Saturday, 15 September 2007

Zambia: people, land and wildlife...

The land is the last refuge of the poor. In Zambia, 94% of it is customary land where lie the ever depleting natural resources and the disenfranchised, living lives having little to do with the machinations of government and donor in the cities, except that is, to have the land taken away from them with the assent of government, or have the natural resources removed from it, again with the assent of government.

A research consultant laments the fact that people in the Zambezi valley have been displaced by investors, the land privatized, alienated, most of it on leasehold for 99 years - renewable for another 99 years. Yet, in order for this to happen, it had to have had the agreement of the local chief, the District Council, the Commissioner of Lands and the Zambia Wildlife Authority. Is it possible that all these arms of government, of custodial care, could have connived in the disenfranchisement of people whose claims to the land merge into the long gone past. The answer, sadly, is yes. In the land, supposedly under the care of Chief Chiawa in the Zambezi valley, some 34 lodges exist over 40 kilometers of riverfront, the land on which they stand alienated from customary landowners, for ever. Who benefited from this; and who suffers now ?

And on the land itself, the existing wildlife is ‘owned’ by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), despite it being supported on land belonging to customary landowners. In the 34 Game Management Areas, which are on customary land, ZAWA have given out hunting concessions, allowing safari operators to kill a certain specified quota each year, the income supposed to be shared with the community. And each year, these same animals being supposedly milked sustainably, attack villagers’ crops, and houses, killing people as well. And each year ZAWA or the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources laments that they are unable to compensate these villagers for the damage and mayhem which ‘their’ animals cause. ZAWA, of course, could not afford to pay compensation even if they wished to for they cannot pay their staff pensions and tax contributions; and appear – according to newspaper reports, to have had some $7.7 million dollars stolen by employees. ZAWA is bankrupt, unable to manage what funds it does receive, calling for government bailout, making ever more desperate attempts to harvest more income from safari operators and communities. Yet ZAWA does not allow communities harvesting rights to wildlife – despite it being allowed in the Wildlife Act; so the villagers poach, because they also see the ZAWA officers poaching, and so join together to exterminate the golden geese.

And what of compensation for wildlife damage? Well, this has nothing to do with the Constitution or the Wildlife Act; it is, as the foremost authority on land tenure in Zambia has to say, Profesor Patrick Mvunga, a matter of it being allowed under English Common law, that being, in essence, Zambian law. Of course, the answer here is not to foment a campaign of litigation against government on behalf of assaulted villagers, but for ZAWA to give back the ownership rights of wildlife to people – albeit under some sort of trust structure. But will they do it?

And the land does not need all sorts of reforms: it requires that it be accepted that traditional land is sacrosanct, that it can never be sold - not to a foreigner, not to a Zambian, but that its use can be sanctioned under usufruct – a simple lease arrangement.

1 comment:

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