Two land-related cases appeared in two serious newspapers I happened to read last Sunday. One of the reports was in a regional newspaper, while the second item was published by a local one.
The reports not only spoilt by weekend mood but continue to be a cause of anxiety and worry to me. Hence the decision to share my views on the issues involved with some of my literary friends and fans.
The report in the regional newspaper was about findings released recently by the Land Matrix Project, a new online database compiled after conducting serious surveys and research on land matters worldwide.
The edition being reported on highlights one “interesting“ revelation that our country of peace and harmony leads East African countries in secret land sell-offs, and even tops global charts in this kind of business.
Let it be noted right from the beginning that the Land Matrix Project is run by a coalition of development-oriented organisations based in several European countries and has, since 2000, been working on collation and verification of big land deals of above 200 hectares, in order to have reliable data on the trend where rich countries are either buying or leasing land of poor ones on questionable terms.
According to the data obtained from the above mentioned exercise, the East African region outperforms Southeast Asia, South America and Central Africa in the involvement of selling big chunks of land to foreign governments and private investors through some secretive deals.
Then follows the sobering news! In East Africa, Tanzania is number one in this dirty game, having been on record to have secretly signed 58 deals involving 2.2 million hectares during the period under review.
Kenya and Uganda are number two and three respectively, while Rwanda happens to be involved in just one deal of this nature. Before we comment on the impact of this development, we may as well first cast a glance too on story number two which, as mentioned earlier, appeared in the local newspaper and attracted the attention of this scribe.
It is about the revelation of an investor who leased Changuu Tourist Island in Zanzibar for a song in 2002, as the contractual terms require the “lucky “leaseholder to pay USD 1,000 per month to the government for a good 30 years. The irony in this deal is exposed glaringly when it is reported that prior to entering into this “funny “and puzzling contract, the government agency controlling tourism activities in the same island was earning USD 5,000 per month! Only a person whose brain is on holiday can fail to smell a rat in such a deal.
Surely, both incidents are a tip of the iceberg as far as land deals involving public officials and investors, both genuine and briefcase ones, are concerned. It is true that there is more scandalous information on land allocation deals which is labeled “confidential”, to deliberately keep owners of this natural resource in the dark regarding calculated plunder, and shield the culprits from being taken to task and account for their sins.
Concerning the sale and lease of millions of hectares of land to foreigners by East African countries, analysts basing their comments on the Land Matrix Project have expressed concern that some serious social problems related to or occasioned by land mismanagement are inevitable. These include hunger, as some companies and governments grabbing land in third world countries opt for production of non-food crops or resort to exporting food to home countries as well as others which offer lucrative prices.
Social instability emanating from land conflicts between land “owners” and the landless is seen as another cloud on the horizon. The prediction is already happening in Arusha and surrounding regions.
While this is taking place the ruling clique is determined to plug its ears and close its eyes, completely unaware that history will condemn it.
Chances are that issues related to land and other natural resources will be raised during the countrywide debate on the envisaged new constitution. Probably clauses on how to manage these resources for the benefit of all may be included in basic law of the land.
However, it seems land grabbers are aware of this possibility and are busy grabbing whatever they can lay their hands on. To save the situation, land reforms crusaders should pressurise authorities to put a halt on big land sale contracts until the new constitution is in place.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org