By George Jere
I made a submission to national constitutional conference on 19th July 2010. But like many other documents submitted by various individuals or bodies in Zambia it suffered the familiar fate of gathering dust.
In light of the recent appointment of another constitutional revision committee by President Michael Sata in November 2011, allow me to Re-ignite the Debate by presenting my views on this emotive and vexatious subject of Leasehold Tenure and land ownership in Zambia.
1. Leasehold Tenure
The recommendation that land in Zambia should continue to be held under the system of leasehold should be questioned. From the outset, let me explain what leasehold means: the land in question belongs to the state; Individuals/bodies then lease or rent the land from the landlord (state). The title will be in the name of the state and the lessee (person renting) will be mentioned as a leaseholder.
The origins of Leasehold tenure came into being by a unilateral declaration of President Dr Kenneth Kaunda in 1975 Mulungushi economic reforms. The reasons advanced at that time, inter alia, land is God given; therefore to keep out speculation it should be held by the state. Such wisdom held strong as the wind of socialism held sway in many countries in the world. In the late 60s most Countries especially in Africa changed from Freehold to Leasehold systems.
The merits and demerits of leasehold system
To find out whether land should be held under leasehold tenure in today’s market environment, let’s begin by examining the merits and demerits of the system:
Under leasehold all land belongs to the state; issued under lease to individuals for a specific period. It is assumed that the management and allocation of land will be conducted in an equitable and judicious manner. The greatest weakness of this system: land becomes valueless. Yes, land has no value because it is owned by the state. This is will not make sense in the financial world. Land, a factor of production with no Value?
Accountant’s financial reporting in Zambia mentions the 1975 Land Act in their reports and goes further by stating that they are precluded from adding value to land because it is leased from the government. Accountants are right; the land value of the asset leased (owned) by individual/company is not mentioned at all in accounts.
Apart from distorting the financial position of the company; this irrational Leasehold Act of 1975 has a devastating effect on people/organisations capability to obtain funds for development.
Land valuation is a crucial key to economic development.
Although amendments were later made to the land act to put value on leasehold land: This amendment is futile in financial circles. It appears this time around the technocrats didn’t know what they were doing. How do you put value to a leased property, one may ask? Accountants/bankers cannot accept that valuation because the “bottom-line “; Land belongs to the state. It’s like attempting to put a value on a car you are leasing…THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. No banker will give you a loan based on that security. Simply put, the asset is not yours.
A peasant farmer with 100 acres of land and with no improvements on the farm has no chance of obtaining capital (loan) because his biggest asset (land) under leasehold system has no value. Ask any modern financial institution in Zambia and worldwide, they will attest.
The Leasehold system has stopped Agriculture revolutions from taking root in most countries especially in Africa.
At international level, the effect has been felt in the former eastern bloc countries that had leasehold legislations’. As they embrace market economics, they are making Changes to these out-dated laws of leasehold land tenure systems.
The American Agriculture revolutions took place in late (16- 18th) century because immigrants to America, most of them penniless, obtained land from the relevant authorities for farming. And this land was obtained at nominal values. The freehold title was then deposited with banks (financial institutions) to enable them obtain necessary funds for development. A development which would have been not possible had land been classified as Leasehold.
CHANGE TO FREEHOLD SYSTEM
The right to own land can only be guaranteed to Zambians by changing the system to freehold. For those who advocate state control of land under leasehold tenure: remember what happened to the Mwembeshi farmers in Zambia in the the late 1970s who were displaced from their farms by the state.
It is only natural for individuals to own land under freehold tenure. People will be more responsible and plan long term because it is held in perpetuity. Moreover, I find it difficult to understand the rationale of reviewing someone’s tenure of land after the expiry of the lease in 14/99 years. After all, in most cases the renewal is given to the same person (existing tenant). To do otherwise after the expiry of the lease by allocating to another person would amount to injustice. So why do we still have this leasehold system, one may ask?
THE ADVATANGES OF FREEHOLD TITLE
Just by changing the law from leasehold to freehold you will immediately empower millions of Zambians who own land to become land millionaires. Because for the first time land will have a valuation.
In addition, with a government funded project in place that enables poor peasant farmers to acquire title this can only lead to accelerated economic development in Zambia.
How Land Ownership can be managed
Given Zambia’s land mass and small population, there is plenty of land for Zambians and investors to be allocated land in a judicious and equitable manner for farming and residential purposes; With Investors paying market prices.
What is required is an efficient land allocation system that takes into account the indigenous peoples interests.
Given the opportunity to acquire title, most Zambians inclusive of peasant farmers can lay claim to the land of their use/intended use.
The allocation of land at nominal rates can only be judiciously administered by the government through the relevant (municipal) bodies. Local authorities not chiefs will be better suited to allocate all land to Zambians. Chiefs can only recommend and not overrule such bodies. Should there be conflict of interest between the two parties; local authorities/government organs should prevail.
The current system is a recipe for chaos. Customary land which constitutes 80% of available land in Zambia should be abolished.
Just have a glance at the chaotic situation in land ownership in Lusaka district, the capital of Zambia. The revelation now is that Lusaka cannot expand because a chief (nkomesha) holds large tracts of Land.
The claim by chiefs that they own land in their personal capacity is absurd and should be dismissed because it lacks a historical legacy. Unless of course they claim that powers were conferred to them by God.
Chief’s today in Zambia can sell land and use the proceeds for their own personal use: Leaving nothing for the subjects. That has been the unfortunate practice of chief nkomesha.And she is not alone.
Never in our History did we have our own people giving such powers over land to chiefs. The colonialist demarcated areas for the purpose of administering/ jurisdiction and not for chiefs to usurp powers of land ownership from their own people.
…In Western Province….
In western province for example, land administration has had tragic consequences; High levels of poverty due to lack of economic development in the area. Title to land is strictly prohibited or unheard off.
This practice in western province can only be to the detriment of the indigenous people of that province. For without title to land, how can one invest in a project? Let alone obtain funds from financial systems for development.
Those Barotse plains would have been littered with sugar and rice estates by now.
Cries by rouble rousers and interested groups that the province has been neglected should instead direct their efforts and question the legitimacy of the litunga (chief) especially over land administration.
All mankind at one time were ruled by chiefs. Through the passage of time this was found wanting and led to the demise of such tribal systems (feudal systems).
Chiefs/kings today and around the world are ceremonial figures and shouldn’t have authoritative powers. That should be the preserve of an elected government.
..SADLY. In Western PROVINCE
Numerous project proposals have been turned down in the past by the Litunga (chiefs) establishment because of one sticking issue: any project proposal in the province should include the chief in his personal capacity as partner in the new Venture. World Bank has refused to sanction various development projects because as they rightfully stated;” a project should not be for the benefit of the individual”.
The unfortunate people of western province live in what can be classified as modern day serfdom.
This is indeed sad. That land will remain barren until the end of the world unless changes are made to land administration to that forgotten province.
The barotse land agreement can be respected but land should belong to the people of that province. It was an ingenious ploy by Lewanika 11 to usurp power over land from his people at the time of independence in 1964.
At independence, it is a well known fact that the lozi establishments got substantial amounts of money (millions) from the federation. Five decades later, there is nothing to show the people of western province how those funds were utilized.
Today the capital mongu can only boast one ZNPF building as development after 5 decades of independence…….something should be done
My PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN WESTERN PROVINCE…..
Let me share with you my personal experience
In 2004, I was one of the beneficiaries of loans offered by World Bank to develop timber exports from western provinces. To the best of my recollections, out of the twenty or more successful applicants only a few or none had Lozi names (lozis are the predominant tribe in this area).It’s hard to imagine that the loans were intended for the development of the timber industry in their province!
The poor souls (LOZIS) could not participate because most didn’t have land title deeds to offer as security for obtaining the loan. In our discussions, they did lament over land administration in the province. The choking and corrupt practices of the indunas in western province are well known and can be documented,
..Should land ownership be restricted…?
The proposed restriction to land ownership by individuals is another bad concept.
Usage and not by decree should determine the size of land holding in Zambia.
Due to market limitations and the economies of mass productions in farming: the activity (farming) will always be confined to a minority of people. In most successful economies in the world less than 5% of the labour forces are farmers.
The vast majority of Zambians will use land for residential purposes. Therefore, the purported shortage of land am afraid is non-existent.
….should we follow the example of Zimbabwe…..?
The madness next door (Zimbabwe), hopefully will not filter to our country. It is tragic.
Robert Mugabe didn’t review to his people before confiscation the total hectares held by the poor white farmers in relation to the total arable land available in that country. At that time of confiscation only 20% of arable land in Zimbabwe was under cultivation; In Zambia it is currently at 10%.
It reminds me of a day in 2005 I accompanied my visiting friends from UK On a flight to Mfuwe (tourist resort) in a 4 seater plane. After passing chongwe town on our way to mfuwe; my friend (David) peeped down and remarked:”DO PEOPLE LIVE THERE!!!
What he saw…. are vast spaces of forest with no building in sight…… And that is true for Most of Africa. It is sparsely populated. Cries of shortage of land can only emanate from delusional characters. Or simply known as alarmists.
In the Zimbabwean situation, to grab “cultivated “Land and kill the occupants makes me cringe….. Ashamed to be an African.
Prior to the arrival of colonialist there was no farming in Africa. We were gatherers of fruits, hunters etc was the order of the day. Very few people were displaced by the settlers. A poignant point, Just look at the few claims brought to fore after the demise of apartheid in South Africa land resettlement programs.
,.. LAND HISTORY….
History is replete with unfortunate conquests of one race against another and within the same race over land matters. It’s not just against Africans as we have been led to believe. More recently, we have had Hitler of German thumping fellow whites (1940-45) as he tried to expand the territorial claims of his homeland Germany.
In southern Africa we have had Shaka, conquering any tribe he faced as he expanded the Zulu kingdom. No one argued with him. But He went on to stab people for no reason apart from the fact he devised a short stabbing spear! When his opponents threw theirs in combat.
Earlier on, I had alluded to the fact whether there was a genuine shortage of land in Zimbabwe prior to the confiscation.
- Given the land mass in Zimbabwe of 150,757 square miles. The land that Mugabe confiscated can be computed: on average confiscated farms in Zimbabwe ranged from 300 hectares to 10000 hectares. A conservative estimate owned by white farmers in Zimbabwe can be estimated at 1000 hectares each for the 4000 white farmers: that would result in a shocking15, 444 square miles or 10% of the TOTAL LAND IN ZIMBABWE.
Even if one discounted for parks and inhabitable land, the land occupied by white settlers prior to confiscation was negligible….
This is evidenced by the fact most farms are situated on the line of rail. From chirundu to beit bridge, with absolutely nothing in the interior. The same is true for Zambia. Or the rest of Africa. Most farms as expected follow the line of rail/major roads. For obvious reasons to transport their goods. And in the whole of Africa it is only one single road that runs across any given country.
President Robert Mugabe’s vision of sharing wealth is twisted. His Doctrine;”Kill every rich person in order for the masses to share wealth.”(Sic) should be redressed in the interest of fair play and justice.
What can we do for Zambia….?
- Land should be freely transferable to achieve optimum use and this is only possible under Freehold system.
- No local/ foreign investor to Zambia will commit large investments without title to land.
- Being an immovable asset, land will never be “stolen”. It is the usage not the ownership that is of long term benefit to the general populace.
- With cost effective land rates charged by the state in place, there will be no need for confiscation of idle land. People will just surrender idle land because they will be unable to pay commercial land rates.
Lastly, all land should be vested in the President who will hold it in trust and on behalf of the people of Zambia; it will be held for the purposes of administering and allocation to interested parties. Due to mass movements of people in Zambia and inter marriages the question of tribal ownership is primitive and unjust; it is irrelevant in today’s Zambia.