Today, all I have is a question: Who owns Malawi? Already I know how foolish the question is. Even a four-year old knows that Malawians owns Malawi.
But how many Malawians can really claim to own what is in Malawi? Are you one of them?
Take the instance of Blantyre. It is Malawi’s main commercial city harbouring mosy of Malawi’s industrial activities.
But who really owns much of the land and properties that give Blantyre the status of a commercial city?
I am told most of the buildings in Blantyre Central Business District (CBD) and Limbe belong to people of Asian origin. I am also reliably informed that other properties in the city are owned by companies and corporations with local and foreign shareholding interests. Not Malawians.
In fact, you can even tell ownership of the city from the names of the roads and streets in Blantyre. Victoria Avenue. Glyn Jones. Samir Amour. Hannover Street. And etc. Where is a Malawian in Blantyre?
If it is not Phekani House, Chayamba Building [which is owned by the late Kamuzu Banda] and H. Amos House, much of the property in the city is not in the hands of indigenous Malawians.
Most of the properties owned by Malawians are in informal areas such as Mbayani, sometimes either far from the main road or on a small corner behind the large buildings owned by Asians.
Where is a Malawian in Blantyre? You might think this is just a Blantyre story. It is not. Go to Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. You will find most of the properties in the city being owned not by indigenous Malawians.
Why should Malawians be hidden in shanty townships or behind skyscrapers of Asians?
Go to Harare or Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Most of the skyscrapers in the two cities are owned by indigenous Zimbabweans. Why not Malawi? Why not Malawi, I ask. As I said, all I have today are questions.
I understand that history played a role. When the colonialists, the likes of Roy Welensky, were leaving in the early 60s, they sold, at very low prices, their land and property to those who were close to them—mostly Asians. Most Malawians missed this opportunity.
But why have our post-colonial government failed to correct these historical imbalances? Why should our cities continue to be in the hands of non-indigenous Malawians?
These are questions I am raising to various political parties as they are in the process of drafting their manifestoes. How do they look at these historical imbalances? Should they continue? Should they? Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is talking about advancing ‘economic liberation’ for Malawians. But can there be liberation when most of the property in the country is not in the hands of indigenous Malawians?
Or go to the villages. How many Malawians in the village can show you a title deed of the land they use? Put it simply: how many Malawians own the land they toil and live on?
Read newspapers. They are awash with stories of villagers complaining of waking up only to find that ‘their’ land has been leased off to ‘multi-national investors’ by their chiefs.
Last year in August, I covered a touching story in Nchalo, Chikhwawa. A certain multi-national company (name withheld) connived with village heads and ‘bought’ large tracts of local people’s customary land at ridiculous prices. The range of prices were between K3 000 and K5 000. I talked to stranded villagers who were literally left landless—without even a slot to sow a seed.
My question is: if a chief can just wake up and lease off large tracts of land to strangers, do local people really own the Malawi they claim to be their country?
I agreed with those that argued that we need to change our land laws. Currently, local people only have a user’s right, not ownership right, of the land they toil and live on. This lack of ownership is the reason some greedy chiefs are exploiting to their advantage.
This is why when Parliament passed that Land Bill last year, I was happy. Among others, the Bill provided for village committees, not chiefs alone, to administer land issues in the villages.
In fact, the Bill provided for the need of the villagers to register with District Council the land they toil and live on so that they can claim ownership of it. To me, that was a right step to giving back Malawi to Malawians.
Unfortunately, President Joyce Banda did not see it that way. After waves of outcries from chiefs that the new Land Law is taking away their power [powers to destroy or build?], she rejected signing the bill into a law.
To mean, she chose to side with greedy chiefs who were advancing an immoral point of view, than the local people who, each and every day, she says she wants to defend. Is this leadership?
It might be Blantyre which is not owned by indigenous Malawians. Or it might be a local villager who does not own the land he/she toils or lives on. The bottom line is simple: Malawians do not really own this country.
We can claim to own this country. But what is ownership when most of the properties that define ownership are not in the hands of those claiming ownership?
These are fundamental issues at the heart of Malawi’s underdevelopment. We need, as a country, to reflect on them deeply and build a call for redress.
As I have said before, these are questions I am raising to various political parties as they are in the process of drafting their manifestoes. How do they look at these historical imbalances? Should they continue?