Many people are becoming landless. The current state of economy and rising cost of living is forcing poor communities to give up land in exchange for pitifully low sums of money. In the middle of this equation are wealthy individuals, land-sale agents, and government officials. Indigenous Malawians are pushed out of their land which is rapidly being possessed by the rich, business elites, and the so called ‘investors’.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous foreigners too are using their financial muscle to acquire land through dubious means. Corruption is playing a major role in these ‘land grabs’. This article enhances conversations on land corruption.
Land administration in Malawi is marred with corruption. Unfortunately, Ministry of lands, Malawi Housing Corporation, city councils and other local councils are documented as facilitators in the malpractice. Thousands of applicants for plots have to be on the waiting-list for years to have their turn, which never comes.
Majority ordinary Malawians are forced to give up and resign to their fate of landlessness. Political interference compounds the problem as the machinery of land distribution tends to favour political elites and party supporters.
Corrupt practices within land administration and management is called land corruption. Transparency International – the global think tank that researches on corruption – estimates that one in every five people pay a bribe to access land. The playing ground is not fair as it favours the rich and robs the poor of their land rights.
For many poor communities, land is more than a commodity. Land is a heritage, a home and a source of livelihoods. Land also represents social capital and plays a central role in cultural aspects. Therefore corruption in the land sector kills society in many aspects.
Land corruption comes in different forms. Bribery is common at the local community level involving traditional chiefs. At the national level, government officials and senior politicians too engage in bribery. Sometimes the powerful use their positions to threaten rightful land owners into surrendering their land rights to ‘land grabbers’.
Another form of land corruption takes place when women are forced into sexual abuse to access land. This is a double loss as women suffer loss on their dignity. Moreover, women fall into the trap because sustenance of land ownership depends on continuous sexual exploitation.
Poverty reinforces land corruption especially in Malawi where women and girls are poorer than men and boys. Similarly, young people bear the blunt of land corruption since majority are living in extreme poverty.
Exclusion is also a systematic form of land corruption. Community members are often sidelined from participating in key decisions relating to land rights. Elite domination by business actors with financial and political muscle play a significant role. Communities often wake up to news that their land has been taken away by ‘investors’.
Furthermore, these developments lead to eviction of villagers from their land, they are poorly compensated or given no compensation at all. In most cases, indigenous villagers are not given access to documentation pertaining land transactions.
Land corruption affects society in different ways. It kills off entrepreneurial spirit on the part of women, young people and indigenous business groups. Land corruption frustrates broad based economic development. Corruption in the land sector also takes away people’s homes, erodes community heritage, and dismantles cultural wealth.
There is urgent need to strengthen good land governance practices, embrace inclusive and participatory approaches designed to restore people’s land rights. Land laws must be aligned to the interests of women, young people, and indigenous communities while balancing needs for economic investments and sustainable development.
Loopholes in land policies often abused by foreigners, unscrupulous business elites, and politically connected fraudsters must be sealed. Now is the time to wage war against land corruption.