Political involvement by the urban poor
Participation in politics by the urban poor is of the utmost importance in enabling informal communities to shape the policy decisions that affect their lives — giving voice to the disempowered and visibility to their concerns. From neighborhood associations to participatory budgeting, from transparency and accountability initiatives to guerrilla art, many vehicles exist to help the urban poor become political actors. Read on to learn more about empowerment initiatives for informal communities in five cities across the globe — then join the conversation in the comments below.
Pre-election art and political engagement in Nairobi
Katy Fentress, Nairobi Community Manager
In the early hours of Monday 11 February, as Kibera residents set off to work, they were treated to the sight of a brightly painted train passing through the heart of their slum.
This was the Kibera peace train, a collaborative effort of members of the community-based organisation Kibera Hamlets, Nairobi's celebrity graffiti writers Spray Uzi, and many other Kenyan artists who turned up at the city's railway station the previous Sunday to paint the entire side of a train with messages of peace and unity.
The project, which was endorsed by the Rift Valley Railways, is another episode in a long line of political artistic campaigns targeting Kenyan citizens and politicians in the run-up to the elections this coming 4th of March.
Of these, the work of Spray Uzi and the social-political activist Boniface Mwangi with his organisation Pawa254 stands out for their consistent drive to keep Nairobi residents informed and aware of the dangers of voting in leaders who peddle divisive tribal discourse for political gain.
The first of these initiatives was in early 2012, when one morning a mural appeared on a wall in Nairobi's Central Business District: on the left side of the wall, a suited vulture politician figure sits on a woman; a briefcase crammed with money is handcuffed to his hand. In a speech bubble, he declares: "I'm a tribal leader, they loot, rape, burn, and kill in my defence. I steal their taxes, grab their land, but the idiots still vote for me." By the vulture's head, a long list of the scandals that have rocked the Kenyan political establishment since independence 60 years ago are spelled out. On the right hand of the mural, smiling Kenyan citizens are depicted as they list the qualities they hope their new leaders will be imbued with.
These campaigns have not been limited to graffiti. Last June, Mwangi organised a large demonstration in which 49 coffins, each bearing the name of a different political scandal, were marched to Parliament in protest of the culture of corruption and impunity so prevalent in Kenyan politics.
Pawa 254 also launched the web site Mavulture in November. Mavulture is a forum which uses articles, videos, and info graphics to reveal truths about this year's political candidates and to highlight their hypocrisy through ironic short films which portray conniving politicians who talk of peace and unity but are, in fact, only focused on personal and financial gain.
These are some of the high-profile examples, but they are by no means the only ones. Over the past few months, increasing numbers of youth and artists have taken to the streets to demand an end to political corruption and to remind their fellow citizens to vote wisely and not along tribal lines.
The hope is that this multi-pronged approach — using graffiti, trains, demonstrations, billboards, and web sites — will increase the chances that the message will reach Nairobi's poor. During the 2008 post-election violence, it was the poor who were caught in the middle of the havoc and suffered the most, both in the cities and in rural areas. The country's middle class, the ones who are most active online and who have the tools to make informed decisions, simply witnessed the violence like the rest of the world on their TV screens.
By bringing the message to a street level, people like Boniface Mwangi — who has not so far endorsed any of the candidates — are attempting to ensure that everyone thinks about their vote and decides whether it is worth their while to vote in the same politicians who have helped perpetuate Kenya's corrupt political system over the decades.
Whether artists have the power to speak to and for the people is a big question mark that is yet to be answered. Will their art have more impact than the political rallies currently taking place up and down the country? Will people let their voting decisions be swayed by their message?
All of this remains to be seen. In the meantime, the country braces itself for the March elections and hopes for the best.
Governance for a new urban India
Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Urban governance in India — and in many regional cities — is at a crossroads. Megacities have grown at such rapid rates that current governance structures are ill-equipped to meet increasing demands. Citizens, especially the poor, lack basic services across the spectrum — housing, sanitation, transportation, clean water, and the list goes on. Many regional cities are struggling with how to usher in more efficient and effective governance to improve the lives of urban residents.
Some ideas have been dramatic. Take Bangladesh, for example. In November 2011, the capital city of Dhaka decided that the city had become too unmanageable for a single entity to govern effectively. The city's governing body, the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), split the city in two. The move was met with widespread criticism. Bangladesh's Daily Star reported that the measure would "double the expenditure and create chaos." Yet are these the type of drastic decisions that need to be taken to meet the complex circumstances that characterize cities in the region today?
In India, a major issue is the lack of representation in urban areas. According to Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of the Bangalore-based organization Janaagraha, there are 42,000 citizens for every one elected official in the city — a ratio 10 times larger than India's average rural representation. In an article in Economics and Politics Weekly, Ramanathan writes, "Participatory involvement of citizens in and accountability of local self-governance structures are almost totally absent in urban areas." He proposes that a third-tier be added to the current governing structure to improve citizen participation. A new third rung, called "area sabhas" — under the municipality and ward level — would create a more bottom-up focused representation that would have greater potential to respond to localized needs of vastly diverse megacities.
Yet better representation can only be effective with informed citizens. High-quality, accessible, and accurate information is an essential tool to reform inefficient government structures. In Chennai, Nithya Raman has created an organization that collects and creates data about neglected issues in the city, especially those effecting the urban poor, and disseminates the important information to citizens. Transparent Chennai has created interactive maps for housing, infrastructure and transportation in the city. The information can then be used to "potentially hold the government accountable to improve the quality of services provided to the city's poorest and most vulnerable residents," writes Raman on the World Bank's Striking Poverty discussion. The organization hopes that by providing useful, easy-to-use information, citizens will be empowered to positively influence the direction of their communities.
While these are all vital steps in shaping equitable city planning, corruption continues to plague the system. Woven into the fabric of inefficient government is rampant graft. In fact, India ranked 94th out of 176 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index ratings in 2012. Janaagraha has also created tools to reduce corruption in city government with an online reporting site called I Paid A Bribe. The anti-corruption application has been replicated in Kenya, Greece, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe, and plans are in the works to launch a mobile application.
In India, urban governance is a complicated matter. The economic, social, and cultural diversity that brings life to the cities also creates a unique set of challenges. Today's urban India cannot rely on antiquated structures and systems. New ideas such as those being implemented by Janaagraha and Transparent Chennai have the potential to positively influence the direction of cities across the country, and with more citizen empowerment and participation, movements like these will demand a system that meets the needs of all citizens. Only then can more just and equitable cities emerge.
A new political space for the poor of Jakarta?
Riwanto Tirtosudarmo, Jakarta Contributor
"The poor of Jakarta" is a title of a 1975 article by Gustaf Papanek, in Development and Cultural Change. This article may be the first analytical account of the social and economic life of the urban poor in Jakarta. In this article, Papanek, a professor of economics at Boston University, describes the characteristics of the urban poor, based on a survey conducted in 1972. This survey found that the poor varied in their response to the government's policies, but many of them were actually well aware of government policies. They generally felt insecure about being evicted, as the city government at the time was actively accelerating public infrastructure development.
Jakarta was led by Ali Sadikin, a retired navy commander and a progressive governor, and a pioneer in the improvement of the urban poor's welfare. He was the first governor who radically changed the policy on slum renovations. The 1972 survey revealed that although the poor felt positively about the neighborhood improvement program, they felt that they had received no personal benefit from development. It is also interesting that the urban poor were involved in the 1973-1974 riot following student protest against the domination of Japanese foreign capital.
The successive governors of Jakarta had mostly limited policies to improve the conditions of the poor. The quantity of urban poor increased steadily, in parallel with the growing population, yet without any improvement in their capacity to participate politically. They continued to face eviction and persecution by authorities. Every five years, they were used as voters by the Golkar ruling party to back up the Soeharto authoritarian government to win elections. With the weakness of civil society, the poor received little help and remained economically and politically marginalized.
Only in the last year have the lives of the poor seemed to change. The triumph of Joko Widodo (Jokowi) immediately triggered a glimmer of hope for the poor.
As usual, the poor were mobilized by the political parties to vote for their candidates. Money politics was common during the elections and the poor are an easy target for the increasingly bribe-based Indonesian politics.
Jokowi and his partner Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), an ethnic Chinese, systematically targeted the poor in their campaign. Jokowi's previous successes in improving the livelihood of the poor by peacefully relocating them led to his image as a genuine champion of the urban poor.
As many observers had predicted, Jokowi was elected as the governor of Jakarta. Not long after his inauguration, his campaign promises to the poor were realized: he provided free access to public hospitals, and granted ID cards to thousands of families that had been denied citizenship for years.
In the aftermath of the recent big flood, the inhabitants of the slum near the port of Jakarta are resisting their relocation into low-cost apartments. According to the authorities, these poor are occupying land that blocks the flow of water during heavy rains, resulting in flooding in surrounding areas, including many high-end housing complexes. The negotiation between the poor and the city government is still ongoing, but Vice Governor Ahok is known for acting decisively in the poor's favor.
The new governor's pro-poor stance definitely improves the poor's trust and has revived their sense of belonging as Jakarta's citizens. However, this radical recognition of the poor and of their right to be dignified citizens does posing a new question: will the poor of Jakarta be more politically active in the now seemingly opened new political space? Only time will tell.
Riwanto Tirtosudarmo is a social-demographer working as researcher at the Research Center for Society and Culture, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Jakarta.
Presupuesto participativo para la mejora de las comunidades vulnerables
María Fernanda Carvallo, Mexico City Community Manager
Participatory budgeting has been shown to be a development strategy that fosters community development and finds local solutions to local problems. Mexico City municipalities implemented this policy in 2010, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive: this strategy empowers communities, motivates citizens to participate, and gives a voice to the voiceless. A great case study is San Pedro Martir in the Tlalpan Municiaplity, where local citizens get together annually to plan the municipality's budget. However, this participatory mechanism faces challenges, such as conflicts between residents on the prioritization of needs.
Uno de los mecanismos a través en el cual el gobierno y la sociedad se reúnen para empatar las prioridades de los ciudadanos con la agenda de políticas públicas del gobierno es el Presupuesto Participativo. A partir del 2010 con la aprobación de la Ley de Participación Ciudadana del DF, se abrió este espacio público como un mecanismo de democracia participativa en el proceso de gestión pública, en el cual los ciudadanos exponen las necesidades de sus localidades que deben de ser resueltas de manera prioritaria a través de la asignación del presupuesto.
En mesas de debate los residentes del DF se involucran en el proceso de planeación del presupuesto público, lo que permite a las comunidades vulnerables satisfacer sus necesidades; desde la perspectiva de Robert Chambers, los residentes de una localidad son los expertos y conocedores de las carencias a las que se afrentan, por lo que este tipo de prácticas focaliza el recurso público de manera eficiente. En este sentido, la población vulnerable que no contaba con capital social o político para expresar sus demandas, ahora puede canalizarlas a través de un medio participativo formal.
Para implementar el presupuesto participativo existe la figura del Comité Ciudadano, que es un consejo integrado por vecinos de cada colonia, quienes representan a los habitantes de esa localidad. El Gobierno del DF (GDF) emite una convocatoria de participación “Consulta Ciudadana”, a través de la cual los Comités Ciudadanos registran los proyectos de las necesidades en las que se debe destinar el presupuesto y los habitantes de la localidad votan por los proyectos. Para lo anterior, se establecen mesas de diálogo y consulta con el Comité Ciudadano y los habitantes de la colonia, en donde conjuntamente deciden la propuesta de necesidades que envían al GDF; los temas a tratar están relacionados con urbanismo, transporte público, salud, educación, cultura, prevención del delito e infraestructura, entre otros. La Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal es quien aprueba el presupuesto participativo que serán destinados para los proyectos de los Comités.
Un ejemplo exitoso de este ejercicio participativo es el Pueblo de San Pedro Mártir, en la
A través del presupuesto participativo se han abordado las necesidades de las comunidades; el gobierno va incluyendo en cada ejercicio presupuestal las prioridades de los habitantes para destinar el 3 por ciento del presupuesto asignado para cada una de las delegaciones; el cual se distribuye de manera igualitaria entre las colonias o pueblos originarios que conforman la demarcación territorial y lo ejerce la Delegación de conformidad con los proyectos específicos electos. No obstante, uno de los retos, según Enrique Vargas es el involucrar el interés vecinal y superar los conflictos internos entre los colonos; puesto que las grandes diferencias entre vecinos impiden un consenso y con ello se complican los procedimientos para ejercer el presupuesto asignado; por lo que la autoridad delegacional debe mediar los intereses entre la comunidad para orientarla respecto al beneficio de ejercer el presupuesto.
En este sentido, a pesar de un mecanismo de participación ciudadana, ¿puede la población más vulnerable imponer sus necesidades, o la dinámica ente los liderazgos vecinales deja fuera la participación de los más necesitados?
Community voice and participation in Rio: The case of the Neighborhood Associations
Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community Manager
Neighborhood Associations are important community organizations within Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro. These associations aim to improve residents' quality of life, and are also responsible for representing them when dealing with local authorities and other entities concerning local issues.
Neighborhood Associations in Brazil are intended to be formal bodies with clear roles and responsibilities. In order to be effective, each association needs to: (i) have a bylaw or statute, (ii) be legally registered at a registry office, and (iii) possess a legal entity (Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica) from the Federal Government. Each association also needs to establish a board, which should have a president, a vice-president, a treasurer, and a fiscal council. There is no mandatory cost to be a member of these associations, but some of them charge membership fees to raise funds. Other means of engaging communities and of collecting funds include fund-raising activities like bingo, concerts, and food festivals.
In Rio de Janeiro, there are around 100 Neighborhood Associations within the city's 157 neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there isn't a map of these associations or a consolidated assessment of the specific activities these organizations perform. What we do know is that there is a great diversity of associations: in recency, in how organized they are, in their vision and in their responsibilities.
It's worth highlighting the Santa Teresa Neighborhood Association, a neighborhood in the city center with an important historic and cultural background. This association was established in 1980, and continues to have an active role in the improvement of residents' quality of life. Some of the main work undertaken by this association is related to the promotion of the local tram known as bonde, as well as in citizen security and in noise control. Many of the activities carried out by this association require periodic dialogue and even confrontation, with the local government. It also requires mobilizing other community organizations. This association is currently implementing Street Councils, which are groups of residents who work on specific areas of the local community to identify problems and solutions.
Another association worth highlighting for its advocacy work and fighting for the rights of its community is the Vila Autódromo Neighborhood Association, in Rio's West Zone. This association has been fighting against evictions since the Pan-American Games that were hosted in Rio in 2007. Today, with all the preparations for the Olympic Games, Vila Autódromo is once again threatened by eviction due to its proximity to the Olympic Park, one of the main structures to be built for the 2016 Olympic Games. The Neighborhood Association has played a pivotal role in mobilizing the neighborhood's residents to act against the eviction. It has also mobilized other community associations, NGOs and the local, national, and international media. The association has tried to establish a dialogue with the local government, but so far there is still a decision to resettle the community in early 2014.
These two examples are just a small sample to illustrate the diversity of Neighborhood Associations and the impressive work they carry out within their communities, giving voice and representation to communities across Rio.
Photo 1: Associação de Moradores de Santa Teresa
Photo 2: Associação de Moradores de Santa Teresa
Photo 3: Viva Vila Autódromo
Voz e participação comunitária no Rio: O caso das Associações de Moradores
Catalina Gomez, Rio de Janeiro Community Manager
As Associações de Moradores são uma figura bem importante de organização comunitária nas cidades brasileiras, incluída Rio de Janeiro. Estas associações trabalham pela melhoria da qualidade de vida nos bairros e são encarregadas de representar seus moradores junto às autoridades e outras entidades frente a diferentes temas.
As Associações de Moradores no Brasil vem avançando na sua formalização como organizações comunitárias com roles e responsabilidades bem definidas. Para ter efeito, uma associação precisa ter estatuto, e estar devidamente registrada no cartório e possuir CNPJ junto à Receita Federal. Cada associação deve conformar uma diretoria, com presidente, vice-presidente, secretário, tesoureiro e conselho fiscal. Fazer parte destas associações não tem custo, mais algumas delas cobram uma cota como parte da procura de recursos. Outras formas comuns de envolvimento dos moradores e procura de recursos adicionais incluem jogos, shows e festivais culinários.
No Rio de Janeiro existem mais de 100 Associações de Moradores dentro dos 157 bairros que conformam a cidade; infelizmente um bom mapeamento destas associações e um detalhamento consolidado das atividades específicas das associações ainda não foram desenvolvidos. Sabemos que existem vários tipos de associações, algumas mais antigas que outras e algumas melhor organizadas. Também tem visões e funções diferentes entre elas.
Por exemplo, vale a pena destacar a Associação de Moradores de Santa Teresa, um bairro no centro da cidade com uma grande identidade histórica e cultural. A associação foi conformada legalmente em 1980 e continua ativa na promoção da qualidade de vida de seus moradores. Alguns dos trabalhos desta associação incluem a defensa e cuidado do bonde (transporte típico daquele bairro), a promoção da segurança, além da prevenção da poluição sonora. Muitos destes trabalhos precisam diálogos periódicos (e em alguns casos enfrentamentos) com a Prefeitura. Também é importante a mobilização de outras organizações comunitárias. Atualmente aquela associação está desenvolvendo os Conselhos de Rua, que são grupos de moradores que trabalham em áreas especificas do bairro levantando temas relevantes da comunidade e procurando soluções.
Outra associação que precisa um destaque pela sua luta ativa é a Associação de Moradores da Vila Autódromo, na Zona Oeste da cidade. Esta associação vem lutando pela permanência do bairro que vem sendo ameaçado de remoção desde a organização dos Jogos Pan-americanos no Rio em 2007. Agora com a preparação para os Jogos Olímpicos, a comunidade novamente tem sido ameaçada de reassentamento devido a sua cercania com o Parque Olímpico, o principal complexo esportivo para 2016. A Associação de Moradores da Vila Autódromo tem desenvolvido um papel muito importante na mobilização da própria comunidade para prevenir a remoção, mais também tem liderado mobilização com outras associações, ONGs e a media local, nacional e internacional. Esta associação também tem procurado dialogar e encontrar soluções junto a Prefeitura, mais por em quanto está previsto o reassentamento da comunidade para inicio de 2014.
Estes dois exemplos são muitos breves para ilustrar a diversidade de Associações de Moradores no Rio e o trabalho impressionante que muitas delas desenvolvem na sua comunidade. Tomara consigamos continuar conhecendo mais experiências de Associações de Moradores que estão fazendo um trabalho interessante dando voz e representação às comunidades cariocas.
Photo 1: Associação de Moradores de Santa Teresa
Photo 2: Associação de Moradores de Santa Teresa
Photo 3: Viva Vila Autódromo