Earlier this year (January, 2010) I wrote an article entitled “Malawi’s Land Policy Headed for Catastrophe.” As the title suggests, my argument was that Malawi’s land policy did not protect vulnerable poor Malawians. My observation was that the country’s willing seller, willing buyer policy for the free-hold land only favour wealthy Malawians who are at liberty to buy land from vulnerable poor people on cheap and unfair deals.
My concern was that the policy was contributing to the prevailing and growing unhealthy gap between the rich and the poor. This, I pointed out, would create generations of “wage slaves” who in the near future would have to settle for low paid jobs from rich people, as they would have no cultivation land to fend for themselves. The importance of land in Malawi cannot be emphasised enough: 86 percent of Malawians depend on rain fed agriculture, and land is the only property that poor Malawians have. Taking the land away from these people, I pointed out, was not only unfair and unethical but it would also create tensions within communities, as cultivation land is getting smaller by generation. This would endanger peaceful coexistence between the haves and have nots.
Nine months on, Malawi’s human rights umbrella body, Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) have publish a paper entitled: “Up for Grabs: Land Access, Distribution and Role of Parliament.” The document is not available electronically yet, but has been analysed in Malawi News. The findings of HRCC are almost a carbon copy of what I wrote earlier. The study has established that “land laws in Malawi do not protect the interests of the majority of Malawians [the poor] who rely on land” for every economic activity and everyday upkeep.
The HRCC has criticised the government for indulging in corruption, which enables ‘the rich, the connected and the government’ to take away ‘customary land that was accessible to 80 percent of the population.’
“It is not easy for ordinary Malawians to access public land because the fees and the bureaucracies are downright prohibitive. It is mostly foreigners who acquire public land because they have the economic muscle to purchase and negotiate for such lands,” said the report in part.
The report has cited a particular case in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital and administrative city, where Land Allocation Committee was set-up to oversee the allocation of the land within the city. The report says the committee was bypassed and its efficiency ‘suppressed by actions of ministers, principal secretaries, business magnates and other influential persons in society who pressurized government official to favour particular applications.’
HRCC’s study has gone a step further from my earlier observation: it has established that it is not only wealthy Malawians involved in this “land grabbing” exercise but foreigners too. Thus far government has downplayed the authenticity and credibility of the report. This is not surprising given that there are reputations at stake. However, the government cannot do any worse than sitting down and let this pass – it needs to clean-up the mess. If the country is serious about development, food security, and continued peace, it has to ensure equal access to land and all basic needs to all, rich and poor, “connected” or not.
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