The Benin Federation of Slum / Informal Settlement Residents and sister movements from the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) movement across Africa are condemning alleged forced eviction of thousands of residents of Wxlacodji beach community in Cotonou.
The groups are also calling on the Benin Republic government to engage with their members from waterfront communities across the city to find alternatives to the current projects that further threaten tens of thousands of hardworking urban poor residents living along the waterfronts with displacement.
On Tuesday, August 20, 2019, the government reportedly demolished an estimated 160 houses in the Wxlacodji beach community without adequate notice or any resettlement plan for the thousands of residents who have suddenly found themselves homeless and living in desperate conditions.
According to the Neighborhood Chairman, Agbossi Anani, “(Representatives of the national government, the mayor of Cotonou, and the national police] came with caterpillars (excavators) to destroy the informal settlements. To our great surprise, they evicted and destroyed over 160 houses. The evicted residents had no warning. Following the exercise, people are left homeless. Many are sleeping outside and we have already recorded the death of a 15-year-old young man.” What kind of a country are we in?” he lamented to Federation representatives who investigated.
The sudden forced eviction of Wxlacodji beach looks to have thrown tens of thousands of waterfront residents across Cotonou into a panic, fearing that dozens of other communities may face imminent eviction by the same authorities and suffer the same desperate fate.
During the last week of July 2019, representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the mayor of Cotonou visited several waterfront communities along the Cotonou Lagoon and Lake Nokoué to mark some houses for demolition and tell people that they would be evicted within the next two weeks. No exact details were provided as to who would be affected and no information provided about resettlement or other provision for those displaced.
Federation members of six waterfront communities
under threat quickly organised to write to the Ministry, the representative of
the Littoral Department, and the mayor of Cotonou to seek more detailed
pursuant to the country’s freedom of information law. In violation of national
law, three weeks later, the relevant authorities are yet to reply and provide any
of the requested information.
The Constitution and national law in Benin unequivocally prohibit forced evictions and requires safeguards to protect people who may need to be resettled in the event of any development project. Benin is a signatory to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which prohibit forced evictions and protect the right to adequate shelter. Among others, the applicable law requires the government to put in place a full resettlement action plan prior to any project that would displace more than 100 households. This and other legal safeguards apply irrespective of tenure state.
The forced eviction of Wxlacodji beach community occurred in violation of the provisions of national law and contrary to the fundamental rights of those evicted, the complainants said, adding that tens of thousands of residents of other waterfront communities now live in daily fear of the same fate.
They stated: “Adding to our grave concern is the publication of a communiqué by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development on August 21, 2019 that amounts to a blatant smear campaign, defaming residents of the waterfronts of Cotonou as ‘uncivilised’ and a risk to public health. In cities across the West African region, we have seen similar public assaults on the character of people living in informal settlements portend mass forced evictions and greed-fueled land grab.
“We, the residents of waterfront communities and our sisters and brothers from movements of the urban poor across the region, to condemn the forced eviction of Wxlacodji beach community, the threatened eviction of other Cotonou waterfront communities, and forced eviction in general. We remind our leaders that forced evictions do not solve development problems; instead, they exacerbate poverty, destroy wealth and existing infrastructure, and undermine human development. We reaffirm our commitment to partnering with our governments to improve the quality of life in our communities without displacement and exploring all alternatives to eviction.”
The Benin Federation of Slum / Informal Settlement Residents is a movement of the urban poor for dignity and development with membership across dozens of informal settlements in Cotonou, supported by Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) and affiliated with Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a global movement of slum dweller federations from across over 33 countries.