There is an acute shortage of housing in the urban areas of this country. Lilongwe is proving to be the worst and there is no end in site. The other three cities are no better. Rentals are skyrocketting beyond the reach of average persons. Add to the fact earnings are generally low and a majority of city dwellers have no job or large families. Factor in our naturally extended families as a means of social protection. There is no end to the housing plight of average citizens that struggle to earn a decent living. Somewhere, someone is not doing their job or simply do not care. The process of allocating land to build houses has institionalised corruption to some extent. Malawi Housing Corporation, City Assemblies and the Ministry of Lands seem highly contented with the status quo. Looks like they take pride in our desperation and ques that we make in their offices. The master slave relationship it has become. We pay taxes. Either they are clueless on what they are supposed to do or do not care as long as they collect corrupt rents from the connected. Unfortunately, it is not easing the housing crisis. People are suffering.
What have we seen over the last decade or afew years? Emergence of peri-urban areas such as Njewa, Lumbazi in the outskirts of Lilongwe, Chileka in Blantyre and along the Nkhata-Bay road. Malawians dream to own homes or invest in residential property but the process is doggy and very corrupt. I dont need to provide proof, but potential home owners, average hard working Malawians, have resorted to buying land in customary areas in the outskirts of our cities. Pathetic situation. Again who has more cash gets such land.
I dont need to provide proof to the anti-corruption bureau, but the mere existence of codes against such malpractices in the land management institutions is enough. There are three, if not two classes of people that are often favoured in land allocation in our cities by assemblies, lands minsitry and the Malawi Housing Corporation. Politicians, often the powerful ruling elites. We have tales of the recent sale of housing units in Blantyre that would even stun a lookie public procurement assistant. Secondly, we have the super-rich-Malawian oligarchs, often connected to the regime and sometimes willing to pay high bribes. Then a bunch of rich foreigners through shady and dubiosu connections. The rest of us are condemned to scramble for the existing houses for rent. I dont know whether this amounts to a housing policy of any kind, but I believe the political leadership should do more. The lands ministry is headed by a capable bloke.
The land grab outside our cities is moving at alarming levels. The poor are being forced to sell their land to rich foreigners or the relatively well off urban dwellers that cannot access land to build homes in the cities for reasons i narrate. The poorer someone becomes, it appears, there are two options. Being forced further out of town so that you pay a much higher bus fare to city and remain in that state forever, or come to city and live in squalor/slum, remain in a similar situation, welfare wise. Vicious cycle it appears. Is our hosuing policy deliberately trapping our poor/middle class and condemning them into perpetual poverty or hell? Maybe we have a silent class war.
There are lots of benefits from making land allocation easy, effective and more important efficient. I see no point in filling forms and paying fees to Malawi Housing Corporation, Minsitry of Lands and City Assemblies and staying for over 20 years without any allocation. Worse still, not even an acknowledgement that your application is unsuccessful for any dubious reason atleast. Sounds like revenue collection of some kind to screw us even more. If these process are efficient, our people can easily access loans to invest from financial institutions. The people we are pushing out of the city to customary land, struggle for years to get a title to their land. To the financial institutions, this land cannot be used as collateral. Issues of title to property are also quite common in the cities where sizeable properties do not have title deeds even in the low density suburbs----reason, there is alot of corruption in the allocation processes. While the cost of borrowing from banks is already high, accessibility to finance can be enhanced if there was a transparent way in which property rights are adminstered by the these three major institutions. Owning land or a property is not a priviledge of the rich few, but a right of every citizen in our “God/Donor fearing nation” as the Republican constitution stipulates.
I believe JB and her government will take heed of the rising population. With limited opportunities in the rural areas, everyone is flocking to the cities. Lilongwe city is now a million plus people. Population growth remains high and will continue to do so. Its time to look at the population numbers seriously rather than simply funding the census for electrol reasons. Malawi population is still very young and predominantly in the reproductive age group. Conveying messeges of family planning will not change the high population growth. We will still grow at high rates and migration to the cities will continue. A comphrensive rethink of how we manage land and housing is required, particularly transparency through electronic databases. It should not favour the rich, politicians and those with a tendency to palm oil bureacrats. There are heaps of urban poor living in uninhabitable conditions. Such things fuel crime. How long are you going to live in getted communities with electric fences? Such things will not protect you. There are constant power outages that render your electric fences useless.
The benefits of a transparent, corrupt free land and housing allocation are many. Not only does it allow easy access to loans, but can help fight urban crime as well.