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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Will there be land to protect by the time a reviewed constitution is in place?

18th December 2011

We are once again forced by circumstances to comment on the controversial land issue in this column, probably for the third time this year alone.

There is no way we can wish away the land problem in a country which mainly depends on this natural resource for survival, when faced by the situation where a few greedy and short-sighted characters with a voice in national affairs as well as an influence in the allocation of national resources are busy colluding with both local and foreign agents to kill or sell for a song the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs.

This time around, the writer is reacting to the special report which appeared in last Sunday edition of this very newspaper, under an eye catching headline of: “AgriSol lands another 10,000ha amid growing public outcry”. I read the report between the lines and concluded that there was something to write home about, for the purpose of keeping the ball rolling, in the interests of our mother land of apparent peace and harmony.

For the advantage of those who did not have the opportunity to see or go through this advocacy write-up, a paragraph or two on the gist of it will help to put things in proper perspective and enable my dear readers to appreciate the issue at stake.

In short, the US based company involved in the new deal is reported to have acquired some 300,000 hectares in Mpanda district this year for agricultural development.

It is an open secret that the acquisition of land of this size has raised complaints from various quarters in the area, although some top level leaders, who happen to believe in the gospel which says foreign investors are our ultimate saviours, are apparently surprised about this kind of “negative” reaction.

As pointed out in the headline of the investigative article being revisited, residents of Lugufu area in Kigoma, where AgriSol has acquired yet another chunk of land, are up in arms protesting against the manner in which the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between local government authorities and the company were negotiated and allegedly sealed.

In short, they say the whole affair was not open enough to residents in the area to know the details and appreciate what they are likely to gain from controversial deal.

We note that in this saga, individuals willing to speak their minds on the issue are volunteering to give their names and determined to state their stand on the issue anywhere and any time. It is at this juncture when we get the impression that this can’t be a baseless story.

The significance of this incident is that it is not an isolated one. Land deals involving local as well as foreign investors, sanctioned by local government authorities after apparently involving citizens in affected areas, but which in no time turn sour and generate social conflicts, are common countrywide. Where good governance reigns, leaders at higher levels are expected to smell a rat under such circumstances and do the necessary - that is take urgent measures to contain the ugly situation. This is not happening.

By the way, we may as well note that officers behind this mess are not necessarily acting illegally. The current land policy and relevant laws allow them to sanction such deals after involving fully the citizens and leaders at the local level. But the well known corruption cancer does not allow the systems in place to work smoothly. Here lies the root cause of the nagging land problem.

Indeed, land conflicts are now so acute that one can say with confidence that cries to address the land question in the new constitution will come from different corners of the country. But another question is - given the rate at which land is being grabbed, will there be any to protect in four years time when the “reviewed” constitution is likely to be in place?

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant [email protected]

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