Communal tenure, the right to own land in groups

19Apr 2016
The Guardian
Communal tenure, the right to own land in groups

One of the most outstanding features of capitalism is individualism, individualists promote independence and self-reliance and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over that of the state or any one social group.

For Africa, where most cultures advocate communalism this socio-economic model poses grave challenges.

While Tanzania, as the rest of Africa, eventually embraced capitalism and its free market advocacy and that of individual rights, the customary communalism remains intact for the most part. This is more so for pastoralist communities who heard their cattle collectively.

Under the capitalistic mode of production, the maasai and other pastoralists would be required to own land individually and for each one in their community to acquire a land title deed for their piece of land. While this sounds normal to us, really because we live in urban settings and own individual houses, the true capitalists that we have become, to the pastoralists this set up is absurd.

The maasai herd their cattle communally just like they live. Granted in the bomas they have individual quarters, but these quarters are communal based in that, they share most all then resources; the women will milk the cattle together and meals will be had together.

Come dawn, they heard out the cattle together though each house hold identifies their individual heads.

The land on which they go to graze is also communal as opposed to say one Molel taking his cattle to his own land and another Mursal taking his to another land, no, they herd together and they consider the land as maasai land, communally not individually.

Now comes a push that wants them to identify who owns what piece of land and all the maasai can say is that, it is ‘our’ land and conflict erupts, this more so with neighbouring farming communities who mostly already have divided their lands to individual plots.

As environmentalist explain, maasai communities move their herds according to the seasons, taking care not to overgraze the land and share resources with the wild animals that keep the ecosystem in balance. But starting in the 1950s, the establishment of national parks pushed out indigenous peoples from their traditional lands, causing them to become “conservation refugees.”

This is where the communal tenure law comes in. It refers to situations where groups, communities, or one or more villages have well defined, exclusive rights to jointly own and/or manage particular areas of natural resources such as land, forest and water.

These are often referred to as common pool resources, that is, many rural communities are dependent on these resources for their livelihood. In communal tenure, both the boundaries of the resource owned in common and group membership are clearly defined.

This is the right of such communities, if they have lived in this system for time immemorial without damaging the land and with minimal conflict with neighbouring communities, who are we to force them to change in the name of modernization and capitalism? Shall a man not choose the way of life he feels suits him best?

An advocate for communal tenure, one Edward Loure was this week recognised for his defence of communal tenure rights of the maasai. He has thus far helped secure land titles for more than 200,000 acres of land to be owned communally as it has for centuries. He was the only African to receive the coveted 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize awards and to that accomplishment we tip our hats.

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