Tag Archives: Informality

A plan of action, talk of action, chain reaction, yet?

Alex Ndibwami from Uganda Martyrs University write on the recent African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala, Uganda, and its relevance to the work and goals of SAMSET.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala.  This was the first time Uganda was hosting the event whose theme was Our Architect, Our Communities, Our Heritage. 

While there were a number of presentations and discussions, I will focus on three of particular interest specifically because they are at the heart of the issues SAMSET has set out to deal with.

Ms Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, delivered a keynote presentation on urbanisation in general and what direction is being taken to improve the conditions in her city; while Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama, Executive Director, ACTogether Uganda, presented the approach to their work in informal settlements, challenging the built environment professional rethink their attitude towards urbanisation and the challenges it comes with; and from a gripping and  inspiring philosophical point of view Ms Lillian Namuganyi of Makerere University, College of Engineering Design, Art and Technology discussed socio-spatial landscapes in a historical and ideological sense, and what form it could take to renew a contextually rich socio-cultural dynamic in a contemporary sense.  Ms Lillian Namuganyi is also a practising architect and a researcher.  What these three presentations had in common was that they are concerned about the future of the city dweller.

What I will dwell on though are the subtle hints for a collaboration that these three players in the built environment are signalling.  While Ms Jennifer Musisi may have concluded inviting professionals to get on board and Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama reechoed the need for professionals to be less elitist, Ms Lillian Namuganyi simply set the arena for a renewed attitude toward the socio-spatial landscape.

But what does it all mean in practical terms?  We all know that governments focus on infrastructure the best way it fits their political agenda while Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actually tend to be more hands-on attempting to solve the real problems at the grassroots, yet unless efforts are combined any discourse will remain academic and the existence of the built environment professional float for elitist.

Is there room for a real collaboration that deals with the issues collectively and could deliver lasting solutions?  Who is well placed to lead this and sustain the momentum – a city manager, an NGO activist, an academic/researcher or a built environment professional?  It is difficult to tell in a society where accountability born of collective effort is not part of the work ethic.

Might Ms Lillian Namuganyi suggest a starting point for us in her assertion that “Whether operating within or at its margins, the re-working of the strategic city is a logic and order of fragments, scraps that are pieced together moment by moment.  It is a city of micro-logics of the people’s social and especially economic survival – many small thoughts and actions of many people, woven into the detailed space of the city, unpredictable, never static, ever mutating.” So I dare ask again without deliberate collaboration that acknowledges the complexity of the city and the contribution from different players is the plan of action simply talk of it?  Or is there potential for real change – a chain reaction of possibilities borne of new partnerships that combine astute managerial skills, compassionate activists, avant-garde professionals and more outgoing academics.

The SAMSET project is an action oriented research project setting out to close the capacity gap at municipality level while in a participatory manner developing strategies that will support energy transitions.  Indeed, capacity and engagement are a precursor to action, but without the acknowledgement of and investment in structures that promote inter disciplinary work ethos, is it sustainable?

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Informal settlements: to electrify or not?

Xavier Lemaire recently wrote a guest blog for UrbanAfrica.net representing the SAMSET projcet research. The blog is reproduced here in its entirety.

Informal settlements constitute a major part of African cities: more than two thirds of the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums. In spite of evidence to the contrary, such settlements are typically considered temporary aberrations by governments and are not recognised as permanent features of the urban landscape. As a result the needs of their inhabitants tend to be ignored by urban policy-makers.

This is notably the case when it comes to the electrification of informal settlements, which are seldom included in electrification efforts. The attitude of electricity utilities and municipal electricity distributors to the inevitable flourishing of “illegal” connections in these areas is at best to ignore them, or, when the situation deteriorates too much, to engage in repressive measures, such as disconnections, harassment, fines and/or imprisonment for what is considered as electricity theft.

Some authorities still take refuge behind electricity industry norms and spatial planning schemes that are rooted in the colonial era and designed to favour the wealthy, effectively denying the poorest rights to such services.

Municipalities and utilities do not want to legitimise informal settlements by electrifying these ‘illegal’ structures. They also do not want to risk increasing a low-income customer base who are expected to be unreliable payers. Furthermore, they do not want to electrify areas where there are higher technical risks and safety concerns for which they could be held responsible.

The situation leaves few alternatives for informal settlement inhabitants: to move (where?), to remain without modern energy, or to establish electricity connections themselves. In the human endeavour to improve their living conditions, it is not surprising that the latter option prevails. Even if most inhabitants can afford to pay for their connection and have demonstrated a willingness to pay, the authorities do not electrify such areas as a rule, and thus residents are pushed into illegality in their attempts to improve their welfare.

The proliferation of illegal connections comes with numerous problems, such as greater safety and fire hazard risks linked to sub-standard connections, overload of networks, loss of revenue for utilities (so called ‘non-technical’ losses), and economic exploitation of the poorest by informal resellers of electricity, who may charge more than double the official electricity price. By denying access to electricity in informal settlements, utilities create situations where both the welfare of citizens and the effective functioning of the utility are compromised.

The attitude of municipalities and utilities to informal settlement electrification has been demonstrated to be unnecessary and far too conservative in places where informal electrification has been pursued. Where countries have adopted a more flexible, appropriate approach to this dilemma there have been significant benefits for both residents and utilities.

The case of Cape Town

After the end of apartheid, South African municipal electricity distributors and the national utility Eskom developed innovative approaches to low-income household electrification, which they extended to informal settlements over time. Cape Town municipality has been one of the pioneers in this field.

Key aspects of the approach used by the Cape Town municipal distributor are as follows:

First, it demarcates areas where electrification is materially possible from those where it is not feasible, by adopting broad criteria which include a maximum of inhabitants. While the dense configuration of many settlements can indeed restrict access by electrification vehicles and equipment, with aerial electrification most parts of a settlement can be reached. However settlements on privately-owned land are not electrified, as the law prevents municipalities from installing assets on such land. Floodplains are still categorised as unsuitable for electrification, although some experts consider that these areas can be electrified as long the network is kept out of reach of water and disconnection points enable operators to isolate specific areas when flooding occurs.

Secondly, appropriate electrification technologies are used which enable all households to be reached, such as the ‘maypole’ approach (as the name suggests, houses are connected from a central pole in a radial ‘maypole’ fashion), and external pole-mounted meters are used which communicate with in-house displays, making it easy for officials to disconnect, check for faults and identify tampering. These innovative technologies and approaches have been important enablers to informal area electrification, as they have proven themselves to be safe and cost-effective.

Thirdly, tariffs have been adapted for this context, with small connection fees which are not collected up-front but paid over an extended time, and pre-paid-meters both protecting the utility revenue as well as enabling low-income households to purchase small amounts to suit their pocket, as the poor often have a variable income.

Fourth, local communities are engaged with extensively during the electrification planning and implementation process. This engagement goes beyond a superficial survey and implies time and effort from the utility to identify concerns and interact on a regular basis with the community-chosen representatives, as well as directly with the inhabitants to be electrified.

This integrated approach to informal settlement electrification has spread access to electricity to almost all households in Cape Town, with associated welfare benefits for its citizens. Using technologies, standards and approaches imported from the developed world, as was done initially in South Africa, would have constrained such access significantly.

One of the surveys conducted within the Supporting African Municipalities with Sustainable Energy Transition (SAMSET) project, as part of research running into 2017, compares the approach taken in the six municipal partners of the project to see how best practices could be replicated in other African municipalities.

Xavier Lemaire is Senior Research Associate at the University College London – Energy Institute. He is co-leader of the SAMSET (Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions) project. A sociologist and socio-economist, his research interests focus on clean energy policies, energy transition and energy access in the Global South. Contact: x.lemaire@ucl.ac.uk

References

Informal Electrification in South Africa: Experiences, Opportunities and Challenges, 2012. Sustainable Energy Africa, Cape Town. Available at: http://www.cityenergy.org.za/uploads/resource_116.pdf

Policy guidelines for the Electrification of Un-proclaimed Areas, DoE South Africa. Available at: http://www.energy.gov.za/files/policies/electrification/unproclaimed%20areas%20policy%202011.12.pdf

The iShack Project in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa

SAMSET project team members, municipal project partners and attendees from the CPD course “Energy and Sustainable Urban Energy Transitions in Africa” visited Enkanini on the 19th November 2014. Enkanini is an informal settlement in Kayamandi which was established in 2006, Stellenbosch, South Africa, and as part of the CPD course team members visited the iShack sustainability project, based in the settlement.

iShack is an organisation established in 2010, through collaboration with residents of Enkanini and  the University of Stellenbosch’s Sustainability Institute, promoting sustainability in the settlement across a wide range of applications. The “demonstration” shacks run by the project incorporate a number of energy-efficient and sustainable technologies.

Improved insulation and building materials were an early focus of the project, with leftover/recycled materials being used to insulate walls and ceilings, as well as innovative layered wall constructions offering cooling in the daytime without the use of air conditioning, improving the indoor environment.

Enkanini blog image 1Energy and Sustainable Urban Development course attendees in Enkanini, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Image: Daniel Kerr

Biogas is another focus of the project, and biogas digesters utilising human solid waste are installed in the demonstration shack bathrooms, enabling cooking from biomethane.

Water is another focus of the project. The project is expanding dissemination of grey water flushing for public bathrooms in the settlement, firstly in 2011 through gravity flushing. This approach has met with some resistance from residents due to the lack of convenience of the system, and the project is currently experimenting with upgraded mechanical flushing and collection systems for grey water and rain water.

Finally, the project also runs an off-grid solar home system business for residents of the settlement, and is aiming to develop this as a franchise model for export to other informal settlements, this being the first of these franchises. Solar home systems consisting of a 70Wp panel, two indoor LED lights, one TV, an outdoor spotlight and phone charging facilities are provided to residents on a fee-for-service basis, with customers paying an initial installation fee of R200, and monthly installments of R150 thereafter to use the system. Users can also choose to up-rate their panels to cover other appliances such as a radio or television. iShack takes responsibility for operation and maintenance of the system, and since 2011 over 700 systems have been installed out of 2,500 households in the settlement under the project.

enkanini blog image 2Enkanini, Stellenbosch, from the steps of the iShack demonstration shacks. Image: Daniel Kerr

“Africa’s Urban Revolution” and African Urban Challenges

Mark Borchers on the launch of a new book, “Africa’s Urban Revolution”, the insights gained from the launch, and their relevance to the SAMSET project.

I was at the launch of the book Africa’s Urban Revolution recently. It has contributions from various authors associated with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town, and covers a range of topics. Even though it does not have an energy focus, I found both the content of the book (tho I have just read a bit of it so far) and the discussions at the launch very interesting for the work on sustainable urban energy transitions which we are engaged in.

The presenters, Edgar Pieterse (director of the ACC) and Caroline Wanjiku Khato (School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand) emphasised that urbanisation in Africa is an issue of global concern given the pace at which it is occurring and the severe lack of capacity of authorities to meet the associated service demands. This we know, but I found it interesting that mainstream academia knows it too! In addition, African urbanisation is distinct from any other such process elsewhere in the world, often rendering existing approaches to urbanisation issues not useful. In no particular order, the following challenges struck me as potentially relevant:

– In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.
– In the absence of municipal capacity, informal social and economic systems can be quite strong, for example including land registers and social support systems, often via the church. Given that official capacity is unlikely to change drastically in the medium-term, such ingenuity and creativity may be one of the foundations for sustainable urbanisation in Africa rather than relying on more formal structures and systems.
– The urban agenda is often not high on national government’s priority list, sometimes because opposition parties are often able to first gain support in bigger urban areas, thus not endearing such to the ruling party. In one case, national government apparently effectively set up a department to run the capital city, thus ‘hollowing out’ the politically distinct local government’s power.
– Informality is sometimes regarded as an aberration to be rid of by national government. One presenter described how he was invited to the African Development Bank forum for minister’s in 2006, where urban issues were on the agenda for the first time (!). One Housing Minister, who had recently displaced half a million informal dwellers in their capital city through demolishing their settlements, received a standing ovation when he justified this act on the basis of ‘restoring the dignity’ of the city. So the plight of the poor in informal settlements may not always receive enthusiastic national support.

The above snippets obviously only present a partial picture, but some of them are useful in flagging that different players can have very different perspectives on issues, and we need to be sensitive to these. I know in the South African context all of the above are relevant to a greater or lesser degree in different places.

There’s lots more useful information in the book if you are interested.

Book information: Africa’s Urban Revolution. Edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse of the University of Cape Town African Centre for Cities. Published by UCT Press in 2014. ISBN: 978 177582 076 5