In the early morning biting cold of July 23, 2018, about 10,000 people in Nairobi’s Kibera slum watched in a sleepy haze as their homes and everything they owned were flattened by bulldozers to make way for a new road.
Schools were also brought down, forcing more than 2,000 learners to discontinue their schooling, as were health centres and places of worship.
The scale and brutality of the eviction drew international attention and condemnation.
United Nations experts, including Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Leilani Farah, called on the government to halt it and guarantee the rights to adequate housing and education.
Undeterred, the authorities carried out a similar eviction 10 days later. On August 3, Kenya Railways Corporation and Kenya Power demolished the homes of 10,000 people along the railway line in Kaloleni and Makongeni, in Nairobi’s Eastlands.
In a desperate frenzy, people scrambled to salvage their belongings. Once again, the eviction was carried out without adequate notice, consultation or compensation and in the presence of heavily armed security personnel.
One cannot help but wonder how the government aims to achieve affordable housing, one of its ‘Big Four’ development priorities for the next four years, when it continues to render thousands of families homeless.
Last week, Kenya signed a deal with the United Nations Office for Project Services (Unops) to jointly finance 100,000 affordable housing units.
But amid a housing deficit of two million units and evictions, the deal is a case of the government taking one step forward and two back.
Evictions drive people deeper into poverty. Once ejected from home, many people have no choice but to live in even more precarious housing than before.
What chance will people who have been left in a far worse situation by the government’s illegal actions have at accessing adequate and affordable housing?
In Nigeria, thousands of people have been homeless since last year after they were evicted from Otodo-Gbame, an informal settlement in Lagos.
Families have been broken up and are sheltering in the nearby informal settlements, where many share a room with 20 others.
One woman told Amnesty International that, having lost her home and source of income, she now sleeps on cardboard boxes and her five children no longer go to school.
Prioritisation of the megacity development project by the authorities negates the idea of inclusiveness and puts lives, livelihoods and access to education at risk.
Evictions are not solely an urban phenomenon. Rural areas also witness this human rights violation.
In eSwatini (formally Swaziland), hundreds of subsistence farmers have been left homeless and deprived of their means of livelihood after they were pushed off the land to make way for development.
AI documented the experiences of families evicted in 2014 and this year and their struggle to rebuild their lives.
“They don’t see us as people,” said one woman whose home had been demolished. “They left us out in the open as if we were animals or something to be thrown away.”
Unfortunately, many — including government officials — believe that people without legal title to the land or house they occupy need not be consulted, compensated or protected from homelessness.
But international human rights law is unequivocal: Evictions are illegal; they are never justified, even where people do not have a legally recognised right to the land or house that they occupy.
Evictions are a grave violation of the right to housing and often lead to a breach of several other human rights — such as those to life, food, water, health, education and work.
As another World Habitat Day dawns, leaders and policymakers will, once again, pay lip service to adequate housing for all.
It is time we called them out, raised questions and demanded answers. Residents of informal settlements in the world are already doing so through peaceful protest.
We must join them and remind our governments that housing is an inalienable human right.
If world leaders are serious about adequate and affordable housing for all, ending evictions is a crucial first step to take.
Ms Vartak is Amnesty International’s Researcher/Adviser on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Twitter: @malavika_rights