Monrovia - ©Jonathan Harrison UK,

Preparing the Monrovia Slum Upgrading Initiative

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Icons use case study city info



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Main actors

City Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2008

Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy initiates upgrading of five slums in Monrovia among its strategic priorities for poverty reduction

Both national and local governments need to introduce strategies that deal with the current and future realities of urbanisation. Experience shows the importance of anticipating and pro-actively planning demographic and social transformation, rather than ignoring and resisting the changes. The fundamental objective should be to lay the groundwork that will facilitate residents involving themselves in constant upgrading over time, with the support of the public authority.

Many residential areas in Monrovia have typical ‘slum’ characteristics: occupants are low-income earners, basic infrastructure is absent, ambiguous or insecure land tenure rights, high population density, poor environmental conditions, poor or very poor building quality, lack of urban culture, high levels of criminality and delinquency, etc… Criminal activities are very common and most of such crimes are perpetrated by those living outside their communities. A consolidated strategy for slum upgrading, reflecting Cities Alliance concepts, makes this case worth studying.

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Monrovia, Liberia

Size and population development
2011: 750,000, 1990: 1,042,000, 2025: 751,000, 2010-2015: -6,08%

Main functions
transport hub; economic, and financial centre of the country.

Main industries / business
rubber, iron ore, cement, chemicals, and petroleum products

Political structure
the Monrovia City Corporation administrates Greater Monrovia District

Administrative structure
Greater Monrovia District is divided into four districts

Following 16 years of war, Liberia has huge reconstruction needs. Among priorities identified in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) for 2008, 11 are designed to improve living conditions, infrastructure, and delivery services in Liberian urban centres. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper specifically recognises slums as areas of particular concern for Monrovia, and identifies the need to develop a national housing policy for low-income housing, including options for upgrading housing in slum areas, and preventing the formation of new slums. Against this background, the City of Monrovia asked the Cities Alliance to support its efforts to bring key stakeholders together, in order to identify the causes of slums and obstacles in the way of upgrading. These formed the first steps in preparing a large-scale, city-wide slum upgrading initiative.

The process of developing joint prioritisation of needs commenced with a consultative Rapid Urban Sector Profiling for Sustainability (RUSPS) in Monrovia and with IPRSP and PRSP processes, reflected in PRSP strategic objectives to upgrade existing slum areas and prevent formation of new slums. The proposed Monrovia Slum Upgrade preparatory activity started by revalidating these objectives in a kick-off session with key stakeholders and community members. A steering committee directed by the city comprised of community, sub-national, and national officials was set up to guide the process. International partners active in the areas of urban poverty alleviation and urban development joined and contributed to the work of the committee. Local NGOs and other implementing partners delivering projects in slum communities (i.e. FIND Foundation for International Dignity) participated in consultations and shared their experience and lessons learned.

The working methodology was not limited to merely translating terms of reference; instead it sought to establish a continuous and systematic process comprising:

  • observation of the slums in order to identify local actors
  • applied research and strategic plans to improve living conditions in these settlements. Therefore, participation of all actors is crucial.

Monrovia City Corporation was the driver of the initiative. Taking ownership of the initiative by the City Corporation was vital to ensure the sustainability of the programme. Consultative meetings were held in all the identified slum settlements. Efforts were also made to ensure that such meetings were representative of the communities in general. All the various groups within the communities were invited to meetings and contributions taken on board. In Sonewein, an initial consultative meeting was cancelled and had to be rescheduled due to the lack of women participating in the initial meeting. External consultative meetings were also held with various NGOs currently involved in providing services in slum settlements. Meetings covered topics such as past, current, and future intervention. Key personnel in government ministries and agencies were consulted. Three national workshops held as part of this exercise provided an invaluable forum for all major players to help shape the future course of this initiative.

Various meetings concerning the project were held within five communities in Monrovia. Meetings were not only limited to community leaders and representatives of various organisations. No selection criteria for attendance or participation existed; all residents had the opportunity to attend and participate. Pre-determined pointers for discussions were used in the meetings. The advantage here is the organisation of discussion topics ensuring that not only the most important points and issues covered, but also the views of participants.

In implementing the planned initiative, the following measures were planned to be taken:

  • Create and maintain a supply of plots accessible to people without resources; combining action by the government of Liberia with action by Monrovia City Corporation and the traditional sector controlling land in peri-urban areas.
  • Create an effective system of controlling and inspecting the use of land. This system should involve residents themselves and be combined with education, persuasion, and enforcement action.

Providing more structured forms of employment, enabling people to learn new skills, and indigenous capacity to develop economic initiatives to city-wide and nation-wide slum up-grading holding the greatest promise of scale and sustainability.

These approaches include:

  • City and national governments moving beyond short-term projects to long-term activities, tackling systemic causes of slum formation. For international partners, this approach argues for long-term programmatic engagement.
  • Pursuing a city-wide, multi-sectoral approach. Slums are not a result of shortcomings in just one sector; rather, they result from policy and resource deficiencies across a broad spectrum of sectors. A comprehensive approach allows the shack to become a house, a slum to become a suburb, and a slum dweller to become a citizen.
  • Recognising urban upgrading as a lengthy process requiring continuity of effort: continuity of political and financial support from local and national authorities, and long-term; consistent; and reliable support from development partners.
  • Paying attention, not only to upgrading existing slums, but also to anticipating and planning for future urban growth.
  • Meeting basic infrastructure and service needs of growing urban populations by long-term sustainable financing. Among other actions, mobilising private sector investment in informal settlements is critical to achieving impacts at scale.

The costs of the planning project were as follows:

Total Budget: $ 111,000

Cities Alliance: $ 71,000

Co-financing: $ 40,000

Supported activities created a framework for formulating a coordinated approach to upgrading slum areas in Monrovia. It also initiated a concentrated effort to improve the overall legal and regulatory environment designed to limit future development of slums.

Possibly the most significant challenges in up-grading slums in Monrovia relate to the institutional, administrative, and technical capacity of Monrovia City Corporation to manage and take a leading role in the intervention.

The problem of slums and illegal settlements in Monrovia is one of the most pressing issues that the City of Monrovia and the government of Liberia currently face.

Though a challenge, it can be successfully dealt with through the support of all interested parties, i.e., the state, the private sector, the international community, and local residents, whose views must be given much attention as part of the process. Improving the lives of those living in slum conditions is one of the major targets in the Millennium Development Goals.

The government of Liberia has already produced a Poverty Reduction Strategy Report which covers some of the issues raised in this review. Both national and international NGOs engaged in urban development activities should pool and structure their resources together to ensure that projects are not duplicated, thereby causing waste of much-needed resources. It is unlikely that a single organisation working in isolation will be able successfully to identify, implement and manage the process of slum upgrading in Monrovia.

The Monrovia Initiative was the subject of the Cities Alliance annual evaluation. In addition to substantive lessons that Cities Alliance gained from cities’ experience, evaluation allowed Cities Alliance to reflect on both the relevance of its small preparatory grants, and on approaches towards supporting least-developed countries (LDCs) with particularly complex development challenges. Among the findings are:

  • Including slum upgrading in a national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper can be a real force in motivating governments to respond to the needs of the urban poor. Its impact may be tempered, however, if the upgrading agenda is poorly resourced.
  • While supporting countries emerging from conflict may present significant operational challenges, timing of engagement is critical to harnessing opportunities for national and municipal development policy formulation and the political will and enthusiasm for change which may exist.
  • Where approaches to slum upgrading are under discussion, exchanges with comparable cities are particularly relevant and valuable. Exchanges of this kind provide an opportunity for peer groups of slum dwellers to learn from each other’s experience, relationships with authorities, and approaches to negotiation. They enable local authorities to compare and learn from one another’s preoccupations and approaches.
  • Public officials, slum dwellers, and leaders of community-based organisations (CBOs) travelling together and jointly representing their city also provides a unique opportunity for all parties to develop mutual understanding of one another’s positions, capacities and limitations.
  • Slum CBOs and savings groups are likely to be numerous and active. Coordination rather than mobilisation is important in order to maximise individual group efforts and negotiating strengths.
  • A distinct preparatory phase focused on mobilising stakeholders, building consensus, and developing plans for a slum upgrading programme should occur prior to developing a full slum upgrading policy and implementation strategy.

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Anne Schmidt
Berlin, Germany

Anne Schmidt

Individual | Architect, urban designer, researcher

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