Columnists Features

Foreigners scramble for land in Zambia

TEMBO Benedict.

BENEDICT TEMBO
IT IS only in Zambia where citizens and foreigners queue for parcels of land either at the local authorities or at the Ministry of Lands.
I can bet my last coin if any Zambian, irrespective of social status, can acquire land in China, India or South Africa.
That is how sacred land is in some countries.
Yet, nationals of countries where it is impossible to acquire land have found it so easy to do the same here.
No manner of investments – whether in United States dollars, British pounds or indeed euros – can make those countries sell or give land to a Zambian.
Little wonder late Minister of Agriculture Mundia Sikatana once interrupted his boss then, President Levy Mwanawasa, during a tour to India.
During a closed meeting with potential investors, late President Mwanawasa was about to promise land to Indian investors when Mr Sikatana asked to interrupt him.
When Mr Mwanawasa agreed to be interrupted, he asked the Indian minister of lands there if he [Sikatana] went there as an investor and asked for land, he would be given.
The Indian minister of land gave a categorical no reply to Mr Sikatana and the answer was simple: because you are not an Indian.
That is why President Edgar Lungu is concerned about the illegal manner in which land is being sold to foreigners.
“At the rate we are selling our land to foreigners, there is veritable danger that we might render our children landless. The indiscriminate sale of land has an ultimate effect on our children who may end up as squatters in their own country,” President Lungu said.
In a speech delivered to the second meeting of the First Session of the 12th National Assembly on the progress made in the application of national values and principles on March 17 this year, President Lungu said it is saddening that land is sometimes sold so cheaply that the value at which it is being given out could be termed as handouts.
“We, therefore, as a matter of urgency, need to come up with a revised Land Act and policy that guarantees sovereignty over our land, which is a key natural heritage,” he said.
President Lungu has since directed the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources to take to Cabinet a revised Lands Act and land policy, which will ensure that our land is protected for our future generations.
“This lack of patriotism with regard to land management shames the selfless spirit of our forefathers and mothers who fought and died so that we could be truly an independent and sovereign state. It is our duty to honour their service to this country by putting our country first in all that we do,” President Lungu said.
A concerned citizen, Davies Mupenda, said: “The President is on firm ground on the matter. The land acquisition procedure is circumvented by greedy Ministry of Lands and Local Authority workers. Perhaps it is only in Zambia where land can be easily obtained by a foreigner.
“However, there is another problem. People of Asian and Somalian origin are easily able to obtain green national registration cards so that they buy off huge tracts of land. People of foreign origin who want to obtain green national registration cards must be subjected to an interview by a panel comprising Immigration,  National Registration, Police, Anti-Corruption Commission and the Drug Enforcement Commission even if they were born in Zambia.”
Mr Mupenda said a proposal he has made to some senior government officials is that land must be advertised for 30 days before it can exchange hands.
“This will allow for objections to be lodged by concerned parties,” he said.
Indeed, there is need to stiffen the measures on how land is acquired and allocated to foreign buyers in Zambia.
The laws of selling land to non-citizens in Zambia must be re-visited so as to ensure that the foreign land buyers do not dispossess Zambians of their land.
Foreigners have a higher power of purchase and this places Zambians in awkward and disadvantaged positions.
There must be equity in land distribution to ensure that Zambians are greatly empowered in acquiring land.
Land is a vital resource that can empower many women and young people and therefore eradicate poverty and make the economy grow and prosper inexorably.
Like President Lungu said, political players, too, need to seriously review the unbecoming behaviour of their party members, especially the so-called cadres, and bring to an end the usurping of powers vested in relevant authorities by way of grabbing land and allocating themselves pieces of land as if they were the law unto themselves.
Surely, there ought to be sanity in our local authorities, who give away land sometimes even in our local heritage sites, ecosystem enclaves, to an extent that natural habitats for our indigenous species get disturbed.
There is need for a land audit to ensure that land which has deposits of natural minerals is given out to cater for individual interests.
Our traditional leaders have been the worst culprits as they have been giving away land to investors disregarding all other considerations such as existing settlements, common grazing areas, burial sites, and access to water for communities.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.

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