Views, ideas, inspiration, vision and practical tips for a better more prosperous Malawi

One killed and many injured in land resettlement fracas involving Mota Engil

Barely a week after the Times run a story about Mota Engil’s proposed 5-star hotel in Monkey Bay in Mangochi, the newspaper has reported that a man has died and several others were injured on Tuesday in a fracas over the issue:

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Nyasa Times put the dead toll at two people. Malawi News 24 reported that nine people had been injured.

The dispute (also mentioned on the Times Facebook page here) concerns the resettlement of villagers from land (said to be in the region of 100 hectares) to make way for a the construction of the hotel and golf course. The villagers claim the government didn’t consult them when selling the land to Mota Engil, and that their rights have been breached. Further they claim that the chief, Nankumba, is corruptly implicated in the scheme.

Land grabbing and forced eviction disputes are common across Africa (see the following links: Brazil’s big landowners have far too much power | Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs | Tanzania evicting 40,000 people from homeland to make room for Dubai royal family – Salon.com | Villagers, the big losers as land is ‘grabbed’ for development | Ethiopia’s land grab nightmare of the Suri People ~ Horn Affairs), and usually they follow a similar pattern that pits the power of the government in concert with rich corporations against defenceless and voiceless communities.

A government will decide to commercialize a large chunk of land for a project, be it agricultural (e.g. a sugarcane plantation) or industrial in nature. They approach the villagers, but because there is very little incentive to adequately compensate them, or not enough effort to explain how the sale of the land will benefit the villagers, and because of the corruption involved, the villagers will refuse to be resettled. Thus after varying degrees of negotiations or coercion, the military, police and sometimes armed militia are recruited to forcibly remove the people. Bulldozers move in, buildings are demolished, sometimes burnt, those who resist are arrested and sometimes imprisoned, and very little is done to help the people whose land has been forcibly taken. Often the communities never get to receive any material benefit from the sale of their land. Talk of taking advantage of defenceless people.

But there are ways of doing things constructively. For example, looking at the floods that have recently devastated the southern part of Malawi, it makes sense to resettle most of the people from the areas that are most at risk of flooding; indefinitely, or until effective permanent solutions are found to the flooding problem in these areas. It’s in their best interest.

If I were in charge of a project of resettlement, the following is a rough outline of what I would insist to be done. To me it’s common sense, at least if the dignity of the people affected is to be preserved:-

(1) The government and land developer involved would need to identify suitable land for the villagers to be resettled to, and begin building decent accommodation (homes and flats) for them to live in. In order to utilise space efficiently, they would need to consider energy-efficient flats or even communal living spaces for those who opt for it. Although it would entail some cost, if you are taking land away from people, they need to be remunerated properly. And just because they are poor doesn’t mean that they must be ill-treated or taken advantage of.

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And it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. Bamboo roofed houses like the one below, made of treated bamboo, with solar water heaters, solar lamps could go some way in providing accommodation for a few years, before something permanent is built :-

bamboo-house(2) The government would need to develop employment options for the community, by bringing in some kind of work. A factory to make soap, to assemble bicycles, to produce eco-friendly building materials, or an integrated commercial agricultural interest would do. This is important to provide the working population amongst the villagers with jobs, and a means to earn a living, so as to reduce poverty and desperation.

employment(3) Similarly, an administration office, a police depot, some schools, a technical college to provide skills training would need to be built. A library, a market, a hospital, some shops, possibly even a small shopping mall with a Cinema, and other important infrastructure would also be necessary, to provide amusement and entertainment, and to cater to the new settlement.

Students-Africa(4) The roads and transport links from the new settlement to the nearest city would need to be updated, to enable seamless travel, and encourage transfer of skills to the area.

road(5) Communication:- The government would need to be transparent and invite the villagers to relocate to the new town. Each family would be provided with a home depending on the size of the family and its earning potential. The ownership of the house would be 50% owned by the government and the other 50% by each household. Further, depending on their earnings, they would be asked to contribute a small amount each month towards buying the house, although alternative arrangements would be found for those who are old and can’t work, and those who are poor and have no income source. A relocation stipend to each household would also be provided to help them start their new life.

(6) A promise to preserve grave sites and religious or sacred sites at their old settlements would be necessary. Further, within reason, the villagers would need to be allowed access to the religious and sacred areas.

(7) Finally, Ownership. A trust fund would be created to be administered by representatives of the villagers ( and not the chiefs) whereby at least 20% of the hotel and golf-course’s pre-tax profits would be invested in to help developing the community, including creatint employment, to be invested in education and healthcare, and to maintain the housing estates or build additional settlements. This must be fixed contractually for the present hotel operator, and any future operators. Why? Because that’s the true meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Only then would it be equitable and right to hand over the vacated land to the hotel developer. These people have to ask the question, how they would want the government to handle the matter had it been them who were being asked to move, and leave their land behind? Any developer who doesn’t agree to a deal that includes such considerations definitely does not have the people’s interests to heart.

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About Sang N.

Writer, Entrepreneur & Activist. Interests: History, Entrepreneurship, Business, Motors, Architecture, Aviation, Travel, Food and Art.

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