Struggle for better life: urban poor say patience better than violent protest

Struggle for better life: urban poor say patience better than violent protest

Television, newspapers and internet images of thousands of Asia and Africa’s urban poor holding mass protests that sometimes culminate to deadly violence have considerably increased in the past five years or so.

Their protests may differ in intensity from one city to another, but their struggle is usually against social injustice, extreme poverty, nepotism, state corruption, poor service delivery which includes lack of adequate sanitation, basic healthcare, housing and education, among others.

While some of these protests have paved the way to real change, research shows that many have led to nothing, resulting instead to loss of human life and serious injury, destruction of property and environment, and illegal detention and sometimes torture.

Now, the leaders of these groups seem to have abandoned these violent ways of seeking change, opting for patience, peaceful means and negotiation.

This is according to a new book, Reducing Urban Poverty in the Global South, authored by Dr David Satterthwaite and Dr Diana Mitlin, of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

According to the authors, these quieter, more patient approaches to the problems of poverty and injustice appear more likely to bring benefits in the long-term.

Satterthwaite and Mitlin demonstrate in their book that unlike the street protests that capture media attention, the people living in the ‘slums’ of Africa and Asia realised that their realities required a different way of doing politics

“Social movement leaders observed the lack of progress in the post-independence period and decided that they had to redesign their strategies to increase the likelihood that equitable and inclusive cities were to be part of the political agenda,” Mitlin said in a statement.

“They rejected demonstrations and public protest because they knew that such a critical mass could not be held on the streets for long – but had to return to livelihood struggles,” she added.

“They rejected revolutionary change – and contesting the seat of government – because they recognised that history shows that those who secure such seats rapidly join the political elites.

“And they recognised that there was little point in making claims and defining entitlements to a set of urban development policies which have delivered little in terms of pro-poor development.”

Instead, an alternative approach has emerged simultaneously in diverse countries over the past 20 years as groups of low-income urban citizens from informal settlements have joined forces to develop their own solutions to previously intractable urban development problems.

Through less confrontational tactics than mass protests, these groups have ensured that governments recognise the urban poor for what they are — legitimate citizens able to sit around the table with mayors and ministers alike to determine new development options and help implement them.

As a result millions of urban residents are now organised in neighbourhood associations that come together in city federations to negotiate with local government for financial redistribution and investment capital, alongside pledging their own time and effort in improving their localities.

The book is published by Routledge. For more information on the book from the published, log in  http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415624640/

Photo: Thousands of South Africans protesting over poor service delivery in an area around Pretoria. Credit: Jaco Marais/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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