The pace at which Zambia is giving away land to foreigners and those with power and money is worrying. Two weeks ago, Zambians woke up to news that Trevor Kaunda, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Medici Land Governance (MLG), a subsidiary of Overstock.com, to develop a programme for systematic land governance in Zambia.
Government and this foreign private company have described their partnership as momentous, arguing that through this partnership, poor Zambians will be able to obtain access to credit and public services, and increase government’s ability to collect taxes, enforce property rights, and plan for economic expansion and innovation.
As part of the MOU, MLG has agreed to deliver to the Ministry certificates of title in digital and printed form by November 30, 2018, to serve as proof of concept for a systematic, streamlined process to scale-up the country’s land titling programme.
Whilst we agree that security of tenure on land is important, in fact, we believe that access to land is a human right, we are, however, opposed to the manner the Zambian government is undertaking land reforms. Putting all land on title is not a solution to ending poverty. It is wrong for a government to entice people to accept a system that will drive them off the land they have lived on freely since time immemorial by enticing them to surrender their land and start renting it from the State and further risk losing it to those from whom they will be enticed to borrow.
We are shocked that government is continuing to undertake drastic land reform measures in the absence of an agreed land policy.
This government is broke and desperate for money, and in the process, entering into questionable arrangements that may see this country auctioned if Zambians do not stand up and reject these manoeuvres.
This generation needs to watch the activities of this administration very closely and stand up to defend the and, which is their heritage. Whilst we are lamenting the lack of economic freedom for many Zambians over half a century after independence, we seem to forget that the essence of the freedom struggle was for Zambians to possess and control their land.
Young people need to change their attitude towards land. We are worried to see many young people selling bare land, which they inherit from their parents, including housing and property. Why is this generation so short-sighted? Why are we led by people who have a high appetite to sell anything and everything?
We have followed with keen interest the stand-off between our traditional leaders and government on the land policy. We applaud the royal highnesses for their wisdom and foresight to reject a policy that seeks to benefit foreigners in the name of investment, at the expense of the majority poor. We insist that land belongs to Zambians and this appetite to keep giving away thousands of hectares of land to foreigners will leave Zambians landless and set the next generation on another battle for independence. The difference now is that they will have to fight a more complicated and sophisticated war. We seem not to be learning anything from the challenges of ownership and control of land in Zimbabwe and South Africa. We understand that the chiefs met and passed resolutions on land, but the government remains adamant and unwilling to listen and heed to their cries, which are the cries of their subjects the majority poor on customary land today.
The dynamics around the management of land in Zambia have changed significantly in the past decade. Central to this is the ever-rising appetite to acquire land by private capitalist interests on both State and customary land. This is to a large degree perpetuated by government open market policies that are premised on the maximization of foreign driven investment. The current narrative preached by government of urban development is the construction of shopping malls on every street, which in the end push local small traders out of business as they cannot compete with cheaper foreign imported goods. This is beginning to result in loss of jobs and a shrinking local productive capacity.
Another critical phenomenon is the emergence of private land developers who have acquired vast amounts of land and with minimal value addition offloading small “serviced” plots at exorbitant prices.
They have gone on a mission to purchase vast land from traditional leaders in peri-urban areas, others bought farms that were on title and changed land use, others acquired vast land for construction of lodges but ended up changing use and demarcating it for re-sale at prices most Zambians can’t afford. These developments present an injustice and de-service to the citizenry who have to buy back their own land from third parties.
Why is it easier for private entities with capital interests to acquire land and later exploit citizens financially, and citizens especially in urban areas can’t access land from their own government affordably. This is a scandal.
Where is the once strong voice of civil society? Our NGOs that purport to speak for the poor need to change their approaches to advocacy for people-centred land policy reforms and begin to think of engaging in more robust and innovative ways to raise demand for the right to land by citizens.
Civil society may need to awaken to the fact that the absence of a land policy may not be the biggest barrier to equitable access to and control of land by Zambians because lack of policy is policy in itself.
NGO leaders may have to invest more in public awareness and education on the value of land and sensitise the public on what is going on.
The prudent thing is for President Edgar Lungu to step in and ensure that the stand-off between the Minister of Lands and traditional leaders is resolved. It is important that the majority poor on customary land are protected from displacements. We are worried to see our villages vanishing as government facilitates large-scale land-based investments mainly in mining and agriculture. We need to respect the intrinsic value of land. Our land is not a cheap commodity that should be traded anyhow without regard for the poor.