Land grabbing is aggravated by weakness of laws that have been formulated in the general administration of land matters in Tanzania.
Current studies indicate that the sudden rush for farmland that appeared to peak in 2009 was triggered primarily by the food price crisis of 2007 and 2008.
Many commentators agree that the crisis was sparked by a convergence of events that included reduced grain stocks and a jump in oil prices that prompted a diversion of some food stocks to bio-fuels.
Joseph Chiombola, Programme Officer of Hakiardhi an non-governmental organization which specialises in land ownership equity, says that the biggest hotspot in land conflicts currently is the Rufiji Delta in Coast Region and Kilombero in Morogoro Region.
The ambitious large-scale production for export, food, industrial demands, and bio-fuel have increased the land value drastically to the extent that efforts to win big portions of land now have become a common practice.
Chiombola, who doubles as a legal counsel and researcher, admits that the change of policy from Socialism and Self Reliance commonly known as Ujamaa has changed the ways that people perceive the ownership of property.
He revisits the history of Tanzania whereby from 1961 up to early 1990s when the real liberalisation policy took a new turn as being the most peaceful period in terms of land ownership in Tanzania.
“When Mwalimu Julius Nyerere confiscated land it was known clearly that this would be used for the public good. Today this is not necessarily the case, there is a state of confusion,” he substantiates.
Chiombola further says that from the outset Nyerere had a vision of communal ownership which augured well with his Ujamaa policy, so the confiscation of private farms meant that they would be owned by the central government or its agencies.
In this way, there are farms that belonged to the then National Agriculture and Food Corporation (NAFCO), ranches that belong to the National Ranching Company (NARCO) and land belonging to absentee landlords.
State motivated grabbing
Chiombola is worried that although the government has good intentions in some of its plans to recover large portions of land, in many cases villagers are not well involved. Therefore in some cases it is even difficult to predict the long-term effects of these programmes.
Again, taking an example of NAFCO, due to new political dynamics which saw the rise of the private sector, it is extremely difficult to understand who really benefits from these more than 543,604 hectares of ranch/farmland in the wake of the fall of nationalization and rise of privatization.
He says even though people were not fairly compensated during the Ujamaa era, this did not cause much envy than it is now when the well to do people enter into joint venture with some foreign companies like it is with the Kilimo Kwanza initiative, the Tanzania’s Green Revolution Scheme, and eventually the poor and ignorant people are forcefully evacuated.
“In essence the free market economy has encouraged land invasion in Tanzania in the name of encouraging large scale investment in agriculture. This is unfair to the majority poor,” he notes.
He argues that with the expansion of the private sector, competition for land is ever increasing; the demands in agriculture have also reflected the socio-economic development to the extent that it is difficult to understand who really takes charge of affairs going on.
However, he affirms, for instance, that the foreign aspect is always characterized by technical justification; that there is an increase in the prices of commodities in the world market which necessitates for large scale investment in agriculture in Africa.
Another explanation is that land is needed in order to mitigate the effects of Climate Change, namely that to plant trees targeting absorption of carbon dioxide, and at times that the scarcity of oil has forced for the bio-fuel to be used as alternative sources of energy.
In the same campaigns Chiombola says there is the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). He says all these are good campaigns but they are always associated with severe problems on the part of the aggrieved people.
This stance is supported by a senior legal counsel from the LHRC, Advocate Reginald Martin, who says Kilombero and Ulanga districts, both in Morogoro Region, are the hotly contested areas for large scale investments in agriculture.
Export food and alternative energy programmes
In this aspect Chiombola is again worried that there is no full involvement of the peasant farmers, some of whom are forcefully evicted from farms which they have been cultivating for a number of generations.
In this category there are some areas which have been earmarked either for food or for bio-fuel, and at times a combination of both. There is a lot of lobbying by some well to do people in these projects who collude with some villages so that they can later use the accumulated land in mortgaging as Real Estate Bond in seeking bank loans.
Later on these people come up with written projects for cultivation of jatropha, maize, sugar canes, and oil palm for the purpose of generating bio-fuel. To this end the Hakiardhi NGO conducted a research titled Accumulation by Labour Dispossession which earmarks the most affected areas in this trend.
He confidently mentions that Morogoro region stands to be the hottest hotspot of all land related conflicts, particularly in Kilombero.
Other areas are Rufiji Basin, Hanang, Kisarawe, and Loliondo where the conflict between the pastoralists and farmers in one hand, and the Ortello Business Company Ltd (OBC) from the UAE in the other, have stood as the longest unresolved conflicts in Tanzania.
Just recently in September this year, an Arab royal hunting firm denied allegations that it was plotting with the state to force thousands of Maasai community off their land to pave the way for a commercial game hunting.
An online activism site ‘Avaaz.org’ claimed that up to 48,000 Maasai pastoralists living in the Loliondo area were to face an imminent eviction in a deal that could hand over a large chunk of their ancestral land for commercial hunting by royals from the United Arab Emirates.
Avaaz.org convinced people around the world to sign a petition to oppose any attempt to evict the Maasai from their traditional land.
Nearly 900,000 people signed the Stop the Serengeti Sell-Off petition on the online site Avaaz.org, which claimed that “the Tanzanian President’s approval of the deal may be imminent, but if we act now, we can stop this sell-off of the Serengeti.”
But the Ortello Business Company Ltd (OBC) an UAE multi-million-dollar hunting corporation came out clear, refuting claims that it was planning to purchase the wildlife rich Loliondo Game Controlled Area (LGCA).
“There’s no such a plan at all because Tanzanian land laws do not allow foreigners to purchase land,” the OBC Country Director, Issac Mollel said. However, this is not to forget that this area has been locked in controversy since early 1985 during the second phase presidency of Ali Hassan Mwinyi.
“In Kisarawe the Sunbiofuel caused a lot of commotion after it wanted to hijack almost all the productive lands in the area for the bio-fuel project. This company did not pay compensation to villagers, but later this company sold this piece of land 100 percent to another company, the 360 Degrees Company,” he discloses.
Chiombola elaborates further that his organization has always strived to see that any Government’s development plan gets implemented but without causing harm to the poor people as it has always been happening in many places.
Another example to elucidate this is the Kilwa bio-shape project whereby 34,000 hectares were taken by investors at the Mavuji and Migeregere villages.
In Kilwa district a Dutch biofuel company requested the district council to acquire 81,000 hectares of land to cultivate jatropha in 2006. However, it just managed to get 34,000 ha only which is less than a half of what Bio-Shape Tanzania Limited, a subsidiary of BioShape Holdings BV of the Netherlands, had previously asked for.
Chiombola says that by 2008, the company only managed to cultivate 400ha of the allocated land on which jatropha was planted but chopped down hardwood over a much bigger area.
This then caused confusions and the Government had to act. Experts estimate that Bio-Shape might have processed over 10,000 cubic meters of hardwood between 2008/9 before work at its Mavuji plantation was suspended in November 2011, due to financial problems blamed on global recession.
According to records from the Business Registration and Licensing Authority, Kilwa Woodshape, that was registered on December 19, 2007, coincided with BioShape which started work at Mavuji, and had timber processing as its primary activity.
The Dutch company and its local partners seem to have violated a number of domestic and international regulations in instituting this project, which is on the verge of collapse although its owners argue otherwise.
Tanzania Investment Centre which was supposed to be the real custodian of BioShape’s acquired land in Kilwa, was sidelined in the process by the Ministry for Lands and Human Settlement Development officials as it was reported in the media.
Weaknesses in land laws
Chiombola analyses the three categories of land as general, reserved and village land. Under the Land Act, 1999, all land in Tanzania belongs to the state.
However, land can be owned in three different ways; firstly Government granted right of occupancy, secondly the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) derivative rights and thirdly Sub-leases created out of granted right of occupancy by the private sector.
Rights of occupancy and derivative rights are granted for a short term and long-term period. Long term rights of occupancy periods range from 5 - 99 years and are renewable, but for not more than 99 years.
Long term derivates rights and leases range between 5 - 98 years. The 1999 Land Act and Village Land Act are arguably among the laws that most directly impact on the well-being of most Tanzanians.
He adds that the Village Land Act has changed the way that land is administered on the ground. There are constant impositions and manipulations from above, and at times there is too much concentration of power in the ministry.
The Act clearly states that only the Ministry, through the Commissioner of Lands, has the authority to issue Grants of Occupancy (s. 14). In an obvious reference to the legal wrangle, which ensued after the reintroduction of local authorities in the eighties, the Act firmly declares:
‘A local government authority, shall not, unless specifically authorized by this Act, make an offer of or grant any right of occupancy to any person or organisation and any such purported offer or grant shall be void (s. 14).’
The Act further states that any local authority officer “shall comply with any directives of the Commissioner issued to him specifically or generally, and shall have regard to any circulars issued by the Commissioner” (s. 11(7)).
These legislations which allow imposition from above in many cases are abused to the extent that at times they create confusions as to who really is in-charge of what.
Witness from the land eviction victims
As it has been stated above Kilombero District has stood as one of the most affected areas due to controversies surrounding land occupancy. Some reasons of this trend are fertility and productivity but also its closer geographical proximity to Dar es Salaam.
Dar es Salaam remains the centre of all government and commercial activities despite the official capital city being Dodoma in the central part of the country but this has just remained in lip service.
Mr. Godfrey Lwena, a focal person with the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and a resident of Kilombero, says he has seen all the controversies with an inquisitive eye.
He believes the trend is always to use the Government’s institution in order to justify the eviction of the poor peasants. Strange enough is the fact that the mode of informing them is always the existing community radios in the area rather than engage them prior to such evictions.
Lwena says in the same district there is a portion of land which Government leaders, namely district commissioners, have been saying it belongs to three different owners; the Ministry of Tourism, The Chita National Service and the Sugar Development Corporation (SUDECO) that was succeeded by Sugar Board of Tanzania (SBT).
He and Johnson Msuya, both residents of Kilombero, are spending most of their time in a state of uncertainty due to the fact that they have been noted as being instigators after having stood very firm in protecting the rights of their people from invaders in that part of the fertile Morogoro region.
At the time of writing this report they were at the High Court of Tanzania, Land Division, in a Civil Case-Application No 212/2012 against the Ministry of Tourism and the Attorney General. This is before Judge Agaton Nchimbi who postponed the case up to November 20, 2012 pending fulfillment of certain legal requirements from the applicants.
Probably the saddest case is that of Seleman Mwakalinga (78), a villager from Mang’ula Mwaya in Kilombero district, who claims that corrupt village leaders have redistributed his 12 acres farm which he acquired lawfully in 1984.
The helpless old man showed this reporter supporting documents which however have failed to help him in the court since 2005 when the case appeared in the court for the first time.
The head of government communication unit at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlement Development, Abraham Nyantori, admits that he has been receiving a lot of complaints from the citizenry but the Government has been acting in time to find solutions to such problems.
However, he did not deny that currently there are big Government schemes to protect wetlands for various reasons. These schemes at times lead into clashes between villagers and Government officials who are sent to implent those projects.
Revelations from the High Court
From the High Court of Tanzania Land Division is the registrar, Lameck Mlacha, who says his office has faced a lot of challenges in dealing with land disputes.
He admits that for a number of years there was a pile up of cases due to financial constraints and shortage of staff at the High Court, including judges.
This situation was a handicap to the performance of the court, and with four judges only at least 40 percent of the cases were attended in a year. However, this situation changed later when in July this year the number of judges increased to 14, reversing the trend.
He also admits that the situation is even more chaotic with the lower levels of the judiciary in handling land cases because of what he terms as “structural problems”. He says there are measures to resolve these discrepancies, though.
“It is very problematic to deal with the white collar land criminals. Some of them are very knowledgeable people. They have networks and they use money to influence certain decisions after conspiring with some unscrupulous officials,” he laments.
He argues that the centre of land grabbing for settlement purposes country-wise is Kinondoni District due to the population pressure in Dar es Salaam.
Parliament drawn in the land scams
Probably it was the Kawe Member of Parliament Ms Halima Mdee who summarized it all when she presented her private motion in the august House on Thursday 8th November, sending waves of shock in the House.
She concurs with Chiombola that the Rufiji River Basin is a hotspot of land based conflicts. The area, which is made up of 176,000 square kilometers, comprises of the Rufiji Delta, Luwero, Kilombero and the Ruaha River where 93 percent of the residents are peasant farmers.
She is saddened by the fact that up to 500,000 people whose livelihood is solely dependent on this basin are at stake due to constant threat of eviction for what she termed as to pave way to investors.
She condemned some companies which have abandoned their traditional roles and now have turned into agents of some companies in this wave of the search for wetlands.
As it appears now land grabbing is a multifaceted problem and as long as the driving forces remain intake the consequences will always be severe to the downtrodden.