People living in the areas earmarked for the International Airport and 5-star hotel projects in Mangochi have expressed unwillingness to evacuate the areas saying doing so would heavily affect their livelihoods.
The residents expressed the fears during community sensitisation meetings that the Mangochi district council and a team from Lilongwe conducted in the district at Namiyasi and Cape Maclear on Thursday and Friday respectively.
The meetings aimed at briefing the communities on the impending projects whose funds the government of Malawi has already mobilized, according to the government officials.
Tempers flared at Namiyasi, the site for the international airport project, when the government officials introduced the subject starting from how government acquired the land in the 80s and how the residents had been repeatedly reminded of the same over the years.
‚ÄúThe issue of the land is not something new: the process began as far back as in 1983 and on 6th December 1988 the process was duly finalized with TA Mponda and VH Bolera Malunga appending their signatures to the acquisition,‚ÄĚ explained Mangochi District Commissioner (DC) Reverend Moses Chimphepo.
The DC took time to show the community members the documents signed in 1988 by the chiefs adding that the chiefs had been reminding the ‚Äėencroaching‚Äô residents about the ownership of the land over the years.
The residents said their chiefs might have been coerced to sign the agreement and they further put their feet down and vowed to remain on the land. Deputy Commissioner for Lands Valuation in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Euphemia Bota, came in to assure the residents that government would not be harsh to its own people and that nobody would suffer with the coming in of the project.
She said according to the existing laws on land issues, everyone affected by implementation of a project like the one in question gets compensation.
‚ÄúThe laws are very clear that no one would suffer because of implementation of a project and although people continued to occupy the land after it was already acquired by government, those affected will be compensated,‚ÄĚ explained Bota.
However, the residents put their feet down saying it was the land they had always relied on for their survival over the years.
‚ÄúWe were born and raised up on this land; we have our homes on this land and we grow our crops on this same land,‚ÄĚ went the general outcry from the residents, adding: ‚ÄúIf you take it away, where are we going to live?‚ÄĚ
The discussion ended in a deadlock at Namiyasi where the DC told the media present that they would change the approach and meet only those who would be affected by the project saying the whole-area-residents approach had failed.
‚ÄúNot everyone who is present here has a stake in the land in question so we feel that meeting only those who will be affected would help us reach desirable consensus,‚ÄĚ said Chimphepo.
On the other hand, although tempers flared again at the sensitisation meeting at Cape Maclear on Friday, residents and the government officials were quick to reach a common agreement.
The residents at the Cape said the 5-star hotel project was welcome development but they demanded to know first how much land it would require before engaging in further discussions.
The DC said government would conduct feasibility study soon to determine the size of land that would be required.
Senior Chief Nankumba hailed his subjects for accepting the development which he said would benefit them more that the land is currently benefitting them.
‚ÄúDevelopment of such magnitude knocks on one‚Äôs door once and you don‚Äôt reject it when it does,‚ÄĚ explained Nankumba, adding that by accepting the 5-star hotel, the subjects had honoured President Peter Mutharika‚Äôs ambition of turning Mangochi into one of the world‚Äôs tourism cities.
The two projects are expected to roll out soon following the signing of funding agreement between President Mutharika and the President of African Export-Import (Afrexim) Bank, Prof. Benedict Oramah, on July 17 at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe.
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