IN the informal settlement (call it a slum) where I live neighbours often fight whenever it rains. The area is completely built up and becomes a virtual swamp during heavy rains.
It is the period when people would start arguing about who among them should give away a portion of his plot so that a temporary trench could be built to flush out flood water.
But since nobody is ready to give up an inch of his precious piece of land such arguments only end with the intervention of local civic leaders, if not brawls.
With this in mind last week, on October 7 to be specific, I attended a campaign rally addressed by one of the persons vying for councillorship in my locality.
As usual, at the rally we were first entertained by a troupe of hired dancers whose songs eulogized the aspirant’s fitness for leadership and the virtues of his political party. In the crowd were dozens of children obviously attracted by the loud music and pitched songs. After the ngoma troupe a local poet and a comedian also joined in to take part in the entertainment session.
Some 45 minutes elapsed before the councillorship candidate mounted the podium to address the rally…
After his 30-minutes or so speech ended, the crowd started to disperse. It was approaching dusk and some people were hurrying for evening prayers. There was no time for the aspirant to field questions.
Throughout his speech, our councilor-in-waiting mentioned nothing about the haphazard buildings in our locality and the way forward he thought could help to improve the situation. Among many other things, the burning issue in the area is particularly the problem of lack of proper drainage system.
Ironically, our councilor-in-waiting holding his rally on October 7 didn’t even seem to know the international significance of that day---World Habitat Day, commemorated every October 7 for the people world-wide to reflect how to make their cities and towns better places for all.
The theme for this year’s commemoration is: “Better City, Better Life”.
According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Mon “this year's observance highlights the actions and policies that can improve well-being for the billion people who live in slums and other sub-standard housing around the world”.
In his message he adds: “Typically living in developing countries, and largely powerless, disenfranchised and under the age of 25, the urban poor are too often condemned to a life without basic rights, hope of an education or decent work.
“Lacking adequate provision of fresh water, electricity, sanitation or health care, they suffer privations that all too often provide the tinder for the fires of social unrest. Vulnerable to exploitation and criminal corruption, they need and deserve better cities and a better life”.
This year’s observance was held at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and hosted by China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development and the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Urban and Rural Construction and Transport.
But the occasion was simultaneously celebrated in almost all countries in the world with various activities, all geared toward the realization of “better cities, better life”.
As said Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of America’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, it was an occasion when people all over the world should “pledge to work together to build stronger, cleaner, more prosperous, and healthier cities that will not only meet the needs of citizens today, but ensure that our cities thrive in the 21st Century”.
The problem of cities is particularly challenging in Africa and other developing countries. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, like Tanzania, the slum population accounts for more than 70 per cent of the urban population. In Tanzania the slum population is over 75 per cent.
Slum growth in Africa Sub-Saharan countries is estimated at 4.53 per cent per annum, making it difficult for the authorities to upgrade slums or stop their new formation. The common characteristics in slums are lack of access to basic services like water and sanitation and poor housing conditions in places where people live in overcrowded areas.
They are also the places where urban poverty is most concentrated and rife with killer diseases, like malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, among many others.
But slums are far from being the only serious urban challenge. Consider, for instance, the traffic glidlock caused by swarms of cars, lorries, motorcycles and other means of transportation in our cities.
Dar es Salaam is a typical example. It now takes one hour to cover a distance that under normal conditions would take 15 minutes of driving, thereby laying to waste thousands of man-hour daily, in addition to increasing transportation costs as the result of using more fuel.
Population growth in many cities and towns due to rural-urban migration is also a major issue of concern since most of the young people flooding the cities are unemployed and have to resort to criminal activities and other illegal means to survive.
According to UN-Habitat, the UN agency for cities, urban insecurity is already a serious issue threatening economic growth and sustainability the world-over. The majority of criminal incidents worldwide are committed in the cities by youths aged between 12 and 25 years of age, says UN-Habitat.
The rural-urban influx is now clearly seen as a major challenge to urban sustainable development and a threat to the cities themselves, in addition to being a hindrance to achieving some MDG (Millennium Development Goal) targets.
It is understood that poverty is the main reason for rural-urban influx as many people migrate to seek better prospects of life in the cities.
Given all these problems, one would expect urban issues to feature prominently among election issues in a country like ours in order to create a better understanding of the challenge and setting forth the proposals of a better life for the present and future generations.
In a place like Dar es Salaam one would expect to hear how our aspiring leaders intend to address not only the question of upgrading slums but equally important the serious problem of traffic congestion which seems to have no end in sight.
In other areas like Mwanza, one wonders what plans are in place there to relocate thousands of people from mountain top slums where anytime a landslide occurs—and God forbid—may cause unprecedented calamity, because each day the soil cohesion atop the mountains is getting weakened by erosion. How strongly are such issues addressed in the political parties’ election manifestos?
And many times African governments have been advised to stop turning their youths into armies of jobless populations; but so far what has been done to address this problem?
Many governments are content with counting the number of new schools built in every village and every ward, but how far have they changed the school curricula to include in it more practical work that could help nurture young entrepreneurial talents?
Politicians need to bring up these and more issues of urban challenge or human habitat at large in their political campaigns to enable the voting public judge them how well they are equipped to address this area of development challenges.