About the pangs of development.

ludoLudovic Langlois-Therien

Après m’être relu, je ne peux que constater la maladresse, voire l’inexactitude des propos que je m’apprête à tenir. Néanmoins, il s’agit d’une réaction “à chaud”, écrite d’un seul jet, et j’ai tenu à la préserver ainsi.

In one of her posts, Kelly mentioned the frustration she felt about the very limited impact of community oriented NGOs, that it had been one of the reasons for her to pursue legal studies, to gain a more effective tool to help the people. Being currently an intern in the same NGO where Kelly once worked, I understand her frustration.

Since I have been here, I have not only witnessed the limited impact of community NGOs, but also of the general framework of human rights when applied to people that are so poor that they have trouble affording their bare necessities.

One aspect of my work consists of educating people in the slums about their tenure rights, about what they can do to be “in the law” and how they can have local recourses against the authorities that want to evict them. Walking in the slums and interviewing potential victims of forced evictions, I have come to realize that often, these people are fully conscious of their rights, of how they are currently trespassing the law; but also, how they did not give a damn about it because they had more urgent preoccupations, like finding food for their children. Before coming here, I knew the situation was not going to be all black or all white, but I would not have suspected to be in the position of sympathizing with the authorities, at least not in a strictly legal point of view.

It is true that the local law concerning tenure rights is not the most sensitive one (especially when you compare it to Quebec law…), but it is still far from what the “kafka-ian” nightmare that I had come to expect. For instance, people receive a “notice of eviction” one entire year before they are actually evicted. Given that they are occupying lands that aren’t theirs and the city need to urbanize new spaces for a growing population, one year seems a fair delay. In other words, I could not see the problem as a proper legal one.

When local law is deficient in terms of human rights, international law of human rights can be a useful joker, most notably for advocacy. But at its current stage in Africa, and when it is a question of social rights in a place as deprived as Cameroon, international law of human rights itself is a very limited tool. While social rights are not a “luxury” per se, they remain somewhat “utopist” when considered in a society that is struggling with corruption and tons of other pressing issues. In fact, most people here have no expectations from neither their government nor from the international order, they just do their best to live and improve their situation. “L’Afrique, c’est d’abord la débrouille”, as I have heard many say.

In this situation, I think that the main problem is not the law, nor its application, but the fact that slum dwellers first need a decent job. We are not talking big amounts of money, just enough resources to satisfy bare necessities. If that would happen, people would be able to cope more easily with their situation, like finding a new home in less than one year. In a place where institutions are so flawed, where the government is so corrupted, I have come to believe that social-economic self-determination is often the most efficient way to protect oneself.

In a bit less than two months of work, I have interacted with many NGOs and local UN departments. I have encountered so many gender/international development/social sciences students from all over the world (including Africa) doing every sort of morally valuable work you can think of that I could fill up many planes. While I highly regard all these efforts, I also wish there could be more business people with enough balls to invest here and employ local people.

Ludovic: Adaptation

ludo By Ludovic Langlois-Therien

Here I am, living in Yaoundé, Cameroon, at the pace of the local bit rate.

Adaptation. For the last week, it has been the main theme of my way of life. After the usual awe before everything that is tossed in your face as soon as you step your first foot on African ground — tropical fumes, warm music and a lot of red dirt, I found myself completely paralyzed by what I have come to experience. Indeed, after a hasty end of term and 14 hours of flight, I had forgotten the scale of my trip. As if during all this time, I had been climbing a gigantic tower wearing blinders, and now that I was at the top, the blinders had suddenly fallen off. I think I have vertigo. My first week has been all about resisting the urge to put back the blinders, and trying to appreciate the new sensations.

Yaoundé is 1.7M people in a largely spread-out city. It has been built on a hilly landscape. There are lots of trees and a comfortable weather, with temperatures around 25 degrees pretty much all the time. The fruits are insanely delicious, most notably pineapples. And the beer is insanely cheap. Local food is very diversified, centered around fish and meat, it also includes many vegetables such as plantains, makabo (a bit like potato, more flaky), manioc, ndolé (some kind of super bitter spinach) and zom (another kind of super bitter spinach). Every dish is also very spicy.

Lors des trois prochains mois, je travaillerai à la Coalition des ONG et OCB du Cameroun travaillant dans le Domaine des Établissements Humains, aussi connue sous l’acronyme moins pompeux de “CONGEH”. L’organisme s’occupe à trouver des solutions pour les gens qui sont évincés des bidonvilles lors de leur transformation par la ville. La plupart du temps, ces personnes ne sont pas prévenues et voient leur habitation, parfois le résultat d’une vie de labeur, réduite à néant sans pouvoir faire quoi que ce soit. Il faut dire que les bidonvilles existent souvent dans l’illégalité, sans égard aux réglementations foncières. Ces gens n’ont donc essentiellement aucun recours juridique. Du jour au lendemain, ils se retrouvent à la rue. Ainsi, la CONGEH finance et organise des initiatives de relocalisation, soit la construction de logements sociaux dans des quartiers plus appropriés.

Personnellement, je m’intéresse à comment sont menées ces évictions, qu’ici on appelle “déguerpissements”. Si les causes fondamentales de la situation trouble des bidonvilles, soit la pauvreté endémique et les faiblesses du droit local, sont hors de ma portée d’agir, mon travail vise plutôt à rendre le processus de déguerpissement plus “humain”. Par exemple, une meilleure planification et la coopération des autorités avec des organismes comme la CONGEH permettraient au processus d’être plus respectueux des droits fondamentaux.

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