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Operation Tokomeza: Problem is not PM, but refusal to destock, modernize

21st December 2013
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Editorial Cartoon

MPs on both sides of the divide -- from the ruling party and the opposition alike -- were yesterday calling for the government as a whole to take responsibility for what was described as gross infringements of human rights in various areas in the course of implementation of Operation Tokomeza.

The House decided to sit in a special session devoted to the report on the exercise that was conducted in the past two months, following a visit by President Jakaya Kikwete to border districts near Rwanda and Burundi, and witnessed the chaos in the area. He then ordered two operations, Kimbunga against illegal immigrants and Tokomeza against poachers, and invaders of national parks with their large herds of cattle, and it is in the latter environment where atrocities were reported.

Airing some of the first remarks in the tension packed hemicycle, embattled Kigoma North MP Zitto Kabwe said that the issue at hand was for the government, entirely, to take responsibility for those atrocities and resign, a position favorably viewed by many other MPs, despite not airing that position directly.

Some like Same East MP Anna Kilango considered that each MP had been pained by what happened, but the problem was that officials who were charged with implementing that operation, that they overreached themselves. Still others talked about fabricated cases set up against cattle herders, such that one of them demanded ‘where do we take these people.’

This idea that there were mishaps in implementation was aired before, since it is not the first time that Operation Tokomeza has been brought to Parliament, and does not seem to have satisfied MPs.

They were still demanding how it come that people were killed when herds of cattle were being removed from certain areas, and quite a few commentators have all along said the number of national parks should be reduced so as to accommodate the needs of cattle herders, arguing it was the mainstay of their economic activities.

What MPs did not wish to explain or did not seem to be bothered is the history of the issue, and how it came to arrive at that point, a violent resistance on cattle herds.

When MP Anna Kilango, for instance, explains how she has been consulting and talking with ‘her farmers and her herders,’ she definitely must be aware that her farmers are likely to be there all the time, farming the same land, obtaining a crop if there is rain and failing if there is too little.

The farmer is also constrained by the land that he has, and cannot stray into another person’s land, or shift to another ward or district because there was much less rain in his place, the very opposite of farmers, quite often. One cannot hold the MP in actual trust of what she says, when she airs the impression that there is equal reasonableness on problems from either side, farmers or herders.

MPs generally failed to come to the occasion by failing to clearly take note that there is a problem of large herds of livestock, which interfere with national parks and cause untold damage to water sources, such that operations akin to Tokomeza have had to be mounted from time to time to remove huge herds from Ihefu Valley in Mbeya, etc.

What is even worse is the habit, ancestral attitudes of a class character where herders take their cattle as an aspect of themselves, and their needs are higher than those of the peasants, such that when the cattle feed on a farm, impoverishing a farmer for the whole year that follows, a herder merely snorts; it is nothing to him. As such there are countless conflicts between settled farmers and migrant herders, and what is not available is dialogue.

If MPs were keen about all these aspects they would have grappled the issue by the horns, that nearly everyone is sick and tired of the phenomenon of large herds of cattle, first those who keep the water sources, followed by those in charge of national parks, but the largest and most concerned group is farmers who constantly mingle with large herds of cattle, to their detriment. It is thus not surprising that a measure of violence on those holding large herds was visible, for their forcible removal, to be placed in whatever open spaces are available, without scruples.

The issue is not to list erring implementers or getting Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to resign, but to sort out the problem of large herds of cattle, for that is the problem, as it is a burden on the rest of society that is unresolved.
MPs were predictably unable to discuss with any level of realism what the government has been trying to do over the past eight years since it came into office, and how other levels of government have handled the problem.

When President Jakaya Kikwete and ex-Prime Minister Edward Lowassa took office early 2006 they had a singular focus on the systematic reduction of large herds, so that livestock keeping is modernized, which enables land use planning, setting out and issuing occupancy rights, obtaining free lands for interested foreign investors, etc but the ministerial bureaucracy resisted that approach.

The minister for the sector at the time, Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, was ignored by the ministerial bureaucracy, NGOs and academia, who started convening conferences and workshops on topics like ‘how to improve the quality of Tanzanian skin and hides exports,’ ‘revamping the tanneries sector in the country,’ etc, which presumed large herds of cattle, plenty of hides, and other facilities.

Since early 2006 the environmental situation in the country is even more tense, less capable of holding the large herds of cattle that culturally the livestock herders are entitled to have, by a law of heaven rather than by policy, technical preference or any effort on their part.

There are alternative ways of holding cattle, including zero grazing with improved cattle and a minimum of infrastructure like pooling capital for a machine to pump out water for spray irrigation, and tend cattle in a defined area.

That was the agenda that Dr Kawambwa was pursuing, but the ministerial bureaucracy and their countless friends among NGOs who think it is a theological imperative to preserve traditional seeds, traditional cattle and traditional customs (except female circumcision) blocked the way for the implementation of the policy. That’s how the problem was left to slide; now it is exploding in a violent way.

What MPs have demonstrated in the debate about excesses in Operation Tokomeza is less their patriotism but their studied opportunism, trying to build a picture of angelic cattle keepers and a beastly government and its security forces which implemented Operation Tokomeza.

To wit, without a mental Operation Tokomeza on the part of MPs, to remove the idea of sanctity of keeping large herds of cattle, and their equally misdirected intention to garner plenty of votes – and who knows, campaign financing – by pious concerns on those excesses, none of the efforts of the fourth phase government on the problem of large numbers of livestock migrating in groups will be recognized, and the false view, totally indefensible, that there is only a problem of implementation, will persist.  

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN