Tanzania has known some form of regulation of land management and use for over a century but has yet to come up with effective enough modalities of making sure this all-important natural resource creates as much revenue as it can.
The Lands ministry has changed names several times: ‘Lands and Surveys’ before independence ‘Lands, Forestry and Wildlife’ in 1963, ‘Lands, Settlement and Water’ in 1968 and ‘Lands, Housing and Urban Development’ in 1984 but with little indication of this having made much difference.
It thereafter changed again to ‘Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism’ in 1986, ‘Lands, Water, Housing and Urban Development’ in 1987, ‘Lands, Natural Resources and Tourism, in 1990, ‘Lands, Housing and Urban Development’ in 1995, ‘Lands and Human Settlement Development’ in 2005, and the current ‘Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development’, but again to little avail, at least according to critics.
Over one-third of Tanzania’s land mass is officially designated as national parks, game reserves or wildlife management areas. However, the management of much of the rest of the land in both urban and rural areas remains shaky, in places often leading to intermittent skirmishes.
It is probably because of the presence of this that the government has deemed it necessary to introduce a new programme on land transformation and management.
Under the new programme, as announced by Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development minister Prof Anna Tibaijuka at the weekend, the government will create a special agency to manage land ownership, give guidance to users on compensation mechanisms and help make land more productive.
The government is also determined to introduce an arrangement known as ‘performance bond’, whereby any investor who acquires land will be required to contribute a certain amount of the produce or products to the state.
Elaborating, the minister said: “If a person applies for land for rice production, for example, and fails to produce…, the government will be obliged to take away the bond from them.”
We view the government’s move as an appropriate intervention meant to improve the management and use of a crucial natural resource.
Land transformation is unavoidable if human development is to assume advanced stages, but it would be dangerous if such development would realised at the expense of the land itself or indeed humankind.
What we are witnessing in parts of the country is the reckless giving away of this priceless treasure, whose wealth is far from infinite, to some people who are not necessarily genuine investors but are only there to make quick gains.
The system announced by Prof Tibaijuka, at least a quarter of the profit accruing from the use of land will go to the government and, therefore, hopefully on to the nation.
An added advantage, if the plan really works, is that the system will evoke checks and balances aimed at safeguard the land in question.
That may well be easier said than done. However, nothing short of an arrangement that really ensures Tanzanians benefit more than anyone else from their land will be good enough, and this should be clear to all concerned.