Should Malawi go ‘the Mugabe way’ on its land challenges?  

And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’ – Exodus 3:17

Following much vigorous debates and consultations in post-democracy Malawi, the Ministry of Lands and Housing in its 2002 publication called the Malawi policy as an instrument that “provides a sound institutional framework for land management and introduces, among others, much-needed procedures for more effective land-based investment selection, land market transactions and management of development at all levels.” This followed a lengthy dialogue through the Special 1996 Law Commission Special Land Commission chaired by Patrick Saidi, S.C., of which I was privileged to be a delegate.

Regrettably, the land ownership in Malawi is far from under-going well-managed procedures, and effective land-based investment. Land marketing transactions at traditional land ownership, especially along the Lakeshore areas and prime city lands, leave a lot to be desired, where political affiliations, corruption, and foreign exchange fraudsters are reigning unchecked. The Malawi Government in some of these instances needs to go rogue and adopt Robert Mugabe’s 1990’s tactic of land re-allocation.

The policy states that land is most basic of all resources available for social and economic development in Malawi, proper stewardship of land resources for development is the bedrock of our development infrastructures, whatever the political leanings.

In the section on Land Access for Non-Citizens outline that 1. “…..Non-citizens will no longer be allowed to acquire title to any new freehold estate. 2. Non-citizens and foreign companies will be permitted to lease land from the Government or directly from private landowners for investment purposes in accordance with their residential, investment and profit objectives. 3. From the coming into force of this policy, freehold ownership will be a privilege reserved for citizens of Malawi. Foreign investors interested in freehold land for investment purposes will be encouraged to form partnerships and/or joint ventures with Malawians.”

According to Justice Singini, former Law Commissioner during the formulation of the Malawi Land Policy highlighted that land as Land in Malawi is in three categories, namely, public land,  private land (land under a leasehold or freehold title) and customary land (land under the control of Traditional Authorities/ Chiefs). This is helpful to understand and should guide Government how it tackles recurring themes of land acquisitions, ownership, and re-acquisition.

However, in the spate of  this week’s outcry on the willy-nilly sale of school land to private business interests, notably by Parliamentarians Nancy Tembo and Juliana Lunguzi, when my friend Andikuza was on the attack of Kamuzu era land-grabbing tactics.

She argues that “Malawi’s land issue is a complicated one where land distribution especially prime land is unfairly distributed to not only Asians but also to Malawians who were prominent before and during Banda’s times. There are Malawians especially politicians during Kamuzu Banda’s times that got vast and vast areas of land and now they are demarcating and selling at prohibitive amounts that the ordinary Malawians cannot afford but only Asians (including the Chinese) and other rich foreigners. This issue will backfire, mark my words. She pointed out that the issue of Livimbo is just the tip of the iceberg, and called to my remembrance Livimbo, Dharap, Osman Gani and the integrated school now called Limbe Primary not forgetting Hazeldean School now Chichiri Secondary School. All these schools were built on land belonging to the Indians, with legitimate title deeds. She ends by labeling the current land-grab as the Scramble for Little Malawi’

However, countering her argument, I content have Malawians been asleep, busy with other things, or is there room for interpretation of what is going on. Before answering this, I respond to Andikuza by asking that we remove the sting of Kamuzu had bad policies syndrome. While agreeably former President Kamuzu Banda’s infamous Forfeiture Act seized land from his political opponents or those that fell out of his favor, such land-grab has been challenged in post-1994 and the Court returned such to the proper owners.

During the nationalist period of our national development, the former President Banda encouraged Malawians to love their land and become landowners – of which my family is, thanks to Kamuzu land ownership policy in Malawi. We have a legit claim to the land in Maoni, Michiru, and freehold farmland in Neno.

Since democratic rule, under former President Bakili Muluzi Government, regrettably, my family, as with others, has been forced to fight for our rightful claim to these lands in the courts; arguing with political diehards who think that just by aligning themselves to the political party in power, they can take our land from us. This is criminal, counterproductive, and a gross misrepresentation of what democratic ownership of land is all about.

Land ownership in Malawi can be categorized as the new landed gentry under Kamuzu; alongside customary land ownership with traditional leaders as custodians holding it in trust for the people of Malawi; the new wave of landowners who are non-citizens or persons born in Malawi that have bought land along the Lakeshore and other city-based prime areas, schools turning into the business ventures.

Ideally, non-Malawians owning properties along the Lakeshore should translate in foreign exchange in Malawi’s Reserve Bank; regrettably, the practice of these Lakeshore resort owners are that all payment for tourists flooding their business concerns, deposit all costs (airport transfers, room, food and beverages) into these owners’ British or Europe bank accounts. This is criminal as it robs the country of desperately needed foreign exchange

Another criminal activity that has gone wild is what Justice Singini calls a “spate of scams involving the sale of land to foreign nationals said to be by a ghost parallel office to the Ministry of Lands but said to be operating within the Ministry. There have been reports of arrests of a few officers in the Ministry suspected to be behind the illegal sales of land.” New landowners are joined by a new wave of owners from China and the Middle East.

While Malawian citizens battle out with fellow Malawians, the rights to own the lands to which they have legitimate claims, non-citizens are having a heyday in land acquisition, in the face of the land policy. To add insult to injury, most are generating profits that are held in foreign banks.

This is a grave travesty of contravening the ideals of the Malawi Land Policy, making a mockery of it in plain sight. It is ludicrous. It is defrauding Malawi of its foreign exchange potential.

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Mmalawi Wogaya Ngini
Mmalawi Wogaya Ngini
2 years ago

Amwenye atikwana mu Limbe. Akupasidwa malo pa silver platter…

2 years ago

Very educative piece. I now understand why government has pussyfooted on land issues. Past government minister Maloya argued very well trying to push the Land Act through parliament but his efforts were frustrated by his colleagues, perhaps with evil connections to Asians (including Chinese). We all know how Atupele tried very hard to sell the Land Act. I don’t know where we are now but the bottom line is that rich foreigners are behind the land issues and will do anything, including bribing even the highest authority, to ensure the illegally acquired land is not taken away from them. Imagine… Read more »

2 years ago

You said Wandale ndiopenga lero ndizimenezo, wamisala adaona nkhondo, that guy may we remember what he said. Munamuthila malovu ndi kumutukwana ngati inu anthu anzeru, lero ndizimenezo.

2 years ago

To Ms. Karim, the writer, I say: Your favored and benevolent dictator, Kamuzu Banda, simply set the tone for the corruption that continues to weigh our country down. Including the way he handled land issues, by facilitating ownership by simply ordering that the land be given or “sold” to his cronies, like it was his own or his ancestors’ property. And your family probably benefited through this extreme cronyism, at the expense someone – and that would be the not-so-well-connected citizenry. And by embedding your family’s “land grabbing” escapades here during the dictator’s rule, you have simply exposed your vulnerable… Read more »

2 years ago

These are the attributes of unpatriotic citizenship. Malawians have got no idea of how valuable land ownership is, probably because most of them have only inherited it from their forefathers.

2 years ago

Braham, when God called him, he was promised a LAND… Land is the most precious gift greater Than Golds and diamonds….. All the wars that Israel has ever had they fought for territory…. African has to a wake Now to inforce POLICY that No indigenous African should sell LAND to any foreigner, it is a crime and if found has to be stoned to death… You can’t sell your generation of your generations into slavery. And No foreigner can buy LAND forever….

Kaisi wa ku Mangochi.
2 years ago

Useless article. Why going the Mugabe way as if the land is taken by force. The corrupt government is selling land to the a mwenyes for nothing in exchange of bribes.

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