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In our world today, people live in different places that meet the standard living conditions. While some are not privileged to enjoy such luxury, they opt for other options to live and raise their family. Over one billion people are living in slums across the world. However, 200 million of those one billion live in sub-Saharan African slums. A slum is a highly populated urban residential area consisting of densely packed housing of weak building quality.

Slums are categorized as unsafe and unhealthy according to the average standard of living. There are several slums in Africa, like The Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, Ajegunle in Lagos, Nigeria, and the uniquely built Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria.

Makoko, also known as the Venice of Africa, is an informal settlement located on the coast of mainland Lagos, Nigeria. Makoko is considered unique because it is a floating slum. Each house in the community houses six to ten people, which makes living conditions difficult. The community was originally built in the middle of Lagos in the 19th century by the Tofinu people of Ganvie, which is today the Benin Republic. A third of the community is built on stilts along the lagoon, and the rest of the community is built on the land. Makoko holds the title of the largest floating slum in Africa. The official language spoken in Makoko is Egun which is also spoken in parts of Benin and Lagos states. The inhabitants of Makoko build their homes using timber which is elevated on stilts made out of wood or bamboo. The materials are gotten from the sawmill within their vicinity.

A house in Makoko

Transportation in Makoko is via canoes due to the floating state of the slum. The canoes are also used to go fishing and they are used as stores by the women to sell food, water, and household materials. The water the slum is submerged in is five feet deep and it acts as a road system where the children are taken to school, people go to work, and out of the community to go about their daily lives. Some of the people living in Makoko have never stepped out of the community to see the world around them.

Makoko woman transporting goods

The inhabitants lack some of the basic needs such as clean water and electricity, due to the structure of their community. Only some of the inhabitants have enough money to install pipes in their houses to give them access to clean water. The rest of the community has to get water from the river. The water surrounding their abode is where the people in the community use as their toilet, and the children also swim in the water. The main source of income in Makoko is gotten from cooking fish, and many live on less than $1 a day. The fish caught by the men are smoked in their smokehouse and prolonged practice of this activity has made the air quality in Makoko bad. They also have the home and boat building industry in the community.

Makoko women smoking fish in the smokehouse

When people from other communities want to gain access to the slum, they have to pay a visit to the chief of Makoko. Makoko has only one chief overseeing the activities in the slum, and he must greet the visitor before they can enter the community. The chief also has a special way of dealing with insecurity in Makoko. When a person commits a crime, he or she is put in front of a big boat that circles around the community, telling everyone what crime he has committed. They are then banished and never allowed to step foot in Makoko. The system incorporated by the chief has turned out to be effective, and this has made Makoko almost crime free.

However, the people of Makoko face a bigger problem. They are threatened with eviction because the government considers their settlement illegal, and part of their lands have been sold for new projects. There have been arguments that the Makoko community should be demolished, but some think that the place can be reconstructed and revamped into a safe place to live in. The Makoko community is valuable to the people that live there because they have built the community with their families. Despite the poverty, the people in the community are doing everything in their power to thrive and have a better future.

NGOs have also contacted the community to help with health and education. In 2012, a Nigerian architect named Kunle Adeyemi came up with the idea of developing a floating school in the slum. He proceeded to create a prototype, and he got assistance from various NGOs to complete the project. However, On June 7, 2016, the school collapsed due to heavy rain. It was empty when it collapsed, so none of the students got hurt.

Makoko floating school

The most recent initiative in Makoko is the Chess in Slums Africa initiative created by Tunde Onakoya. The charity uses the game of chess to inspire children to attend school. ‘Poverty is at its rawest inside the slums,’ Onakoya says. ‘Without outside help, these kids won’t fulfill their potential and may become a burden to society. Chess, thanks to its worldwide prestige, shows that students from slums are not less intelligent than other kids.’

students playing chess
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