BURTON KAFUNDA, economic governance expert for Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), speaks our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI on matters concerning customary land in the country.
A lot of foreigners own land in Malawi. What do you think is the problem?
Much as people would blame chiefs, but I believe the major problem is that land is not properly regulated. You will recall that most land bills, including the Customary Land Bill, have not been presented in Parliament yet. These are bills that would have been regulating land issues. Customary land still remains traditional and if you want to purchase it, you have to go to traditional authorities or some people who have been cultivating it for a long time; thereafter you start processing legal matters to secure it with the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development or city and town councils. This means anybody can acquire land in Malawi without problems, that’s why you see so many foreigners owning land. Unless land reforms are implemented in the country these issues will continue.
Some have observed that customary land tenure tends to suppress development and investment. Do you agree?
I agree with that observation 100 percent. If land is owned in a customary way, its value remains unknown. This is why in certain areas where mining is taking place, people could not assess the land they owned because nobody had ever valuated it. Nobody could tell that they had so much value of land, as such government simply evicted them and gave them meagre compensation.
In what circumstances can customary land be turned into public land?
Customary land, under any circumstances, still remains public and is under government. In short, government has a lot of power over customary land and most people don’t have the power to negotiate for fair compensation.
How much land is under customary land tenure in the country?
I would not give the exact statistics, but much of the land is under customary tenure. This is significant because private ownership is still very minimal and when it comes to investment it is restricted to only urban areas where people are still organising themselves over land. It is under these circumstances that you see investors taking huge amounts of open spaces of land.