When Malawi attained independence from Britain in 1964, the feeling was that of relief as Malawians thought that they had emerged from a dark gateway to face a rising sun. No wonder, one of the symbols on the Malawi flag is a rising sun.
However, our dance under the shining sun has been riddled with challenges, mostly to do with poor planning. It seems that town and city planning was at the back of policymakers’ minds when we decided to walk separate ways with Britain, for, if not embroiled in poor sanitation issues such as sewage getting into water supply pipes, land squabbles between Ministry of Lands officials and city council fathers, among others, we are bombarded with stories of councils or citizens refusing to meet their obligations.
In the latest episode of such squabbles, mainly bordering on poor planning, some residents of Lilongwe are up in arms against Lilongwe City Council (LCC). The bone of contention is that the residents do not want to budge on the issue of paying development fees and related costs to LCC, who are supposed to be custodians of the land, arguing that plots in question were procured from members of the village, and not the city fathers.
Without going into the nitty-gritty of the issue, we feel that we have come to a point where city councils should review their development plans and engage the public on issues of land to avoid wasting time on, as Lands Minister Anna Kachikho puts it, issues that would easily be resolved.
Residents, too, should realise that there can only be one custodian of land in a given area, hence the need to respect the authorities mandated with looking after the land.
Endless squabbles do not serve the best interests of anyone. On one hand, city councils lose potential revenue that would help in the development of cities when residents refuse to pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
On the other hand, residents themselves pay a double price as, after being conned into paying money to people who may, after all, not be the real owners of the land, they are forced to pay more money or face the embarrassment of being evicted.
It is sad that, when we hoped that the new Land Law would reign in on issues of land ownership, such cases are on the rise. Which tells us that the recently enacted laws on land should have been based on research findings in the first place.
Moving forward, the authorities should go back to the drawing board and reset the boundaries so that no one should claim to have been in the dark about who owns what.