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Lessons from Namibia A week with one of SDi's oldest federations

This month, SDI co-founder Joel Bolnick spent ten days with the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia and its support NGO the Namibia Housing Action Group during his overland trip across Africa. These two organisations comprise the Namibia SDI Alliance, one of the oldest and most mature affiliates in the SDI network.

The trip started in Keetmanshoop, one of Namibia's many small towns, where Rosalind Hendricks, a regional federation leader from the area, showcased the federation's self-build housing and community centre - two projects whose funding was made possible by contributions from federation savings.

R - L, top to bottom: Rosalind Hendricks, SDFN self build housing and community centre.

The next stop was Windhoek for the Namibia SDI Alliance's annual National Forum: an opportunity for savings groups from across the country to gather and review successes and challenges, hear updates on the status of housing, profiling, and upgrading projects, and discuss issues they are facing at the local, regional, and national levels.

Federation members from across Namibia listened closely as colleagues explained that over N$ 6 million (USD $455k) worth of people’s savings was used over the last year to provide land servicing loans and that of this, over N$ 1,3 million (USD $98,6k) has been repaid to date. Such an accomplishment!

Federation leaders learned that, in addition to the money loaned for land servicing, N$ 7,1 million (USD $531k) in federation savings has been loaned out to help fellow federation members establish livelihoods projects and small businesses.

The last stop was Gobabis, a town about 200 kilometres east of Windhoek, where the Federation has spearheaded a large-scale informal settlement upgrading project in partnership with Gobabis local government. Together, the federation and the city have upgraded over 2000 homes across three informal settlements - 30% of the town - making this one of SDI's most exemplary precedent-setting upgrading projects.

During an open-air Federation meeting in Gobabis' Freedom Square settlement, Federation members described the community layout plan that emerged from community action planning, beginning with enumeration, leading to re-blocking, and then to service provision. In the photos below, community members showcase a map illustrating the community’s own cluster level re-blocking layout plan and a services map designed jointly by the community and local authority.

The below video, produced by SDFN and Namibia Housing Action Group, gives more detail on the story of Freedom Square's community-driven upgrading process, carried out in partnership with various stakeholders ranging from urban planning students to international development actors to government officials to colleagues from across the SDI network.

The visit to Gobabis ended with a feedback session in the Gobabis City Council chambers, where federation members and local government officials from Gobabis and Windhoek gave feedback and praise for the impressive work carried out in this small town.

Penida Ita, a member of the Khomas Regional Council expressed how impressed she was with the the community-driven participatory planning she was exposed to in Freedom Square.

There is much to be learned from the Namibia SDI Alliance - a federation comprised of some of the strongest, most steadfast community leaders and an NGO whose high-quality professionals work tirelessly to open space for the voices of their federation colleagues. This affiliate continues to influence urban development policy and practice in Namibia through innovative, community-driven practices and a commitment to pro-poor, participatory, bottom-up processes.

Halala Federation, Halala!

Martha Kaulwa (SDFN), Heinrich Amushila (NHAG), and Edith Mbanga (SDFN)

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Ariana MacPherson
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