How Forceful Evictions Impact Sustainable Housing, Economy 

Yinka Olatunbosun

Heavy downpour spattered over the roofs as military-backed personnel pounded the streets, steel-faced. In sheer panic, chaotic noise rented the air. Little children, roused abruptly from their sleep, cried along the sound of caterpillars tearing down their parents’ houses. The year was 2021. September 13 and 14 became the worst days in the lives of Fiyegnon 1 at Cotonou, Benin Republic. Defying the rains, evictions were enforced in that community in a most inhumane way possible.

It all started with the government’s action plan to boost its tourism component aimed at developing a coast located between Cotonou and Ouida, a popular destination for seaside, memorial and cultural activities. 

On paper, the objective is to improve living conditions. But in actual execution, to carry out this project, the government had to carry out mass expulsions of people who lived on the sites of tourism projects. Since 2021, several thousands of people have been affected by the series of forceful evictions. It is estimated that over 3,000 persons have been displaced.

The expulsions of the inhabitants of Fiyegnon 1 were carried out in violation of international laws. For instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, established that the right to adequate housing is one of the human rights internationally recognised as universal, that is, rights which are accepted and applicable in all parts of the world and are valid for all people. Subsequent to the Declaration, international treaties provided that States are obliged to respect, promote and fulfil such rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is especially important, providing in its Article 11 that, “everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living for himself/herself and his/her family including adequate housing, as well as a continuous improvement of his/her living conditions.” 

To be sure, there are more than 12 different United Nations texts that explicitly recognise the human right to adequate housing. Of course, factors such as climate change, natural disasters and armed conflict could also threaten the right to adequate housing and displace millions every year. Human rights to decent living should not be sacrificed for infrastructural development, hydro-power dams, and mega-events, such as Olympic Games or football World Cups. Instead, these developments or urbanisations should contribute to the realisation of the right to adequate housing and not undermine it.

When Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977, a whole community was built. Conceived and built by the General Yakubu Gowon and Murtala/Obasanjo regime to commemorate FESTAC’ 77, the housing estate was built to house participants of the event who came from all over the world.

FESTAC town had 5000 accommodation units, seven districts called avenues and gardens. It later became the residence of many senior civil servants. This is the sort of development that should happen when many projects are brought to a host community.

Even within the constitutional framework of the Benin Republic, no one can be deprived of one’s property only for a cause of public utility without prior compensation.  According to a report by Amnesty International, the evictions in Fiyegnon 1 received no compensation. Many of these had to live in makeshift rooms made of rusty roofing sheets. Some of them are  immigrants originally from Gabon who have settled into a new life and built homes in Benin Republic. Some are taking shelter in abandoned buildings whilst sleeping on cardboards.  Businesses were lost. Income invested in personal buildings was wasted. Buildings are an essential part of the cultural value of a community and when they are destroyed completely without preserving the natural habitat, ecology is destroyed as well.

In the case of Fiyegnon 1 inhabitants,  resettlement was completely absent in this case. For the sake of humanity, resettlement should meet the needs and rights to adequate housing, access to water and electricity.

It is reported that evictees in other neighbourhoods were duly compensated for this loss. Residents say that the government built latrines but they are not functional.

Sadly, forced evictions have a severe impact on economic and social stability. Families have been torn and many have been plunged into depression and reckless behaviour like alcoholism.

From the beaches of Cotonou to the shores of Ouidah, thousands of Beninese families live a life of nightmare in the name of tourism and coastal development.

In a statement released by Khadidiatou Diaw, the Senior West and Central Africa Campaigner, Amnesty International, the background to these forceful evictions was established.

“Since President Patrice Talon became president in 2016, the Beninese government has made tourism one of its development priorities, and many coastal communities have been forcibly evicted to make way for tourism projects.

“These forced evictions were carried out unacceptably, with insufficient or no compensation and led to a lack of adequate housing among other economic and social consequences on the stability of the evicted families,” it read.

It goes without saying that forcing people, against their will, to leave the home or land they had previously occupied without any legal protection or other guarantees is a human rights violation. It is gross yet avoidable.


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