Monday, February 11, 2008

Zambia: A New Kind of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) - Uncompensated Poor Being Evicted for Prestige Projects

Zambia's open-door investment policy is coming under criticism from rights activists for passing on the real cost of development to the poor, who are being evicted to make way for the new prestige projects.

Campaigners describe the victims as 'internally displaced persons' (IDPs) - a description usually applied to people made homeless as a result of conflict or disaster. But it's an analogy that Joseph Chilengi, executive director of the Africa Internally Displaced Persons' Voice, a lobby group championing IDP rights, claims is appropriate.

"Zambia's IDP situation is actually even worse than in conflict-prone areas," said Chilengi. "[At least these] populations have the potential to return to their places when the situation stabilises."

President Levy Mwanawasa's administration has courted foreign investors, offering land and tax breaks as inducements. The policy has been credited with helping fuel an annual growth rate of five percent over the past five years, cutting inflation to single digits, and appreciation of the kwacha against foreign currencies.

But critics argue that the country's growth, as well as a string of environmental protection and tourism promotion programmes, has come at a cost: turfing people out of informal settlements when they are in the way of the developers, with little hope of compensation from the authorities.

The backlog in affordable public housing has compounded the problem and led to mushrooming squatter camps. "We have a deficit of housing units for 1.2 million people, who are now resorting to living in unplanned settlements," acknowledged Local Government and Housing Minister, Sylvia Masebo. With limited rights, the residents are vulnerable to eviction.

George Salano, 57, is one of thousands of Zambians to have lost out to commercial development. His informal settlement in the capital, Lusaka, is located on land that has been allocated to the Chinese government for the construction of a multimillion dollar Chinese economic zone, the second of its kind in Zambia.
"I have personally lived here for many years; my children were born here. Some of my friends have lived here even longer. Now we have been told to relocate to Chongwe town [about 50km east of Lusaka], but we have nowhere to start from - we have no houses there, and we have no farms there," he said.

Compensation was not on the cards, said Masebo. "We don't allocate formal residential land to investors ... but as long as land is illegal [occupied without formal ownership], it can be planned or allocated for anything else."

James Siakalima, 54, is another victim of the developers. He was one of over 2,500 residents of Mazabuka town in southern Zambia, whose homes were erased to make way for Zambia's only nickel mine, Albidon Mine, owned by Albidon Limited of Australia.

The area's opposition member of parliament, Gary Nkombo, encouraged Albidon to build some houses, but the quality was allegedly shoddy. "I lived in their [Albidon] house for just about five months. When the rain started it developed a crack, three weeks later part of it collapsed," said Siakalima. The two cows he was given died because of the lack of pasture in the area where he was relocated.

"We all know that nickel is about the most expensive base metal on the world market, [so] how do you allow such poor quality houses to be built for the people who are the owners of the land?" asked Nkombo.

"We are still very far from attaining economic independence because of the manner in which we are displacing our people, who are actually supposed to benefit from all our economic activities. The issue of IDPs resulting from economic activities is very real in Zambia."

Zambia's first experience with large-scale internal displacement was in 1959, with the construction of the Kariba Dam. It created the world's largest man-made lake on the border with Zimbabwe, and cost 57,000 Tonga farmers and pastoralists their homes and livelihoods.

Attempts to help the resettled Tonga have achieved little; a US$50 million project, sponsored by the World Bank, is currently stalled due to the landmines in parts of the resettlement area.

Thomas Mabwe, head of Development Studies at the Zambia Open University, said internal displacement "has been a huge cost to this country; it repeatedly forces government to divert resources meant for other developmental programmes ... It affects people's productivity, causes loss of land and contributes to the culture of over-dependency."

Masebo argues that the vulnerability of the poor is in part the fault of the previous administration of president Frederick Chiliba. Ahead of the 1996 election, the government sold off public housing to sitting tenants for as low as US$3, leaving hardly any money for investment in new homes.

"To address the situation of poor housing we are now encouraging all our local civic authorities [municipalities] to open up more formal land, with basic services being provided, to try and cover the housing deficit quickly," said Masebo.

Here is the full article.