It is a known fact that there is massive land buying going on across the country by foreigners. This is particularly true of the customary land. Corruption involving land management makes it even worse.
Unless we restrict land ownership to Malawians, we risk creating a nation whose citizens do not own any piece of land. We will be trapped in poverty and pay high rents on our own resources.
Getting to the basics. Land is a form of capital and a major factor of production. So is labour. Much of prime land in all our cities is not owned by Malawians and I think this trend should be stopped through necessary legislation. It is a known macroeconomic fact that owners of capital earn more profit than those that give their labour.
No matter how much education we are going to give to Malawians, if they don’t own land, they will remain trapped in poverty since their control over a most productive factor of productionis out of their control. Due to our weak land laws, Malawi is probably the easiest place to buy land. Non-Malawians should not even be allowed to own a stand-alone house but only units in a high rise apartment building.
Who owns the land determines the rent. Malawian businesses are now restricted to peripherals of the cities in the ghetto because they can’t afford the rents. Foreign businesses tend to have a strong network among themselves and are working hard to keep the status quo to safeguard their profits.
Such kind of safe control often comes in the form of a known narrative. Protection of property rights. I often ask. Whose property rights are we trying to protect? In an ideal situation, property rights of citizens should reign supreme than any other. If you can’t protect the rights of citizens, including their right to own land, then the country is failing its own Constitution.
Our Constitution is candid on guaranteeing economic rights of citizens. The exercise of economic rights is naturally reflected in ownership of factors of production, namely land, capital and labour. The idea that giving Malawians absolute rights in owning land undermines private capital is grossly mistaken. It is often deep-rooted in old school of Marxism where capital owners lobby regimes to keep the status quo.
Malawians have the right to own land. Where they can’t afford, a law should be enacted to protect such vulnerability instead of a provision that gives them priority to buy over a foreigner. What does priority mean when you cannot afford it? It means you have no priority. Such lobbying effects are apparent in the Land Act.
For instance, the notion that when selling a property or real estate, priority or preference should be given to Malawian citizens. It sounds fair at face value, but the catch is here. More than half of Malawians live below the poverty line and can barely afford such properties or real estates. If no Malawian can afford such real estate, then it follows that all prime land or property will be bought by non-Malawians, violating the economic rights guaranteed by our own Constitution. Framers of our Constitution did not restrict ownership to labour only, but to all factors of production.
Ironically, capital owners and major representatives of the business community that are foreign successfully lobby government to set minimum wages so that our people can be trapped in poverty. It is often a case of capital/land owners protecting their profits through a narrative of creating jobs while at the same time using sophisticated means to externalise foreign exchange and tax evasion.
In my own small or pseudo parliament, this is what I would do when it comes to land laws governing ownership. If you are not a Malawian, you will not own land. Secondly, if you are not a Malawian you should not own a single story stand-alone house apartment since the land belongs to Malawians in the first place. In all fairness, we could allow non-Malawians to own a unit in a high-rise building.
These are ideas not to scare any investor, but a reality we need to have to give Malawians a fair deal. Most of the countries whose citizens own land in this country do not allow Malawians to own land themselves. What is important is to understand the economics of fairness.
Capital/land pays better than labour anywhere in the world, whether industrialised or otherwise.
Despite the opposition to such laws, I think it is time that our Parliament took drastic and bold actions to review the land laws and restrict ownership to Malawian citizens. The massive land-buying, especially under customary areas is synonymous with selling our country and condemning our citizens to cheap labour.
There is nothing wrong in letting Malawians be the owners of land. Our Constitution guarantees these rights. They form a solid basis of building Malawian-owned businesses and ensure foreign capital inflows are not an instrument of trapping Malawians through poverty style wages.
As political parties position themselves for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, they need to come to glimpse with the fact that there is massive foreign land takeover. We need to stop it while putting in place mechanisms to reduce the cost of business.
You don’t need an international hotel chain, for instance, to own land and name a hotel. n