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Spreading the Lessons of Land Rights

In what now seems miraculous in hindsight, we were able to finish the last two activities of my internship period on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. It was definitely a harried and sometimes stressful preparation period in the preceding days. The activity we conducted was called Training of Trainers (T.O.T) Refresh, essentially a ‘refresher’ course on the T.O.T that Matilda and LUPPEN did in the spring.

Essentially, the T.O.T is an activity that aims to educate a core group of potential trainers in the four settlements we are currently focusing on – Katantha, Kaliwawala, Area 44, and Kamphinda. By inviting a diverse group of village headman, women, and men, from a diverse age range, the training is intended to educate these trainers not only on land rights and human rights, but also on how to effectively communicate and educate their peers in the settlements. In this way, the trainings have a sort of multiplier effect by anchoring land rights knowledge in a core group of individuals who disseminate what they have learned for years to come. Considering the recent changes in the Land Bill of 2016, one of the biggest challenges facing the government, as well as NGOs working with land rights, is to increase awareness of the new elements of the land law and how they affects peoples’ rights to land.

The Refresh, as I mentioned before, brought together the same group as the TOT Base to review the material that was taught earlier this year. In order to do so we hired three facilitators from the Ministry of Lands, City Council, and the Human Rights Commission to give a one hour presentation on their respective expertise. Each of the presentations seemed engaging and informative, and the feedback from the participants and the LUPPEN executives corroborated that. At the end of the day, we gave a brief test on the material, and distributed certificates to those participants who passed. Importantly, it was more of a way to instill confidence in the participants so that they feel comfortable teaching the material to their peers, rather than a rigorous test to filter out those who were less proficient.

To me, activities like these are of central importance to actually making a sustainable change in communities. Indeed, all too often development work involves construction of big infrastructure projects like schools, clinics, or larger medical facilities. Not to say that these projects can’t be effective, but the most important and lasting sources of change lie in the empowerment of local people. Educating people within the settlements on what the law stipulates concerning their rights to land is development that keeps giving. The people can now discuss the land law, how the law affects them and their families, and resist accordingly if the law does not serve their interests. It is all too common that laws concerning land uphold the status quo, buttressing the interests of the rich while neglecting the poor. Infrastructure projects can be great for short term interests, but empowering the people through knowledge is the only way they can actually resist the power structures that are continuously marginalizing them. In that way, it’s sustainable. It has a multiplier effect. Knowledge of land rights can evolve their relative positions of self determination. It is hugely rewarding to know that the 100 people in the room for these activities are there to help everyone in their lives affecting by unfair land policy.

I managed to find some time to try to make the most of my last weekend in Malawi. A couple of friends and I traveled to Dedza, a small town about 85 km south of Lilongwe. Dedza is the highest town by altitude in all of Malawi, so the surrounding landscape is a constellation of beautiful mountain outcroppings connected by verdant valleys. We spent the day hiking up and exploring Dedza Mountain, and couldn’t have asked for a better day for it. The weather was perfect, and I started to feel a bit wistful about having to leave such a beautiful country. But perhaps I can save the lamenting for my next post! Until next time!

 

//Anders

A Voice Gained, A Message Heard

As my time in Malawi is coming to an end, I have been quite busy trying both to get our remaining activities with LUPPEN done in time while also trying to make the most of the time left. This past Friday, Bauti (of LUPPEN) and I attended the Malawi National Habitat Committee (NHC) meeting that we were invited to earlier this month.

The idea of NHCs was born during the Habitat II meeting held in Istanbul in 1996, aiming to provide a productive forum where actors from the central government, civil society, and the private sector could discuss and debate urban issues. Primary among these issues is the growing challenges facing most cities within the Global South that are experiencing rapid growth of slums and informal settlements that are only becoming more problematic with the increasing rate of urbanization. Central to the NHC’s ambitions is to find a way of curbing the negative effects of this growth on urban livelihoods and finding a way to provide economic and socially sustainable alternatives to these populations.

Clearly, such a complicated mission requires a variegated range of actors to be involved in the planning and discussions, and fortunately UN-Habitat at least discursively recognized the importance of the urban poor to be present. According to Mercy Betty of the Ministry of Lands, this was the first convening of the Malawi NHC, and I think that it speaks volumes that LUPPEN was invited. As I’ve mentioned before in previous blog posts, I think that having an inclusionary urban planning process is not only essential to equitable development but is also ethically-sound politics. My only hope, or perhaps worry, is that more influential voices within the NHC will dictate the way these discussions are conducted, but that remains to be seen.

The meeting itself involved actors from a variety of NGOs and officials within government institutions, who led a series of presentations explaining the nature of urban challenges in Malawi, the trajectory of urban growth in Lilongwe, and the current frameworks that are in place to address these challenges. After every presentation, there was a period of questions and discussion that involved all the stakeholders present at the meeting. It is in this span of time that LUPPEN will be able to amplify the voice of the urban poor. Being the largest network of poor urban residents in Lilongwe, and perhaps Malawi, I think that their continued participation is exciting and inspiring.

Work aside, I had a fantastic weekend. On Saturday, we went to the Malawi vs. Madagascar football match in the new Bingu Stadium in Lilongwe. The stadium itself is a sight to see. The China-funded gargantuan is a monument of modernism in the midst of a city that doesn’t quite fit that bill, seating up to 40,000 people. Despite the game being a bit underwhelming (Malawi lost 1-0), the atmosphere was fantastic. It seemed that the general positivity of Malawians spilled over en masse, with every minor positive move from the Malawian team being met with huge roars of approval. It was truly a day to remember. On Sunday, I was able to go to Dzalanyama Forest Reserve for a day trip, an expansive montane forest on the border of Mozambique. After several hours of hiking through the forest with several friends, we swam in the river before heading home to Lilongwe. Definitely recommended for anyone who is coming to Malawi!

This week, we will be holding the last activities of my stay here, the TOT Refresh trainings. I am increasingly sad about the coming close of my stay here, but am also overwhelmingly positive about my experience here.

Zikomo!

Nourishment in Nkhata Bay

This past weekend I was lucky enough to have a little time off to explore more of Malawi, so I chose to travel up to the northern part of Lake Malawi, a little less than 400 kilometers north of Lilongwe.

I had heard that it was wise to get to the bus around 7:30 am, so Thursday morning I woke up early and was at the bus station in due time. The bus typically leaves between 10 and 10:30 am, so I had plenty of time to wait and chat before the bus departed. The people around me confirmed what I had heard before about the length of the trip, saying that it usually lasts between 5 and 6 hours. These experiences, it turned out, did not at all match mine. I ended up arriving at Kande Beach at around 9:30 pm, after an 11 hour odyssey that included chickens, solar panels, and ill babies. Bon voyage!

With that said, I was extremely happy to arrive! In the end, the journey was a good story on the way to a beautiful place. After one night in Kande Beach, a few friends picked me up in a car (quite the relief) and we drove up to Nkhata Bay. Nkhata is reminiscent of a Caribbean stop-over, a lively village abutting the lakeshore, surrounded by rolling verdant hills that drop steeply into turquoise water. At the risk of sounding overly melodramatic, the place is genuinely astoundingly beautiful. It was a weekend well-spent, with mostof my time occupied by friendly chats and leisurely reading.

The majority of people around Nkhata Bay are Malawian Tonga, most of whom are Christian. They are almost entirely reliant on the lake for subsistence, and it is clear that the area proves to be no exception to the pervasive poverty of Malawi. But I did find myself wondering when a place like this would change. It seems inevitable that it will at some point attract the attention from tourist developers to completely change the place. Not that I want this to happen,
for entirely selfish reasons, but I hope that when it does happen it is performed in a way that is cognizant and sensitive to the local culture and the incredible majesty of the environment there.

In any case, I am back in Lilongwe now, and look forward to the next (and last) couple of weeks. Tomorrow, we have a training on the new Land Bill with LandNet, which should clarify some of the complicated amendments that have only come into law quite recently. Otherwise, preparations for the Training of Trainers Refresh are in full swing. I’ll update you during the weekend on how the LandNet training went!

 

//Anders

A Dignifying Debate

Kuli dzuwa lampiri!

That phrase, in Chichewa, describes the almost constant state of affairs weather-wise these days in Lilongwe – that of being almost too sunny, if there is such a thing for a (half) Swede. Having grown up in the mountains, and lived in Stockholm for the past few years, I am accustomed to schizophrenic weather. The weather can change quite drastically from day to day and exceedingly so seasonally, without surprising anyone. Here, the sunlight hours are extremely predictable, and so is the day to day weather. It’s easier, but perhaps less so for the people to whom I express my excitement to everyday.  Regardless, it is interesting thinking about the relationships between climate and culture, especially with reference to two such disparate places like Sweden and Malawi (i.e. Malawi- ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’; Sweden- ‘Be aware of how reserved and serious Swedes can be!). Perhaps climate has something to do with it? Apologies anyway for speaking about a stereotypically mundane topic such as weather, but it’s hard not to take notice in how sublime the weather can be here.

Anyway- this week was debate week! The idea of the debate, as I mentioned in the last post, was to facilitate a forum where officials and the marginalized urban poor could address each other directly, an otherwise rare opportunity for residents of the informal settlements. Last week, we got RSVPs from five officials from five difference ‘service-providers’ in Lilongwe, namely the Ministry of Lands, Malawi Housing Corporation, City Council, and two different MPs. We also contacted and met with a moderator, who works for Malawi’s most popular radio station, Zodiac. He was a fantastic choice, in that he is very aware of the social and political issues in Lilongwe, including the political flash points surrounding land rights. He’s also a well-respected figure within the country, and has the kind of social ease and swift intellect that are important to any debate moderator.

The LUPPEN members and I had met several times to plan the event, mostly outlining the issues that we specifically wanted to touch upon during the debate, and the corresponding questions that the moderator could pose that would provoke responses to those issues. We came up with five cardinal points:

  • People within the settlements are often not able to claim their rights to land from the service providers, due to range of reasons, but primarily because of rising land prices.
  • Residents of settlements lack access to information regarding the city’s plans for expansion, as well as new legislation (i.e. the new Land Bill).
  • There are myriad problems with land registration, including but not limited to long waiting times, publishing registration information only in English, bureaucratic problems etc.
  • There is too much political influence (polite euphemism for corruption) in land allocation that is further marginalizing the poor.
  • City rates are prohibitively expensive for the urban poor to be able to access land.

 

Early Tuesday morning, we assembled in Maula Parish for the debate. Our plan was for the debate to begin at 9 o’ clock, but it became apparent rather quickly that that was not to be the case. As LUPPEN had warned, many officials are often reluctant to partake in activities that may reveal certain inconsistencies or weaknesses in the way they do their job. This, it turned out, was no different. Of the five officials who had agreed on multiple occasions to come, three didn’t turn up, and the other two were more than an hour late. It was enormously disappointing to all of us, but, as I mentioned, the LUPPEN members weren’t too surprised due to their experience.

Despite the hiccups, the debate was a success. The two panelists who showed up offered helpful and informative answers, talking at length about the complexity of the issues as well as their attempts to remedy them. The residents of the settlements were very active, all of whom were plying for their turn to ask questions. When they did, it seemed like they cut straight to the point, and cherished the opportunity to finally meet with people who directly influenced the way they accessed land. When leaving, all of them were extremely positive, thrilled that MUD Africa and LUPPEN had organized such an event.

This proved to be yet another constructive and informative activity as an intern, both in its frustrations and successes. I have always believed in the importance of grassroots activism. In fact, I feel that small, seemingly inconsequential acts of resistance are the only hope we have in combatting the forces of our current derisive neoliberal paradigm, one which favors the rich and further marginalizes the poor. This debate was one such small act, an amplification of quiet voices that will one day be heard with resounding clarity. We just have to continue!

Zikomo! Until next time!

Lessons taught and lesson learnt

Malawi has continually surprised me. This past Monday, I came into the office uncertain whether we would be able to carry out all of our school trainings during the following days, as we had hoped. After meeting the second of the two District Education Managers (DEM) on Monday, it was unclear whether we would be approved for doing school trainings in Kamphinda and Kaliwawala. He was extremely excited about having someone from Sweden in his office, as he had been to a one month conference in Lund several years ago. Regardless, he was still hesitant to approve. He loved Sweden, and we agreed that it was a bit too cold there. We also might have agreed that there is a bit of a smile shortage in Sweden, relative to Malawi.

Gertrude leading the class in Mbuka

In any case, we didn’t hear back from him until Wednesday, when he finally agreed to let us go to the two schools in his district. We learned later that the reason for his hesitation was that an organization a few years ago had visited the same schools and accidentally given out condoms to hundreds of nine year-olds. Needless to say, the parents and school system were not too thrilled. It seems that every time I think something might not work out because of the complicated (and slow) bureaucracy in Malawi, everything comes together at the last minute. Needless to say, everyone in LUPPEN is used to this process, and probably thinks I’m overly concerned and stressed every time there is uncertainty. It is continually a good lesson in patience and flexibility.

All in all, the school trainings were a success!  We went to four different schools, Mbuka in Katantha, Msambeta in Area 44, Liwera in Kaliwawala, and Katola in Kamphinda. Every training involved around 160 pupils, all of which seemed excited to have LUPPEN there. The class participation was fantastic – despite the lessons being in Chichewa that I couldn’t understand, it was apparent that many of the children were eager to answer questions and jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the lesson. It was almost as if the entire LUPPEN group were tenured teachers, making the teaching seem so natural and fluid. One of the highlights of the lessons was a song that the LUPPEN group had written, which I mentioned in my last post. Every time LUPPEN finished singing, the students were ecstatic, and seemed to be even more engaged with the lessons. We also used a series of poster-sized drawings that Matilda’s friend Alexander had drawn, which depicted different scenarios relating to land rights and human rights. The students loved the pictures, and they proved to be a great way to cultivate discussion and engage the students.  It certainly seemed like a worthwhile activity, in that the students, headmasters, and everyone else involved seemed to benefit from it. Also, it was extremely rewarding working with a group like LUPPEN, who bring so much energy to everything they do.

Apart from work, I’m thoroughly enjoying life here in Malawi. In fact, I am a bit concerned about how quickly time is passing. It seems that living here brings you closer to life, closer to a feeling of vitality that I somehow think is partly absent in Sweden. The inequality and the poverty are very difficult, and I am constantly reminded how difficult some of the challenges are here. Malawi is a country that has so much to offer, and it is heartbreaking that so many people live is such a degree of poverty.

Until next time!

Pitani bwino! (Goodbye!)

 

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