Saturday, November 28, 2020

World now knows Botswana’s dirty little land secret

The first ever global dataset that quantifies tenure insecurity puts Botswana in a category of countries with the highest land and property insecurity.In terms of the Prindex, a methodology for measuring tenure security for land and property around the globe, more than 30 percent of Botswana’s adults (18+ years of age) feel insecure about their land or property rights. In terms of the Prindex, which was developed by a London think tank, more than 30 percent represents extremely high levels of insecurity. “Insecurity” is defined as people who consider it “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that they could lose the right to use their land and property against their will in the next five years. Nearly 1 billion people around the world consider it likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their land or property in the next five years. This represents nearly 1 in 5 adults in the 140 countries surveyed. Within certain countries and regions, and among certain groups, insecurity is even higher.The Prindex is only rendering in more empirical terms what Batswana have known for decades. Appearing before a parliamentary committee recently, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, said that the waiting list for land applications has around 700 000 names and that it takes an average of 30 years to allocate applicants a plot.

Prindex found that globally, 49 percent of the adult population classify themselves as owners, 15 percent as renters, and 29 percent as users of property belonging to other family members.At 26 percent, Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest land and property insecurity in the world, with Southern Africa having the highest geographic concentration of such insecurity. Renters were found to be the single most vulnerable group in the global survey, with about 34 of percent of them feeling insecure compared to 20 percent of people using property of other family members and 9 percent of owners.In the past, Sunday Standard has reported the abuse that Self-Help Housing Agency (SHHA) low-income housing tenants suffer at the hands of their landlords. SHHA is a low-income housing programme that was established in 1973 to assist low and middle lower income households to access housing in urban areas. One too many landlords in SHHA areas don’t accord tenants “the right to live in security, peace and dignity” as the World Health Organisation recommends.

While a tenant at a corporate housing complex never has to worry about issues such as legal security of tenure, habitability of house and arbitrary interference with his/her privacy, that is what one too many SHHA house tenants have to live with on a daily basis.One SHHA house tenant alleges that the sole reason he was kicked out of a poorly maintained one-room house he rented in Gaborone West was because he brought home a girl – who, by the way, happened to be carrying his child.From the main house, the landlady, a fearsome elderly woman, had espied upon the couple coming in and going into the match-box backroom the man rented. Before they could settle in, she was already at the door pounding on it with a stick and reading him the riot act. “You know the rules. You can’t bring a girl in here!” he remembers the landlady shouting from the other side of the door.Subsequently, he was given an eviction notice minus a refund of the rent which, as is standard practice, he had paid a month in advance. The landlady promised to reimburse him at the end of the month but that never happened.

Once when she had called to carry out a clandestine inspection, she noticed that the refrigerator was on and upbraided him for running up the electricity bill.“I paid P150 for the electricity alone but used very little of it because I was rarely at that house. She also didn’t allow tenants to park their cars inside the yard,” says the tenant, adding that he knows of even more extreme cases where landlords would not rent houses to prospective tenants with babies.It so happens that the Gaborone City Council – as indeed all other local authorities in the country, does not have laws that protect the rights of tenants in SHHA areas. If such laws existed, there would be legal requirement for landlord and tenant to each sign a lease agreement spelling out the rules of tenancy.“Improving the security of renters will likely improve their wellbeing, increase the size of the rental market, and, as a result, improve the allocative efficiency of housing and land resources, with spill over benefits for society as a whole,” the Prindex report says.

The oddest thing about Botswana having extremely high levels of land and property insecurity is that it is a vast country (581,730 km2) with only 2.3 million people according to the 2011 population and housing census. Prindex says that tenure security is a result of the following factors: violence and conflict, poor urban planning, scarcity of land, discrimination and age. There can be no doubt that Botswana’s tenure insecurity is a direct result of poor planning. Scarcity of land is also a factor but in a context that Prindex doesn’t state. Botswana, which is the world’s 48th-largest country, can’t allocate land to some of its people as a direct result of colonial legacy.Prindex says that “people living in cities experience higher levels of insecurity than those living in rural areas (18 percent vs. 16 percent)” and that “the difference between levels of insecurity among urban and rural respondents is widest in sub-Saharan Africa (27 percent vs. 22 percent).” Botswana has acute land shortage in urban centres, which problem the 2014 election manifesto of the Umbrella for Democratic Change acknowledged and promised to resolve.“Urban centres … are sandwiched in between farms, to make the land, especially serviced land, scarce. Consequently, the prices of both land and housing are high,” the manifesto said.

The manifesto doesn’t mention names but Gaborone, Francistown, Selebi Phikwe and Lobatse fit this description to a T and the farms in question are owned by descendants of 19th century European colonial settlers. The manifesto said that, in addition to being already privileged, the few individuals who own vast expanses of land, also “receive preferential treatment in the acquisition of virgin land for their development, especially in lucrative areas such as the urban centres, and the tourist hot-spots of the Okavango, Chobe and the Kalahari.”Tied to this land scarcity is income and wealth inequality – which Southern Africa is the epicentre of. A historic study by a Paris think tank that estimates the evolution of income inequality in Africa from 1990 to 2017 shows that the share of national income earned by Botswana’s top 10 percent was 67 percent in 2009. The bottom 40 percent earned only 4 percent of the national income.

Unless resolved, the Botswana situation could get worse because Prindex says that with African countries urbanising rapidly, more than a billion people are predicted to be living in African cities and towns by 2050.“This will intensify pressures on urban land, potentially exacerbating tenure insecurity. Prindex data suggests that 43 percent of insecure urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa are worried that they will be asked to leave by the owner or renter of the property. Nearly 30 percent cite lack of money or other resources as a reason for feeling insecure.”The data suggest that tenure insecurity is particularly high in towns and cities located on the African continent and in the Middle East, where over a quarter of urban dwellers feel insecure about their tenure.Tenure insecurity is also strongly linked to age. Overall, 24 percent of young people aged 18-25 felt insecure compared to just 11 percent of people aged over 65.

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