Why do only 15 Malawians own land in the most prime areas of Lilongwe and Blantyre cities? Economic colonisation is the only answer.
Slowly, we are counting to 100 days of Lazarus Chakwera presidency.
Expectations are as usual high. High purely on the promises made during the campaign and the consequent straight win.
Prime area land ownership in the cities is one example of economic colonisation that needs urgent redress. This is the best we can do to celebrate John Chilembwe every 15th of January.
His soul will then rest.
Pieces of legislation, in my view, will be worthy watching to address key disparities in ownership of vital economic assets such as prime land in our major cities as well as municipalities/districts where there is silent infiltration. It is key to national-led economic empowerment. I want to reflect on the issue of national-centred economic policy as an indispensable for growing the economy and getting most of Malawians out of poverty.
South Africa called it black empowerment but I hasten to say we need a deliberate economic model that puts the economic rights of the poorest at the helm of government decision-making and development while strengthening the capacity of governance and oversight institutions to enforce the law to support the war on poverty. This should apply to ownership of prime land.
Like many people, I paid attention to the speech of President Chakwera on his inauguration. Something that caught my attention was his narrative of meaningless freedoms such as self-rule when people are still stuck in poverty. His thesis was simple. Malawi is an independent nation and its people are free from colonisation.
However, what is the importance of such freedom when the majority is stuck in poverty and other vices that stop them from enjoying a decent living. I opine that an indigenous-centred economic policy if combined with an enabling environment where public institutions operate without impunity, enforce and respect the law, is a palatable route to take for every soul that believes in economic justice.
I followed campaign speeches of the two opposite sides in the presidential elections. Both articulated the problems Malawians very well and offered different solutions. Issues of education, health, business finance, road infrastructure, employment and many others came out strongly. But more important, both sides of the contest highlighted the alarming levels of poverty prevalent in the country.
The President made reference to poverty in his speech as one candid pillars of freedom. With poverty, people cannot claim freedom and are in bondage with the “haves” that have thrived on corruption and fraud.
So, why should an indigenous-led economic policy be the issue worth any obsession? I would simply answer by asking another question.
Who are the poorest in the country? It is easy to divide categories such as gender, region and district, but whatever way you do, the result remains the same.
For example, if we broke it by gender, you would see that within any gender sub-group, the poorest of that gender will be indigenous Malawians. You can get the same result if you approach it from say districts or any other category. The devil is not hidden in fact. Indigenous Malawians are the poorest, with the shortest life expectancy and have many sub-optimal outcomes in education, salaries etc. Such a policy is justified and should be a serious consideration to address economic injustices.
Drawing from sentiments from the campaign, Malawians are free politically, but their economic rights are yet to be fully enjoyed. These economic rights have been trapped upon through powerful policy interference to maintain the status quo that protects elite interests. The notion that you can own land but not own the money has been deeply, albeit rudely entrenched in our society. It is a face of economic injustice.
It is a platform that creates and perpetuate classes of “haves” and “have nots” yet this is year 2020. The lives of indigenous Malawians should matter.
Critics of indigenous led policy often hide in many affronts. One such line is that such policies are founded on racism or nationalism. But often they fail on selfishness parameters. The first parameter is that indigenous Malawians cannot enjoy similar economic rights in other countries. The second parameter of selfishness is the fact that the base start for economic rights/asset ownership is unequal.
In the laws of equity, you simply empower the most vulnerable, so they catch up with the rest, who often, in the case of our country, are the majority indigenous Malawians. This is not racism neither nationalism but equity nor justice.
The second affront is often cited as protection of private property rights. Our laws guarantee these including the constitution that protects economic rights of Malawians. The bottom line is that inequalities are historical, and we need to fix such wrongs.