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Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Post on Land Ownership

Post Newspaper Columnist Mweelwa Muleya writes in today's edition on possible areas for land reform. Article reproduced below.

There is serious need for the Zambian government to cautiously and fairly manage measures aimed at implementing the liberalisation and privatisation of land ownership. There is growing concern and apprehension among the members of the public, including some government officials, that if not well implemented, the liberalisation of the land policy may exacerbate rather than reduce poverty in the near future.

As everyone knows, land is one of the principal factors of production and almost an exclusive source of livelihood for the majority of poor rural dwellers with limited access to financial institutions and other sources of income. Hence, farming of cash crops and animal husbandry, which are dependent on the availability of fertile land, are the mainstay of their livelihoods.

The MMD government under the leadership of President Mwanawasa seems to be clear about these facts partly because Mwanawasa is a farmer himself. However, there seems to be an institutional (or is it individual?) problem in empowering of local people in land ownership.Recently, President Mwanawasa advised the traditional leaders, through the House of Chiefs, to desist from giving “huge chunks” of land to speculative investors. He went on to explain how in some cases he had to intervene in the allocation of huge tracks of land to investors who were simply gambling on land.

It is important to realise that land is more than gold and in this globalised world, the scramble for land is taking an apparently harmless but actually harmful approach. This is worsened by the inferiority complex of some of those charged with the responsibility of managing this rather critical national resource called land.

In particular, the word investor seems to have only applied to foreign nationals coming to do whatever business in Zambia at the expense of serious local investors. As a result, more incentives are being given to foreign nationals, including the speedy manner in which documentation for land ownership is being done. There is nothing wrong in being efficient when dealing with investors because that is the only way of attracting them to do meaningful business in Zambia.

However, the source of complaint by most local people is that they are not being given the same urgent attention as foreign investors in legalising ownership to their land. This is preventing them from using land as collateral to obtain financial assistance to develop their farms. On the other hand, some nationals are provided with financial resources by their own governments as long as they can prove that they have been granted an investment licence in Zambia.

In fact, they are even given collateral by their own countries or comfort letters from their banks to facilitate the acquisition of investment licences. This gives them an added advantage and are able to invest in poultry and piggery, the sort of investment that could be easily done by the locals if there was a deliberate policy to empower them with land ownership and financial resources.

It is hoped that with the recent restructuring at the Ministry of Lands, there will be efficiency, transparency and fairness in the procession of land records and deeds. It has taken some people more than 10 years to get title deeds to their land, while others have completely lost their files at the Ministry of Lands. Unless the capacity and attitude is positively enhanced at the Ministry of Lands, the much talked about citizen empowerment may elude the majority of the most deserving poor, especially in rural and peri-urban areas.

Within the concerns raised by President Mwanawasa regarding giving huge tracks of land to speculative investors by traditional leaders, the government should also be forward looking to ensure that the future generation is not landless.

At the rate the parceling of land is going, every square meter of land, including rivers and streams, may be under some landlord, including absentee ones, in less than 10 years in Zambia. The majority of rural people, who are pastoralists, may have no where to graze their animals from. Mind you, not everyone can afford to keep 10 animals on two acres of land and feed them. Drilling a bore is a life dream for many.

In fact, some people are even expressing fear that Zambia may find herself in a situation where there are Bantustans- rural poor people being pushed to unproductive pieces of land to pave way to private ownership and profiteering by those with capital. Indeed, in modern governance, sustainable development is dependent on interdependence, including on foreign investment. As a result, foreign investment should be encouraged by all means, including spending money in luring investors in order to make money. This is more reason that the demand for equal treatment by local people should not incite xenophobia, racism or any form of discrimination. However, the concern of the majority of the people, including some traditional leaders such as chief Mukonchi, is that such investment should also benefit the local people.

In other words, the government should critically look at the benefits of investment to local communities and the country at large. The growing concerns about investors milking this country dry without adding value to local communities must be addressed by the government. And that should begin with the manner in which land is being parceled out. There should be no discrimination, but affirmative action should be the catch word in citizen empowerment-in practice not in theory.

There are cases where, during the process of transferring traditional land to state land, communities who are sitting tenants are being subjected to compete to get title to their land with people applying for the same land. As everyone knows, the process of applying for land ownership to the Ministry of Lands, and being offered before getting title is still alien to a good number of people out there. All they know are their boundaries.

Regrettably, in some cases they have been shocked by a strange visit by someone waving title deeds to their land and ordering them to vacate because they have been illegal squatters for the rest of their lives! This calls for the strengthening of other institutions such as the Lands Tribunal and civil society organisations such as the Zambia Land Alliance to protect the rights of the people in lands matters.

Prevention is better than cure and Zambia is not ignorant about the land problems taking place both in the region and other continents where population explosion and cut throat capitalism have spurred the scramble for land.


  1. Here is an interesting .pdf file on the history of land ownership in Zambia:

  2. Mrk,

    Most grateful for bringing this paper to my attention. It was a pleasurable read. It has really helped me understand the history of this most important of areas.
    You recommendations continue to amaze me :) Please do not hesistate to bring similar literature to my attention. I remain extremely interested in this area. Just out of interest - is there anything on this subject written by a Zambian? I just cringe when I read lots of papers on any subject "this paper was prepared after a x days visit to Zambia". Can't help to think how more comprehensive they would if they were done by somewhere who experienced these things - anyways, I am still grateful and challenged that others are doing some research for us and taking the initiative. Can't complain.

    By the way I didn't realise the Land Alliance was partially funded by OXFAM? I think that explains why they have a fully function website and look well organised :)

    Can I assume that not much land reform has taken place since this paper was published in 2003?

    The paper has a lot of nuggets in there and I have already filed it as a basic reference on this as I chase up on the references within it.

    Some thoughts:

    - The fact that customary land is 94% is important. I remain of the view that we can't have effective land until reform this area is addressed. The paper appears to offer a framework for dialogue in this area at the end, but clearly acknoledges that this is a complicated area, and we can only learn by looking at Botswana and others. [How do we know about the Bots experience - any useful papers you have come across on this from their end? :)]

    -I was not totally convinced that the 6% under state land which is mostly along the railway line was more important in terms of reform because it has the best agronomic potential. After reading Macher, it does seem to me that there's plenty of options even in the 94% :).

    - I thought the discussion on whether land tenure conditions affected the organisation and performance of small farmers was extremely interesting, as was the reference to the Smith paper. It does seem intuitive to me that people by and large clamour for titles because of security, it probably does not improve access to credit as one would hope - because of the general inaccessibility of credit in these areas. But perhaps a formal statistical/econometric assessment could be done- testing the level of financial access for small orders as a function of land,titling and so forth [ I suspect data is elusive].

    Again thanks for bring this to my attention. Good to see also the ODI are actually doing something useful with the excess money they spend on their fellowship :)

  3. MrK,

    Thanks for the document, it really helps to clarify the stages the legislation governing land has gone through. I notice that it makes several references to on-going regulatory review processes (from 2002), any idea what if anything became of them?


    "[How do we know about the Bots experience - any useful papers you have come across on this from their end? :)]" -Cho

    The International Institute for Environment and Development has a 2004 report comparing the experiences of African countries with land reforms passed during the 90's.

    I'll keep an eye out for anything more specific to Botswana.

  4. Land tenure policy and practice in Botswana - Governance lessons for southern Africa

    Development of Low Income Urban Housing Markets: A Case Study of the Republic of Botswana

  5. "Just out of interest - is there anything on this subject written by a Zambian?" -Cho

    Here are some evaluations of the effectiveness of poverty reduction programs in Zambia, written by Zambians.

  6. Yakima,

    Thanks for the links. I'll have a read of them.

    On the CSPR work, I was aware they had some work on poverty. Good to see they are keeping the torch high up..

    I was mostly interested on whether Zambians are doing any research into "land policy" issues.

    I am very fascinated by this "land question".

  7. Yakima,

    The OXFAM paper is truly rich in its coverage.

    Greatly enjoyed it.

    The Botswana appear well ahead of the pack. I fail to see why Zambia cannot take the approach to the land issue that Botswana has. There's really nothing unique about situation, aside from the ethnic homogeneity of Botswana.

    And it is not just land. The Botswana's actually have a better form of policy formulation than we do, in general. To them its not just reaching a solution, but HOW that solution is reached. To quote:

    "For the last quarter of a century in Botswana, iterative policymaking in the different sectors, including land, has followed a process extending up to two years: (i) a commission of inquiry (or an expert review); calls for written submissions; public meetings involving a wide range of stakeholders; (ii) the preparation of a draft report, oral presentations and discussions at a national workshop covered by the media; (iii) a draft paper which is debated in Parliament; (iv) the publication of a government white paper setting out the policy change adopted; the recommendations which have been accepted, amended and deferred (or rejected) with a justification for government having done so; (v) finally, where relevant, the drafting of laws or amending of existing laws".

    Now for the constrast:

    "In Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland land policymaking is seen as a Cabinet task. Even then, the consistency associated with collective decision-making is absent, perhaps because policy is the prerogative of the President and/ or the Prime Minister and reflects political short-term expediency".

    The FNDP promises a new lands policy before 2010.

    "A new land policy shall be developed during the Plan period to address the multitude of constraints in the land sector. At the same time, the Government shall review the organisational
    structure of the Ministry of Lands with a view to restructuring and strengthening its capacity to manage land more transparently and professionally so as to secure fair and equitable access to, and control of, land for sustainable socio-economic development."
    [FNDP 2006-10, page 48]

    One can only hope that they learn from the Bots example on how to address this issue. But I fear that may not the case at all. For one thing if the Bots approach was to be followed and they still wanted a policy BEFORE 2010, they should be starting now with asking for submissions and commission should be set up. One certainly imagines that the "parliamentary process" itself would last atleast a year.

    So we either won't have something before 2010 or we will have something but not along the Bots approach. If at all the Government takes that para from its own FNDP seriously.

  8. I did some further digging....the State House position:

    "In order to improve land administration and put in place an efficient and cost effective system of land registration and favourable legislative and institutional framework, after extensive consultations at home and abroad, the Ministry has reached an advanced stage in the finalisation of the national land policy. A draft policy will soon be ready for presentation to a national conference. "
    [March 2007]

    It appears the Land Policy is much narrower than the FNDP implied. Here it seems very focused on "administration" issue and registering plots etc.

    Perhaps the Government is no longer interested in a thorough improvement over the 1995 position.


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