Old Mutual to Move Further on Alternative Investment

Mikwamba Mikwamba - pic by Christopher Sande

As an issue of affordable housing remains one of the key challenges in Malawi and other African countries, Old Mutual is set to act.

This is timely. An intervention that is expected to improve the current situation mainly in urban areas where most residents have opted to settle in fragile places.

The company is currently reconnoitering investment opportunities in housing, energy, transport and financial inclusion.

Managing Director of Old Mutual Investment Group, Mark Mikwamba said they decided to go into alternative investment to contribute to the country’ socio economic growth.

“Our plans are huge, we want to expand, we believe this is the only way we can make an impact on the economy and lives of Malawians. We are currently exploring investment in solar and hydro energy, transport, financial inclusion and affordable housing,” said Mikwamba.

He added that by the end of this year, they will be at a better stage to give out finer details and start implementing the projects, emphasizing that Old Mutual is looking into the future.

This follows Malawi’ high rate of urbanisation, estimated at 4.3 percent annually, and faces a considerable challenge in enabling the urban poor to access land and finance for housing especially among low-income earners.

To this effect, many citizens have decried the tendency of commercial banks to demand expensive collateral and formal employment for ease of enforcement of payroll deductions.

Some residents including Wilfred Chikafa from Misesa in Soche, Francis Thawatha and Mary Sankhani from Ndirande in Blantyre told us in the recent past that they resorted to settle in hills because land in townships is more expensive than that allocated to them by the chiefs.

“I bought my 15 by 20 metre plot here in the hill at K300, 000 from a village headman. The same piece of land in Ndirande township would cost me K2 to K3 million,” said Thawatha while digging a house foundation at his new site.

Now that as councils like Blantyre City Council (BCC) struggling to stop such illegal construction of houses in breakable areas mainly in hills and close to rivers amid rapid population, Old Mutual thinks this is a right time to pump in some resources in the housing sector to provide reasonable housing services in the country.

Officials say most of these illegal construction activities are perpetuated by people from low-income brackets.

BCC Acting Chief Executive Officer, Lyton Nkata told us that the council is conducting wider consultations before effecting an eviction of people from these unplanned settlements. It is said that such settlements are causing environmental degradation.

“Blantyre city is surrounded by a number of hills like Ndirande, Bangwe, Soche and Michiru and now whenever it rains, there are a lot of run offs which damage people’ houses and property.

“What I must emphasize is that it is not allowed for people to build houses along roads, rivers and in hills and mountains. As a council, we work with local leaders mainly Chiefs, Ward Councillors and Members of Parliament to make sure that those that have encroached in hills and forests are told to leave those places and allocated proper land for settlement,” explained Nkata.

The council has however admitted facing serious pressure on land with almost 35 percent of total urban land encroached.

That aside, one of the BCC’ reports also outlines some land management issues including multiple land ownership, absence of landlords, urban land management by traditional leaders, provision of utility services to illegal developers and delayed city boundary extension.

It is said that these problems have forced about 65 percent of low-income people to encroach fragile areas such as Soche, Ndirande, Bangwe, Nyambadwe, Michiru and Mthawira hills and reserves of Mudi, Nasolo, Naperi and Limbe rivers to construct informal settlements. Similar incidents are also happening in Lilongwe and Masasa and Hill top in Mzuzu.

Meanwhile, environmentalists led by Coordination Union of Rehabilitation of Environment (CURE) are asking the government to demonstrate political will by removing people from prone areas and advance a better housing initiative.

“We have land use regulations in Malawi, let us enforce them to stop the   ongoing illegal construction in urban hills and rivers,” said CURE board Chairperson, Menad Nyirenda.

Urban and Regional Physical Planning Expert, Jimmy Gondwe, who is also Honorary Secretary for Malawi Institute of Physical Planners says apart from Old Mutual’ plans, the government should intervene in all phases of the affordable housing value chain by among other things restructuring key functions.

“The number of affordable houses required to address the current pressure varies but each urban area can start with 10 percent of its housing requirement per year,” said Gondwe

He states that the Department of Urban Planning should be relocated to the Ministry of Local Government and its key functions devolved to Local Government Authorities.

“Further, the Ministry of Lands should transfer land to city, municipal and town councils with clear covenants on affordable housing,” he said.

He further explained that to deter deviant developers from further engagement in illegal development, the government should consider triggering section 19 of Customary land act (amended) 2022 which makes development in hazardous areas such as mountains, close to rivers and wetlands illegal.

To sum it all, the expert suggests empowerment of communities through housing cooperatives citing area 49 Baghdad in Lilongwe where there was inclusive participation in affordable housing schemes.

Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change, Dr Micheal Usi says is planning to engage the Ministry of Lands to end illegal construction activities in urban hills and close to rivers. He says laws are clear and they have to be enforced.

Apart from planning to come up with affordable housing initiatives, Old Mutual has already spent over $20 million in the areas of agriculture and education.

The company has developed a fully-fledged students’ accommodation for Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES) in Lilongwe and Gala estate at Namitete in the same district where the company is growing Macadamia.

“If you look at Malawi’ 2063 blueprint and in fact any economy, the first thing is food, as long as we exist, we need food and agriculture is important for our survival and generation of forex. Second is education, as a country, we need to have an educated population,” said Mikwamba.

The Old Mutual Investment Boss further stated that through the two areas of agriculture and education, they have managed to create around 2, 000 jobs and provided opportunities to 6, 000 families through supporting out-grower schemes meaning that the company has made an impact to over 30, 000 Malawians.

“With a single investment, you make a huge impact on citizens and the economy. We want to expand, grow and check all sectors of the economy,” emphasized the Investment MD.

Economic expert, Associate Professor Betchani Tchereni says the direction which Old Mutual is taking is commendable.

“The private sector has the bottom line being profit maximization, they want to make more money. They do that by looking at gaps and bringing in solutions and I think that is what companies like Old Mutual are trying to do.

“This is a very good thing and i think we need to thank the company for investing in some key areas like agriculture and education with plans to do more on housing, energy and transport, because for instance, government alone cannot manage to provide cheap housing to all citizens with a population of 20 million plus in the country,” said Associate Professor Tchereni.

He has since encouraged the private sector to come in bulky to address housing challenges in Malawi.

“They should be looking to go up, there is more land in the space. On one piece of land they can put a 10 to 15 storey-building where a lot of people can stay with sectional titles. In that way, we are going to house or accommodate more people on a single piece of land and drastically reduce pressure for land,” said the associate Professor.

Malawi 2063 Pillar 3 of Urbanization aspires to achieve world class urban centers and tourism hubs across the country with necessary modern socio-economic amenities to drive the economy. This will include job creation, markets and efficient and sustainable land use.

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