A West African perspective of housing as a human right: The case of Côte d’Ivoire -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

A West African perspective of housing as a human right: The case of Côte d’Ivoire

By Richard Yao

The reality

In June 2007, a house in Boribana, a slum area in Abidjan, collapsed, killing an entire family of nine. So the municipality of Attecoube decided to evict all people living in the area “for their safety” without providing adequate alternative housing. The decision is yet to be carried out, but more than 30,000 low income families are now living in constant fear of eviction.

The need for affordable housing units in Côte d’Ivoire is estimated at 40,000 units per year including 20,000 in Abidjan alone.[1] This tremendous need has resulted in an increase in precarious settlements in Abidjan. Precarious settlements are defined as those with illegal land occupation status, which range from houses in slums to family houses called Cours communes—several families living in a compound.

Eviction remains a common occurrence in Abidjan. Public authorities justify their actions as a means of defending town planning principles, which are being compromised by unplanned housing. Because of the extensive time involved in getting legal land occupation status, people do not usually report to the Ministry of Housing to get proper occupation status before settling on a piece of land. In the suburbs of Abobo or Yopougon, people will settle on whatever land they find available, applying for proper occupation status only after their house are built. Town planning objectives are therefore compromised, and evictions carry on. The Ministry of Housing takes more than two years to issue legal occupation status for applicants. Sometimes people apply, but do not get any response, resulting in frequent disregard of government regulations.

Housing as a human right in the context of Côte d’Ivoire

This is the reality of poverty housing in urban areas in Côte d’Ivoire. So what does it mean when we talk about housing as a human right in Côte d’Ivoire?

Côte d’Ivoire, as with many other West African countries, has ratified the International Declaration of Human Rights. This convention includes among others the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. By ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, Côte d’Ivoire has agreed that adequate housing is a human right. Underlying this is the fact that adequate housing is expensive, and that time is required for everyone enjoy that right. However, in the meantime, Côte d’Ivoire can ensure that people are not evicted for any reason and provide low income families with legal land occupation status.

Adequate housing from the perspective of human rights means that a house:

  • protects people from the weather, like rain or snow, heat or cold
  • protects people from danger, like wild animals or other threats
  • must be close enough to water and toilet facilities without harming people’s health or the environment
  • must be close enough to places like schools, clinics and jobs, so that people can safeguard their other human rights like their right to be healthy and their right to be educated.

People will also not be able to keep these other rights if their house is too expensive, so housing should be affordable. [2]

Future steps

Through a SWOT analysis that HFH Côte d’Ivoire conducted with some officials from the housing ministry, as well as through a situational analysis on housing in urban areas, we believe that the following would make a difference and also be realistic next steps for the government:

  • A clear commitment from the government to implement adequate town planning before large numbers of people move into an area
  • The government should issue legal land occupation status in a timely way to encourage compliance with planning regulations
  • The government should provide construction subsidies for low-income families in major cities where the population is continuously increasing
  • Eviction without adequate alternative housing being provided should be stopped
  • Slums should be upgraded to provide adequate housing for low-income dwellers

Finally, housing is a human right that needs to be nurtured and protected as any other human right. The protection of people with low income living in slums should be the priority of the government. Habitat for Humanity can play a key role by advocating for adequate housing in land secured by the government on time. Habitat can also encourage the government to move forward in a timely manner to implement policies that safeguard the rights of people to housing.

Richard Yao is the national director of Habitat for Humanity Côte d’Ivoire. Prior to joining HFH two years ago, he worked for several years in community development and social work. He may be contacted at: rkyao2002@yahoo.fr

[1] IMF, 1998.
[2] Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), “A Place to Live: Women’s Inheritance Rights in Africa,” page 7.