Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Malawi: Land Law Passed Amid Protest

Key Issues:
  • Foreigners can only get land if they partner with local
  • Foreigners who have freehold land but don't get citizenship within 7 years will see it converted to leasehold
  • Chiefs no longer have sole say over land - Village committees will instead be the new authority
  • Opposition say the bill is too complex and has been rushed
  • NGOs say it still ignores women
  • Read the story, don't be lazy and not just want everything summarized!

Parliament on Friday finally passed into law the controversial land bill which government says will check land related malpractices in the country; the opposition however says the bill has been rushed.

Democratic Progressive Party spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi said the bill has been rushed because there are complex areas in the bill that need explaining and clarification.

“…chiefs and village headmen have raised few questions saying on the issue of public land, private land, acquisition of land have to be detailed clearly. The issue of land tribunals, do our traditional leaders understand clearly or is it made to take away their traditional inherent powers over customary land?

“We thought the bill should be referred back to the relevant committee, that is the legal affairs committee, so that these issues should be re-looked into because any Act, any law of a country it concerns should be understood better by that country’s citizens than anybody else. So I think there are more questions to the land bill than answers,” said Dausi.

But minister of lands and housing who is also leader of the house Henry Phoya in an interview after the session that passed the bills, played down the fears by the bills critics saying the land bill was just a general bill and that upcoming bills such as customary law bill will explain some issues better.

“Chiefs will no longer be able to make unilateral decisions insofar as allocations of land are concerned we will have to have village committees. So what has been the case in the past whereby villagers would just see someone, a foreigner, laying claim to a piece of land will be a thing of the past,” said Phoya.

Asked about the gender inequality that the bill has been accused of sustaining, Phoya said the allegations are untrue as the bill grants equal access to both male and females.

On the concerns of corruption by land ministry officials, Phoya said government set to strengthening the land management issues in the land related bills to close loopholes that allow for corruption.

Kezzie Msukwa, Chairperson of Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament supported the bill saying the bill will now make it hard for foreigners to acquire land as the Act  requires that foreigners partner with Malawians if they want to buy land.

The freehold land being held by foreigners also dominated and divided parliamentarians during the debate on the bill. Some even alleged that all the prime land in Malawi is being held by foreigners under this schedule.

“The bill addresses that issue directly, it states that when a foreigner has freehold title over a piece of land and he does not obtain Malawian citizenship within a period of 7 years from the time of enactment of this law, that land shall be converted to leasehold,” said Phoya.

ActionAid Malawi Women’s Rights Coordinator, Wezi Moyo speaking at a recent a workshop organised for women farmers to discuss land related bills said the bill would heavily disempower women.

“This bill is going to disempower women in big way, it is carrying over the problems that are in the customary land system of land distribution which does don't accord women equal rights to access and control of land for example the bill is talking about redistributing the land and registration when women don't have the land, how are women going to register land if they don't own it?
Malawi soil: out of reach of foreigners, women

Justin Dzonzi, human rights lawyer and legal consultant added his worry on the new bill saying the bill is useless if it doesn't abolish or address the customary law first.

“…it says every person with customary land can register it in his or her name or in joint names as a unit, now imagine a husband and wife who jointly own land in a patrilineal set up and the husband dies, what happens to the land? The bill says administration of the law will be according to customary law which in this case means that the wife cannot have that land,” said Dzonzi.


  1. This is abnormal not to say the least, why would parliament pass a Bill first, and explain the nitty gritties of that Bill in another Bill "to be passed later"? What happens to this Bill should parliament reject the Customary Bill? On the other hand,the restriction on foreign ownership of land in Mw is a welcome development.

  2. Exactly my worry, it reeks of so much ploys...