When illegal trade in forest products becomes the new normal

13Nov 2016
Deo Mfugale
Guardian On Sunday
When illegal trade in forest products becomes the new normal

The two girls did not give me precise instructions on how to reach NR, that is how the joint is best known by locals here.

One of them seemed to be in a hurry and felt bothered by my request for direction. It was the first time that I had been to the place and I thought it would be improper for me to roam around town looking for a place where I could get a beer or two to kill the fatigue after spending a good part of the day travelling on a bus.

The other girl was willing to help but somehow the first one seemed to dictate terms and run the show. So all I eventually got were mumbled instructions complemented by fingers pointing to the direction that I should take.

Well, I had no grudges against the girls. Even in Nachingwea, girls should be warry of men who stop them on the road especially when night is just about to shroud the earth.

The bright light from an electric bulb fitted on a wall shone on a white piece of cloth on which was written NR…Nachingwea Resort. This was followed by an announcement that a famous artiste from Dar es Salaam would be performing at the resort on Saturday that week and all those who wanted to let-off steam after hard work would have to part with five thousand bob.

I was on my second beer when I thought I should get something to eat; something light that would keep me going through the night and after a couple of beers. Roast chicken would be it, I said to myself, and so asked the maid to bring me half the stuff.

“Nikuleteenakachu, should I also bring you kachu?” she asked. Well, I was at a loss! What type of food could this kachu be? I told her to repeat the word. She did; but again I couldn’t figure out what it was. She stood there waiting for my response and I sat there trying to puzzle out what she meant.

A neighbour realized our problem and came to our help; mine actually, because the maid didn’t realise there was anything wrong with what she said.

“She is asking if she should also bring some kachumbari; vegetable salad, for you,” he said. I told her I did not want it and she disappeared behind the half-lit hall that was also half full of revelers

Earlier in the afternoon I had met Frank Nganyanyuka, a timber trader in Nachingwea town who also serves as secretary to Nachingwea Timber Traders Association. However members of the association comprise a cross-section of traders in various forest goods including charcoal, building poles, logs and furniture.

Other members have wood processing plants.
The association is just about two years old and it was formed with inspiration from Mama Misitu Campaign, a brainchild of Tanzania Natural Resources Forum. In this particular context the Campaign aims at mobilizing traders to fight illegal business in forest goods through working with government to participate in setting up various levies and taxes that are friendly to traders.

The Campaign also works with local and central governments in order to foster participation of the business community in setting up procedures to acquire business and other licenses related to trade in forest goods. The ultimate aim is to develop willful compliance among traders so as to reduce or completely do away with illegal trade.

“I will tell you one thing,” said Nganyanyuka. “You might have walked around the town and found a lot of business in forest goods going on; but almost all of it is illegal. Just about 0.02 percent of timber sold here is legal and this may go on for quite some time,” he added.

He went on to explain how the existing procedure to acquire business license is tedious and cumbersome. This situation, he said, was frustrating traders because it involves unnecessary financial and other costs, and there is no guarantee of a trader acquiring the license even after following all the procedures.

“The problem is that government considers us as criminals even when some of us do honest business. So they do things secretly -licenses, fees, taxes, levies - all these are set secretly and at the end of the day we are supposed to comply.

They set rules and regulations without our participation and they want us to implement them. This doesn’t make sense at all,” explained Said Mponda, a member of the association.

He added that when traders buy timber, for example, they don’t ask if the seller has acquired it legally. “If you do that, you may end up having no goods in your stall and you will have to close business. So we have learned to turn a blind eye and buy what comes our way even when we know that it is illegal,” explained Mponda.

I met a few other members of the association. One spoke about the harassment they get from government officials because they are often linked to poaching. He said that none of them has ever been caught with government trophies or game meat but the harassment continues.

“The good thing is that we now have an association that has enabled us to speak with one voice. Thanks to the Mama Misitu Campaign, we will continue to fight for our rights as one and as long as it takes,” said Damian Joseph, a member of the association.

Bernard, a colleague from Dar esSalaam joined me the following day and asked if we should spend the evening at NR or Ujamaa, another popular pub in the town. I decided we go to NR, maybe I would get another offer of kachu.