Rabat-Salé, Morocco

by Françoise Navez-Bouchanine


In Rabat- Salé, a slum is defined as any settlement of precarious housing either on private plots of land, or with the settlers being provisionally tolerated on publicly owned plots of land. The main categories in Rabat- Salé are:

Médinas: these are the old neighbourhoods of the pre-colonial city. Their deterioration resulted from the out-migration of middle and well-off classes and of economic activities. This double loss impoverished neighbourhoods. Lack of maintenance of houses that were rented room by room led to a rapid deterioration. The médinas continued to constitute a source of informal and irregular employment that allowed underprivileged populations to live and work there, attracting poor external populations. Médinas are comparatively well preserved and, although damaged in part, other sections have been rehabilitated. For some the only problem is general urban development.

Intra-muros: these shanties are slums with precarious buildings in sheet metal or adobe that date from the 1960s on rented or squatted plots of land. They emerged as spontaneous settlements on easily occupied lands near industrial or agricultural activities. Originally peripheral, they should have been integrated as the town was developing. These slums have been gradually and partially rebuilt with more permanent material. They have better urban integration, with some services and selfimprovements of tertiary road, rail and waterways and organized garbage collection. However illegal, those slums that have existed for a long time are often tolerated by the authorities.

Peripheral slums: these emerged in a similar way to the intra-muros, on easily accessible community land or near economic activity. However, their history is less marked by formal and structured interventions. They are still able to accommodate new populations because of lower densities. Their sheer numbers force the authorities to tolerate them.

Illegal districts: these are groups of concrete buildings that, more or less, resemble traditional low-cost buildings built on purchased plots of land but without any permit. They are deprived of basic services and infrastructure. However, depending upon age and stage of legalization, their situations do vary. This is why it is difficult to consider them as similar to the previous categories and to the ‘slums’ category, in general. They are primarily designed in anticipation of legality. Populations in illegal districts are more heterogeneous than in the former categories, both in terms of origins and in socio-economic terms. Today, the oldest formations of illegal neighbourhoods are completely integrated within the urban environment. The first settlements were on rented or leased lands. The most recent settlements (since the 1970s) started as subdivided agricultural properties. The majority of the population is of lower-middle class, for whom these neighbourhoods were the only access to home-ownership.

The main policy on people living in slums involves resettling them in public housing estates; more rarely does the policy involve restructuring. Until quite recently, no differentiation was made between urbanized and peripheral slums. Urban policies never had the objective of improving slums or their social conditions. Interventions tried either to get rid of slums as obstacles to urban development or to minimize their impacts on the urban landscape and on the city image. Political or security imperatives; the need to undertake big infrastructure works; urban modernization or improvement requirements; land or property pressures; and accidents or natural catastrophes have all been used in the past as reasons to ‘clean up’ slums and force their inhabitants to reception sites. These sites are generally less central than the primary settlements (often outside of the urban area) and quite often lack adequate services. Alternatively, urban cosmetic operations that were meant to hide the unsightly or disturbing effects of slums, and to encapsulate them, limiting their expansion, were carried out.

During the 1970s and 1980s, some more positive interventions took place, prompted by the conviction thatimprovement in situ can resolve the problems of the poor in a more efficient way because it is adapted to their real conditions. These interventions came in two categories:

Limited improvements: neither part of programmes nor formal policy, they are mainly in the form of daily political management, and ad hoc negotiations involving elected representatives, local authorities, private agencies and populations regarding NGO and community-based action.

Restructuring: this encompasses upgrading projects implemented on a large scale and decided at the national level as policy popularized during the 1970s and 1980s. The interventions brought basic infrastructure and services to existing shantytowns, regularized occupational status and allowed the occupants to build on their plots. From then on, the site is considered as integrated within the formal city. The best known operation is the Urban Development Project that integrated spatial and physical upgrading with social, economic or institutional improvements. This restructuring soon raised disputes, was called into question and was abandoned at the end of the 1980s. The central issue concerned the quality of the final product – housing – as well as neighbourhoods.

The rapid evolution of legal urbanization around slums has generated strong pressures for their eradication. This pressure is sharply felt by the inhabitants and deepens the feelings of extreme marginalization. Cleaning up interventions, except for the recovered urban space ready for new urban development, does not achieve any improvement in housing conditions for the previous inhabitants. Confidence in resettlement as the perceived unique and best answer to the slum issue has entirely ceased during the last 15 years.

The only hope for Rabat- Salé lies in the steady promotion of regularization interventions, combined with massive basic infrastructure and services provision to underserved areas. This can only happen if Morocco is prepared to seriously step up its national- and local-level interventions in a holistic approach to urban poverty alleviation and to support social programmes that help slum inhabitants to emerge from their marginalization and societal exclusion. To achieve this, the general perception of slum dwellers has to be considerably improved nation-wide, and far greater emphasis must be given to participation and partnerships that involve all stakeholders and beneficiaries. Coherent urban policy must be promulgated as a start to creating a national system of urban governance that includes all sections of society.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh