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!



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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.


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