legal protection for those evicted. Governments are motivated to forcibly evict residents in areas targeted for city beautification or other development projects. The construction of dams and housing developments as well as arenas to hold events like the Olympics are all common causes of forced evictions.
Forced evictions in Africa further entrench already substantial economic disparities by taking people’s most valuable assets, their homes and land, without proper repayment or the provision of alternative housing. Along with the loss of their homes, forced evictions often eliminate access to school, jobs, healthcare and other property like furniture and clothes. The immediate loss of all of these things leaves people distinctly worse off than they were before with little ability to rebuild their lives.
Looking at forced evictions in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe and Nigeria, evictees lose more than just their homes. People have also lost their jobs, livelihoods, communities and, in the case of Nigeria, some people have lost their lives. Forced evictions in these nations have left people exponentially worse off than they were before, exacerbating poverty in already impoverished communities.
Forced Evictions in Zimbabwe
In a 2005 campaign called Operation Murambatsvina, which translates roughly to Operation Restore Order, the government demolished shacks and roadside markets in and around the poorest section of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. The government justified these evictions by claiming the housing structures were illegal and that the vendors operating on the black market.
The Murambatsvina operation led to the destruction of the homes and shops of 700,000 people. The government offered no form of compensation or alternative housing. Police raided and burned vendor stalls and any salvageable good, cutting off income for entire families and making it nearly impossible to remake their livelihoods.
Some of the evicted were offered public housing, but the promise was empty since more than 600,000 families were on the waiting list for public housing even before the start of the operation. The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of the evictees became homeless, 20 percent migrated to rural areas, 30 percent took up residence in family homes and 30 percent sought refuge in churches and camps. Those who moved to the countryside found themselves with no job prospects as there is little economic growth in Zimbabwe outside of cities.
Forced Evictions in Nigeria
In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, the government suddenly and violently demolished the waterfront Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities in March 2017. The government gave reasons of security concerns when questioned about the evictions and claimed the irregular structures of the slums were potential hideouts for criminals. The government also gave environmental concerns as motivation for the evictions since both the Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities were the two largest fishing communities in Lagos. The neighborhoods were also some of the poorest in Lagos.
The forced eviction of the Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities were merciless. Police used tear gas, gunfire and set homes on fire to chase people off the land. The police killed one person, nine drowned while trying to escape police gunfire and 15 people went missing. The government did not offer notice, compensation or alternative housing to the evictees.
Meanwhile, the evictions made 30,000 people homeless. Expelled from the waterfront, the majority of these communities are unable to maintain their livelihoods from fishing. With no method of alternative income, people have little ability to support themselves and their families. The loss of income also makes it impossible to find housing outside of slums, making them vulnerable again to government evictions.
Although Zimbabwe’s government does little to assist the people they forcibly evicted from homes and land, UNICEF set up sanitation facilities and mobile health clinics and also distributed water, blankets and play equipment for children. In Nigeria, Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) is working to attain justice for the Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities by providing law, advocacy, urban planning and creative media expertise for the victims. The forced evictions in Africa are also condemned by the United Nations, and the United Nations Human Rights Committee is working to curb forced evictions in African nations like Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
– Jillian Baxter