President Lazarus Chakwera’s directive for “Minister of Lands to review all the land laws to address the flaws in the legislation and those laws must be ready for amendment at the next seating of parliament” has opened a window of opportunity for the country to amend bad clauses.
Malawians have complained for some time now about foreign nationals buying land in both urban and rural areas. And there are fears, and justifiably so, that many Malawians will be landless if the current land laws are left unattended.
Parliament amended 10 related land laws in 2016. Many Malawians, especially in the north, expressed reservations about the amended laws and rejected them, citing serious flaws. Some MPs have expressed similar concerns in parliament, but have done nothing to change the status quo. Shame!
These land laws, which have been developed with the support of European Union, favour foreign investors and some poor Malawians are losing land. The Land Act, the Customary Land Act and the Land Acquisition Act have increased the risk of land grabs. The laws were amended to enable government to easily allocate land to foreign investors for commercial agriculture under the New Alliance which the DPP government signed with some western countries. The Greenbelt Initiative is one such strategy.
Malawi Mangoes, a company that is 100% foreign-owned, acquired more than 200 hectares of land in Salima to grow mangoes and bananas for exports. Government should not have allocated huge tracks of land to Malawi Mangoes. The poor villagers lost their land to the foreign company. And there is also a foreigner who is rumoured to have bought 780 hectares of land. What is this all land for?
As the Minister of Lands reviews the laws, one of the issues to look into is to limit the amount of land to allocate to foreign investors and the period of lease. Government should not be allocating huge tracks of land to the investors, bearing in mind that Malawi is a small country and there is land pressure as the population is growing at an alarming rate. The period of the lease should also be shortened to 20-30 years. It is unfair to allocate large tracks of land to foreign investors for a period of 50 years when Malawians are landless.
Land laws should not be favouring foreign investors at the expense of Malawians. Malawians must come first. If government had a good policy of empowering its citizens we would be doing many things on our own without depending on foreign investors many of whom are exploiting workers and natural resources.
Sections 37 and 38 of the Land Act should be scrapped. No foreigner should be allowed to buy or own land. Foreigners are buying land because the law allows them. This is a serious flaw. It is unfortunate that some MPs have complained about foreigners buying land when they have power to change the law. No Malawian can go to China, India, Pakistan, Lebanon or Rwanda to buy land. Why should we allow them here? Land is for indigenous Malawians. Full stop! And we should not please anyone on this.
Under both Customary Land Act and Land Act, unused land is classified as public land. This will encourage land grabbing and corruption as a minister can allocate this land to anyone since it’s under government. It should be emphasised that a district like Mzimba the unused land which comprises forests has owners. It is not free land as some people would want to interpret. The trees are preserved to avoid environmental degradation.
One can only hope that the Minister of Lands and his team will soon hold a series of meetings throughout the country to solicit views from Malawians about the areas in the land laws they wish to be amended.
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