Our land administration is in very urgent need of reform

Zambia is undoubtedly one of the most highly urbanized countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost 45 percent of the population is crowded in few towns in urban areas, mostly along major transport corridors, with the rest scantily scattered in other parts of the country.

It has been estimated that by 2050 more than 60 percent of the population will be urban based, mostly in unplanned settlements. Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces have the highest percentage of urban population at 82 and 81 percent respectively, where it is estimated that 60-70 percent of the population is living in unplanned settlements or settlements that have emerged from privately owned land.

As this population grows it is expected to create extreme  pressure on the available land.

Demographers say more than 90% of Zambians belong to the nine main ethnolinguistic groups: the Nyanja-Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Tumbuka, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, Nkoya and Lozi.

With the one Zambia one nation motto this population has become increasingly homogenous with the advent of a new Zambian grouping without a clear ethnolinguistic orientation. Th is group includes the new Zambian called  Mutale Mwanza, Kufekisa Hamusankwa, Chanda  Mtonga and  Tivwalenji Lutangu.

The bulk of this population is still centered in urban areas where land is becoming increasingly difficult to secure; pressure will thus mount for more land to settle the growing population.

The rural areas, still organized in almost “pure” ethnic groups concentrated in geographical regions have not been speared the effects of land pressure as Chiefs allocate more and more land to businesses and “foreign” interest groups.

In urban areas where the alienation of land has not been well thought out the pressure is mounting even more.

Apart from the shrinking land for human settlement situations have arisen, as was in the case debated in parliament, where permission was granted for quarry mining activities in the middle of a farming area in Lusaka.

Similar applications have been granted allowing blasting, mining and chemical processing of materials within residential and farming areas.  More recently in Lusaka scandalous conversions of public land to private property have been revealed.

Flimsy excuses have been offered by land agents such as councils for totally untenable changes of use which contravene logic and sensibilities.  For example, the Lusaka City Council changed land use of the looters area in Libala through one insertion in a newspaper.

This is hardly the manner in which a potentially lucrative and highly divisive transaction should have been handled by a public body.

Change of use should have been widely publicized to enable all interested parties to participate so that objections could be entertained and where necessary modifications would have been made in the manner in which the land was to be alienated.

But perhaps most importantly, the value of the land could have been determined through a proper market survey so that when eventually sold the council could derive full benefit.

Sadly we are suffering from the socialist “- KK” legacy in which land had no value.  This misconception underlies our current land administrative system because private land ownership is seemingly repressed or not overtly manifested in transactions.

This may have its advantages, in that the value of land is negotiable, whereas it is serving as a great drawback and disadvantage to such institutions as councils and the government itself which gives away land for a song, which land is later developed or sold at ridiculously exploitative rates.

The country still has to know how much the Lusaka Council obtained from the sale of the controversial plots and compare the value to the actual market price.  The difference will be huge and there is no reason not to suspect that the difference may serve as the informal asking price which the Council will never receive.

If there is confusion and lack of clarity within Lusaka, the capital city of the country, the reality elsewhere is even worse.

Traditional land is supposedly held by chiefs on behalf and for subjects.  But more often than not the chiefs dispense and in some cases actually sell land without any reference to subjects who find themselves dispossessed and living as squatters on titled land.

The administration of both customary and state land must be synchronized and brought to speed to stop the current abuses which if left unchecked will dispossess many Zambians while putting productive land to abusive use.

Land tenure in customary land must be subjected to intensive research so that the mode of inheritance, dispute process, land market and generally resource management are dealt with more effectively because future legal challenges will be a cause of considerable litigation if not political contestation.

As more people in urban areas seek to settle on land where they can farm and earn a living pressure will shift from residential plots in town to small holder plots around existing towns and rural settlements.

The one Zambia one nation motto which has created a new breed of Zambians who may have very little or very tenuous claim of customary land and yet they are Zambians and therefore fully entitled to land.

There is need for an urgent audit of land which will support a new land  management system that will allow for equitable land distribution.

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