This Week our columnist GERALD KITABU interviewed JAMAL JUMA, a lawyer from Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) who is coordinating legal aid for marginalized pastoral communities in Loliondo, Arusha, a project funded by Friends of the Earth International. Excerpts.
QUESTION: Loliondo is currently marred by land conflicts. Having been in the area for the past one year, what can you say is the source of the conflict?
A: Before I answer your question, let me talk very briefly on land grabbing in Tanzania. The essence of the land grabbing in the country which actually has impacted heavily on pastoralists and farmers is a historical problem. The introduction of the market economy and the liberalization of trade policies in Tanzania to the large extent have intensified the problem. The investment campaigns at global level have facilitated the enactment of investment laws and policies that are favourable to investors and create chances for land grabbing and forced evictions to the marginalized groups.
Therefore, from the 20th century to date, Tanzania has been witnessing the mushrooming of investing companies in different sectors that are grabbing land from the local people. With government’s support, investors have been reported to forcefully evict people from their land, causing deaths and loss of settlement by the victims. The right to life as proclaimed in the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 has not been fully honoured to the people.
Q: How has the situation affected pastoralists and farmers?
A: Among the victims of land grabbing, inhuman, unfair and mass evictions are the Maasai pastoralists in Loliondo. For years there has been conflict in Loliondo surrounding land and natural resource use. The conflict is complex involving many stakeholders, and Loliondo’s location, bordering the Serengeti National Park and serving as prime grazing area for pastoralists in the region, makes it one of the most highly coveted land areas in Tanzania and thus exposing Loliondo community to challenges of land grabbing and forced eviction.
Although for many years beginning in the 1959, eviction of pastoralists from Serengeti to the Ngorongoro and Ngorongoro conservation areas marked the never ending land use conflicts in Ngorongoro districts, the Loliondo game controlled areas and the villages within the game controlled areas, land use conflicts have taken different shapes since the early 1990’s where land was given to investors.
The conflict rose to its peak in the mid 2009 in eight villages bordering the Serengeti National Park namely: Ololosokwani, Oreipiri, Soitsambu, Olorien or Magaiduru, Loosoito or Maaloni and Arash . Since then, these communities have been subjected to restrictions on access to grazing land and water for livestock. This situation raised serious questions about ownership of land that legally belongs to the villagers. The villages were established and are legally governed by the land laws that allow them to own, utilize and manage village land under the Village Land Act No 5 of 1999. However legal requirements were not adhered to.
On the 1st of July 2009, the district authorities directed that the villagers should vacate their land and that order was implemented on the 3rd of July. The malicious and ruthless operation to evict the Maasai communities left their villages in unimaginable distress and utter poverty.
It was alleged that more than 200 Maasai bomas (homesteads) were totally burnt; women were raped; more than 3000 people left homeless without food and other social basic needs; and more than 50,000 cattle were left with no grass and water.
Q: Being a Civil Society Organisation that deals with environment and natural resources protection and conservation. What did you do?
A: LEAT under the support of Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) together with other stakeholders intervened in order to provide legal support to the displaced people. First, LEAT set out an investigation team to investigate on such allegations. The facts from the field revealed that there was mass eviction and great violation of land rights. Some women are alleged to have undergone miscarriage through the eviction operation. Thousands of livestock were lost together with other properties. Some men had been imprisoned for no apparent reasons.
LEAT conducted several activities including awareness raising through stakeholders’ meetings, provision of legal support to the marginalized groups, provision of trainings on land laws and policies and how the villagers are entitled to occupy and use land as per the constitution and land laws. Also LEAT managed to campaign against the eviction of pastoral communities in Loliondo through the media such as radio stations and Television. The pastoralists were also capacitated on how to enter into land contracts with investors, and in case of legal disposition of land, the contracts are supposed to be clear and unambiguous while the concept of corporate social responsibility needs to be complied with.
Q: After your intervention, what is the situation like now?
A: With this intervention from LEAT and other stakeholders, the situation is changing gradually although we still have a long way to go. The forceful eviction of the Maasai community does not take place frequently as it used to be and now most of the Maasai people are aware of their land rights and can stand firm to defend such rights. The investors, even if they are still operating in the same area, they are now cooperating with local people and they are no longer using their security forces to harass this group of people.
However the question of land conflicts in Loliondo is yet to be permanently solved. Apart from CSOs and NGOs intervention and the work of the media group against the displacement of the Maasai community from their village land, still the investment is taking place in the village land and the Maasai pastoralists are blaming the government for being part of the conflicts.
Q: Any call to government?
A: I call upon the government through the Ministry of Land and Human Settlement, Non Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations and other Stakeholders to actively participate in providing legal support to the Maasai Pastoralists so that they can enjoy their constitutional and legal rights as far as land is concerned.