WHY FORCED EVICTIONS STILL HAPPEN: Have We Failed or Have We Yet to Succeed?

img_8202In Quito, during Habitat 3 Conference and in UCLA, Los Angeles, during 2-days conference on “Land, Livelihoods and Displacement” I have discussed more or less the same questions.

Question 1: Why does force eviction remains to be the dominant method of spatial restructuring? Is it because there is a lack of best practices of participatory community upgrading that the government can draw inspiration from?

Note: eviction is not just of settlements but also other uses of space, for example by street vendors. Their evictions seems to be based on the same misperceptions and misconceptions.

No, there is no lack of good practices. Lack of documentation, dissemination and adoption, yes (perhaps). Example: our success in people-driven reconstruction of 23 villages in post tsunami Aceh, winning one international and one national awards, supported and praised by UN Habitat survey, has no single book published on it, while the world bank and UN-Habitat each published a meter-long series of books and other documentation. Other successful examples include CODI’s works in Thailand and our works in Kendari (voluntary relocation in Bungkutoko island), land-sharing in Makassar, on-site improvements in Strenkali, Surabaya, ARKOM Yogya’s works with riverbank communities in Yogyakarta. Besides, there are many unrealised detailed designs.

Historically there are also earlier examples by pioneers of community-driven on-site upgradings, for example by the award winning Fr. Mangunwijaya.

Eviction and its supporters are based on a list of misperception and misconception:

  • Misperception about the poor as the cause of flood, garbage etc. while they effectively are victims of others (expansion of the city, increasing run off due to increasing concretised surface, garbage coming from all over the city and upstream areas, unaffordable or inaccessible  municipal services,…)
  • Misunderstanding of the agrarian law.
  • Lack of imagination and creativity that other inclusive solutions are possible.
  • Possible manipulation of the popular support for political gains of the incumbent.
  • Disregards of 4 decades of debates and research about eviction.
  • “Relocation” seen as a proper solution disregarding displacement…(for example recently demolition of commercial buildings along riverbanks are suggested as comparable to demolition of age-old vernacular settlements (kampungs), as having the same justified reason of widening river and flood protection.

In the mean time, city center locations where some urban poor are now settling are very tempting for land and space grabbing to satisfy an increasing desire for space from emerging urban middle class.

In addition, what has been anticipated to haunt us all is already happening: climate change adaptation and mitigation HAVE BEEN USED as pretexts to sacrifice the vulnerable. This is happening already n Jakarta (river embankment, NCICD) and Manila (laguna dyke) for examples.

We might also want to raise suspicion that the failure of state and the market has caused all the troubles, not the other way around.  

Question 2: Why do government choose to ignore the best practices of participatory community upgrading? Who actually benefits from forced eviction? There have been ongoing community empowerment in big cities. However, when it comes to spatial restructuring, poor and marginalised communities always lose.

To be certain we have to ask the governments. The fact is that we never got a clear answer from the governments. The on-site upgrading schemes proposed for Kampung Pulo, Bukit Duri and Muara Baru, for examples, were first praised by governors Jokowi and Ahok, but then dismissed after it was said that they need to be followed up with participatory approach.

So, we can only guess that there might have been pressure of time, desire for quick fixes, not quality, based on assumption that the poor do not deserve that much. Consequently, we cannot compete with public and capitalist funding.

The following questions are worth being asked:
Is it really structural that the state is representing the capitals rather than public interest, not to mention “people”?
Is it political? That politicians want quick fixes?
Is it the bureaucracy who are lazy, unmotivated and lack creativity?
Who benefit or who does not benefit and why not?

Question 3: If community empowerment is not enough, how should the poor engage the middle classes to speak on their behalf? Have we educated enough journalist and the media about the benefits of participatory community upgrading? How should we change the dominant public narrative that is in favor of forced eviction? Should we involve the youths more? Should we bombard the middle classes with a lot more messages and images through social media?

The urban poor can speak for themselves. They need to work with the middle class, not asking them to speak on their behalf. The middle class need to speak out on their own behalf to defend the alliance of urban poor and them. The alliance between the middle class and the urban poor is strategic to form the majority of working class. But so far, at least the emerging middle class seems to prefer to ally themselves with the rich and the oligarchic elites, to aspire to get to their conditions. The long term result will be the same with the situations prior to 1998 reform movement.

Can we change the narrative? Can we compete with capitalist machinery and funding?

Question 4: if community empowerment is not enough, should we focus more on developing public institutions such as the Community Organization Development Institute (CODI) in Thailand, which plays a mediating role between poor and marginalized communities and the government?

It is not the community that especially needs empowerment, it is the government and the public who need it. They need to be empowered with moral fibres that “solidarity is rational and an ethical imperative” and a strong will and diligence to set policies right.

Question 5: WHAT NEXT?

NGO’s need to sharpen itself and ask the questions about what they really want to do: Assisting specific groups? Policy advocacy? Changing the totality of the way we progress?

Success or failure need to b measured against well stated aims.

I thing personally we need to aim at what I would call “INFRASTRUCTURE FOR PROGRESS”:

  • Knowledge and its co-production
  • Reproduction of ideas and their carriers, activists as agents
  • Securing ways to engage in public processes
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