Inaction in Africa

“There are risks and costs to a plan of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Bukuumo Cooperative, in Zambia is painfully feeling the truth in this quote by John F. Kennedy.

Three years ago we helped them acquire a prime piece of agriculture land along the four lane highway just outside the large copper mining city of Kitwe. It was a long intricate act of wheeling and dealing, going from one office to another, going back to one office after another to get this permit and that one. Each move cost money.

Then it was ours – the desired papers finally in our hands. That’s when our business plan showed the intended project – a chicken layer barn for 10,000 layers, beginning with 1,000 – would have us broke after one round. One reason was the drastic rise in feed prices when the price of grain went through the roof. Another was faulty numbers in the first draft.

It was a proud day when Bukuumo Cooperative could finally put in the official boundary markers for their farm. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

It was a proud day when Bukuumo Cooperative could finally put in the official boundary markers for their farm. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

So the land, lying right next to a crowded poor subdivision, was left idle. We thought. A year ago last March Robert and I, together with another member, went to see where the cooperative could plant a vegetable market garden. Well, the garden was already planted! Several families built mud brick houses on the far side, far from the road where anyone would see.

It was decided something had to be done about the squatters. Some action was taken, but nothing happened. This year, when we arrived again, we were told things were much worse – there were about 20 buildings on the land now. We wanted to go have a look, but members thought it was too dangerous for two whites to be seen there. They promised us they would move on the problem.

Who's going to tell a family like this they have no right to be here? (similar to, but not one of the squatter families). (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Who's going to tell a family like this they have no right to be here? (similar to, but not one of the squatter families). (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Soon after we left, a delegation went out to the ZamTan farm to see what was happening.

“When we arrived at the farm, Marianne you can cry,” Tito emailed me on June 15. It seems the Rural Development Council of the district was selling small plots of the land to people for 1.5 and 3 million Zambian Kwachas (Cdn$350-700) apiece. Market stalls had opened. Not what we were planning!

So Bukuumo members acted. The chief culprit was arrested and he confessed, telling who else was involved. Bukuumo produced their official papers and the powers that be recognized them as the official owners. They promised to hold (and Tito went to make sure it happened) a meeting with all the squatters, who were given to July 4 to vacate.

On July 1 Tito emailed: “The ZamTan farm is quiet as ever…People have stopped building… I think we gave them real medicine. Since the place is quiet now, we need to move in fast. It is either we find a buyer now or do something to make people feel our presence.”

That’s exactly what Mr. Mate, the former chairman, felt we should do from the start. It’s all costing considerably more now than initial action would have. The police and lawyer are not free in Zambia either!

There’s another side to this problem of course – the squatters who feel they have paid hard earned money to be there. They’re not necessarily going to leave without some sort of repayment. And who’s going to do that?

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