Of land disputes in Malawi

It’s clear that what is at the root of many African conflicts stems from land disputes.

The current ongoing story of civil unrest in Northern Mozambique, the Anglophone regional war in Cameron, and many others share similar connotations; – The grievances over a general marginalization and unfair distribution of resources.

The Malawi story is not an isolation, it is no different from those we hear from other warring nations, where people have an active hostility or contentions against each other over land ownership.

Such serious disagreements, or arguments when left protracted, they become a perfect catalyst for a state of lawlessness and disorder, and in some instances that disregard of the law may lead to serious consequences.

It’s therefore imperative that we have a clear review of our land laws in making sure that those who have no capital power are not left with negligible compensation.

I should applaud both President Lazarus Chakwera and his minister of Lands Kezzie Kasambara Msukwa for demonstrating interest in resolving the issues at hand.

I was in fact happy when I saw the press release that the ministry of lands sent out few weeks ago. It was timely and appropriate.

Minister Mahara Mhango

However, as a citizen, I believe I am within my rights to point out few things that I feel government should focus on first.

Before we start asking ourselves what should be done, we should begin by asking ourselves how we got here in the first place.

We need to establish the ethos of this argument based on the ethics or credibility of those who are raising these concerns – and most of the people that that feel short-changed are but the majority poor, whose only asset is land.

These are mainly women and young people who are facing high levels of unemployment and their argument in most cases is to serve as the only means to an end which is subservient to their moral plan of survival.

The durability of their livelihoods is dependent on the subsistence economic activities on those apportioned lands.

The procrastination and failure by government to offer quick solutions and react expediently enough to develop technologies and professional personnel has resulted in more complex challenges than possibly ever anticipated before.

With shifting demographics and a fast growing population, our government failed to look into critical threats that would inherently limit arable lands to provide food, shelter, and sustenance.

Before government starts accusing people of illegal encroachment and other unlawful procurement and development of lands and property, there has to be a middle ground and a redress of these complexities with a clear pathway to lasting solutions.

‘Arbitration’

There has to be a Separate provision within the law that should allow for the country to resurvey and reapportion the land.

In that regard, it would also be important to set up to set up a land arbitration court, where impartial decisions on how amends for wrong compensations and acquisition can be discussed.

We need a stern law on how illegal and convicted offenders can be brought to justice and make financial reparations to victims

Further scrutiny of the ministry responsible reveals a reputation for a culture of high corrupt practices. This indicates where the constraints found center stage.

The biggest of which has always been the failure by government to deal with issues of conflict of interest within its framework and its civil workers who double as private surveyors and dealers.

This loophole creates a serious proliferation of a parallel land market and dealership with a predatory distorted market value.

Government officials in my view, should only be allowed to work as regulators.

They should not be allowed to interact with private buyers so that they can not continue taking advantage of the system to elicit benefit or abuse power for their own private gain.

Secondly, the land policy has not dictated in strongest terms that those who deal in buying and selling of lands should be legally Licensed as Real Estate Agents operating under a strict legal guideline.

For so long the ministry has lacked professional experts to ably provide recommendations and rules in assisting those wanting to sell and buy land.

Because of that, deficiency in trained personnel, determining and proposing the best solutions using set guidelines that can provide equity for all people; especially those with no competitive advantage has been impossible.

Most lands have been sold and given up to buyers without a comparative market analysis to estimate the value of properties accordingly and drawing of real estate contracts with fair conditions and compensations.

‘Predatory’

The Ministry of Lands hasn’t invested much in technology and most of their daily transactions are are not digitised, and they still use, in this day and age, the very old ways of doing things.

This creates a big problem with tracing and tracking of records.

Up to now we have cases of one land sold to different buyers and in other cases the acquisition of huge portions of lands ending up in one hand.

The Act itself has serious concerns that have to be addressed.

In 2016 government revised and enacted the new land policy with intentions to address some of the protracted challenges that had been long standing.

However, the reformed Act fell short of addressing the critical aspects of harmonizing the customary land ownership and issues of inheritance so that tenure security and property rights were preserved.

The Act did not go as far as reaffirming that customary lands would be restored with assurances that retention of such lands and its disposal would be authorised not only by government but in unison with the public.

But instead, the Act did quite the opposite and Malawians were taken back into a retrogressive hierarchical system that continues to keep the poor bonded to government’s lands (Public Lands) with the only option to lease in perpetuity and not ownership that would remain unchanged indefinitely.

The new Act silently abolished the customary land classification and placed all customary lands into a public land classification.

This was a dangerous manoeuvre and quite honestly a type of predatory capitalism that was meant to create cultural acceptance of domination and exploitation as a normal economic practice for a nation that has almost 90% of its population with no capital power and sitting on subsistence economy.

The Land Act itself did not address pertinent issues of exploitation including fraudulent acquisitions, political corruption and unscrupulous leadership that goes unchallenged when it comes to undermining the poor and the vulnerable entities.

Otherwise we couldn’t have people like Vincent Wandale still raising qualms and demanding a fair redistribution of their inherited lands in Thyolo and Mulanje which are largely in the hands of few rich tea estates owners.

By breaking the customary land classification, those with Capital power would easily grab land from the poor using a fully disguised legal framework.

Clearly, this was a reform that had nothing to do with the concerns of the poor.

By its nature it actually eliminated all possible avenues for countering social inequalities at national and local levels.

‘Indexed’

Our government should strengthen local institutions with responsibility for managing land rights and related issues at community and local level.

For example, there has to be apparatuses for community banking and financial services so that local people can be able to borrow money using their land titles.

People should be allowed to keep their lands in a Legal Trust that is fully unionised so that unscrupulous leaders can not take advantage of their subordinates.

We need an expedited revised parliamentary act that will make sure that the retention of public land and the management authority over it is in the public interest.

The new law should not only guarantee that customary lands are titled but that they are indexed properly and set and listed in a directory to guarantee secured holding.

Emphasis needs to be put on securing land rights of the poor in rural and urban areas.

I humbly submit, therefore, that we need more public consultations on the issue on how to reform land management in our country.

I rest my case.

Mahara Mhango is a Minister of God, preacher and an iconic musician, who made his cut with the legendary Mhango Salvation Singers alongside his siblings. He is currently based in South Bend, City of Indiana in the United States of America.
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Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily shared or in any way affiliated or endorsed by the publisher, Nyasa Times.

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Wachambo
Wachambo
23 days ago

A very good reflection. Good and timely advice. That’s the way to go citizens…

Atuganire
Atuganire
23 days ago

I concur with you on almost the whole article BUT we could have a better Minister for Lands NOT Mr. Kenzie Msunkwa…Let our Abida Mia take the lead. The incumbent 8s VERY nepotistic. You go to his office he sees ONLY northerners enafe we are pushed down kea Dr PS amati choncho nanga? Achokeko akakhale igawa malo ku North Ife kuno ku Lilongwe timakana zauchitsiruzo!

Ndafera Nkhande
Ndafera Nkhande
23 days ago

Surely it does not make sense that people who have stayed on a piece of land for 20yrs should now be evicted for the sake of a national park for wild animals.Therfore the department of parks should revisit their plans to evict the people of Chinsinga in Kasungu.As Mr Mhango hsa rightly said our population has trebled and people need land for sustenance as not all can be employed.

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