Mzimba project stops over land wrangles

Government and interested non-government organisations have stopped implementation of land-related projects in Mzimba over unresolved Mzimba Heritage Association (Mziha) demands, Nation on Sunday can reveal.

With support from development partners, government identified Mzimba as one of eight districts to pilot implementation of five inter-related new land laws before rolling out nationwide.

Thole briefs President Mutharika about the Ngoni culture in this file photo

But Mzimba Mziha, which has been rejecting implementation of the new land laws in the district, has asked government to first respond to calls to have the district recognised as a kingdom with its own land administration system in line with a ‘1904 treaty’.

The community resistance has pushed government to change the pilot implementation plan from Mzimba to Rumphi.

Capital Hill has also instructed all non-governmental organisations working in the area on land governance to abandon Mzimba in view of the protest against the new laws.

Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Charles Vintulla, who acknowledged the resistance in Mzimba, said they opted for Rumphi to avoid disrupting the implementation plan.

Vintulla, while saying the issue was being handled by the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), stressed that the shift from Mzimba to Rumphi does not mean Mzimba is above the law.

Vintulla: These land laws are not by-laws

“These land laws are not by-laws, which can be applicable to one local authority and not the other. Therefore, it should be clearly understood that national laws are not selective as per the wishes of a particular council,” he explained in response to our questionnaire.

Both in its submissions to government and interviews with Nation on Sunday Mziha has made it clear that the new laws are not welcome in the area of Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa.

In a petition to the State President in 2014, which was re-submitted last year, the cultural grouping asks government to consider recognising Mzimba as a kingdom and Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa as king and not Paramount Chief.

M’mbelwa: I just saw it in the newspaper

Citing the 1904 treaty, Mziha is asking government to recognise Inkosi ya Makhosi as the owner of all the land under his jurisdiction.

In a telephone interview, general secretary for Mziha Ndabazake Thole warned that their position has not changed; hence no government agency or NGO is allowed to go to Mzimba on land issues.

“That is our decision on land and it is not negotiable. Government [officials] came and we informed them the same. Ministry of Lands officials came to meet chiefs, they were told the same that our issue is based on the 1904 treaty. So, anytime, we are waiting for appointment from government to discuss our issues relating to kingdom and kingship,” he added.

The Mzimba district commissioner attracted the wrath of Mziha when he granted permission to some NGOs to carry out land–related projects in the district, in line with the new land laws.

“According to a recent DEC [district executive committee] briefing you conducted on land governance project entitled Strengthening Responsible Land Governance Systems for Smallholder Farmers in Malawi to be piloted in T/A Mpherembe, you have been given an approval to implement the project,” reads in part the letter signed by district commissioner Thomas Chirwa, dated May 16 2017, addressed to Oxfam.

Mziha expressed disappointment with the approval from the DC and issued a strongly-worded two page letter to government, copied to Paramount Chief M’mbelwa and all senior and traditional authorities in the district.

“Mzimba was shocked to see Landnet, led by officials from your office organising a meeting in Senior Chief Inkosi Mpherembe’s area, talking about land issues. We understand that Landnet through your office is implementing the newly introduced Policy besides championing the abolition of Ngoni marriage system which is the backbone of land inheritance in Mzimba,” reads the letter in part.

“With this letter, we are requesting the district commissioner to recognise his role and that he should understand that issues of land do not fall under his mandate. To advise Landnet and any other NGO with similar intentions not to come to Mzimba on the agenda of new land law policy,” adds the letter co-signed by chairperson for Mziha Professor Boston Soko and general secretary Ndabazake Thole.

Both the executive director for Landnet Emmanuel Mlaka and Oxfam country director John Makina confirmed, in separate interviews, receiving instruction from government to quit Mzimba for Rumphi or other districts.

According to Mlaka, government’s failure to handle the issue head-on is a bad precedence and a time-bomb which will haunt the country.

“Mziha wrote to government. Landnet and other CSOs got a directive from government. It is a directive to stop the activities in Mzimba. The ministry [Lands, Urban and Housing Development] discussed with CSO about this and explained why the directive – it is to enable implementer to concentrate where the law is accepted since the donor for the implementation will not extend the project period if we are embroiled in this lengthy dispute,” Mlaka explained.

The Oxfam boss also said they have since stopped their project in Mzimba following instructions from the ministry responsible. He said the change of plan has affected them logistically, since they had already done a lot of planning work on Mzimba.

Chairperson of Mzimba CSOs on land governance Jonathan Mwale, said the distrct is the biggest loser as it has lost an opportunity to raise concerns during pilot implementation phase, which could be taken on board to improve the law.

“Remember, Mzimba was targeted as a pilot district for the specific reason that it has a strong patrilineal marriage system. The pilot was meant to draw lessons from Mzimba and use those to inform the review of the law for nationwide roll out. As it is, a pilot project that would have allowed us to test how the law will work in our context has been lost. This means Mzimba will be at the mercy of the findings from other districts,” said Mwale.

Interestingly, Mziha patron, Paramount Chief M’mbelwa, is a member of a national steering committee on land reforms appointed by OPC in April this year, a month after the new statutes came into force. M’mbelwa alongside Paramount Chief Lundu are the only traditional leaders in the committee comprising technocrats from various government ministries.

Asked to comment, M’mbelwa said he is in full support of the position of his cultural grouping.

“What I can tell you is that I just saw it in the newspaper that I have been appointed. But we have not had any meeting, so I do not know anything about the steering committee. I don’t know whether they have met or not. There has not been a meeting convened so far,” he said.

Efforts to talk to OPC proved futile as both Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara and Principal Secretary responsible for administration Cliff Chiunda could not pick our calls.

In 2016, Parliament passed 10 land-related laws, a development which excited development partners as a progressive move to enhance land governance. Laws under pilot implementation include the Land Act, Customary Land Act, Physical Planning Act, Land Survey Act and Registered Land (Amendment) Act, which are linked to each other.

The laws are being piloted in Phalombe and Chikwawa in the South, Nkhotakota, Ntcheu, Mchinji and Kasungu in the Centre as well as Karonga and Rumphi in the North.

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