Bilateral committees solution to land conflicts

21May 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Bilateral committees solution to land conflicts

Recent years have seen many people having access to land both in urban as well as in rural areas. The increased access has also witnessed a significant rise in conflicts between the various land users, with conflicts in rural communities often becoming violent.

Representatives of Nyamwage village conflict resolution committee pose for a photograph

Existing laws also provide land administration strategies that are meant to resolve conflicts whenever they occur. Such instruments operate at various levels, from the village to the national level.

In villages for example, there are village land tribunals which are meant to mediate conflicting parties and make decisions that are acceptable to all. These comprise both men and women regardless of whether they are the village natives as long as they have lived in the area long enough to be accustomed with norms and traditions of the local people.

Yet these tribunals which are statutory instruments have sometimes failed to function effectively particularly when conflicts involving farmers and pastoralists become violent.

It would appear that these conflicts which are most pronounced where fertile land (and therefore pasture) and water abound, overwhelm the legal and official instruments of conflict resolution.

Some areas have thus come up with various approaches that complement the work of land tribunals but look at issues from a social point of view rather than from the legal and official aspect.

Rufiji District is one of the areas where government officials have had to look beyond existing official instruments in order to reduce conflicts between farmers and pastoralists.

“We have encouraged villages to set up conflict resolution committees to deal with immediate land issues. The committees comprise 10 people including five members from each conflicting party. This has worked well because the elected members by the parties involved are independent of the village land tribunal and they work only when there is a problem,” Rashid Salum, Rufiji District Executive Director (DED) explained.

He was speaking to members of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) who were in the district to monitor the outcome of implementation of the Ardhi Yetu Agenda Yetu programme that the association has been implementing in the past two years.

The programme seeks to raise awareness of the importance of land among rural communities. It also seeks promotion of land rights at family level and empower women and the youth in demanding access and the right to occupy land and the land-based conflict resolution in their communities.

He said the new approach had reduced conflicts in many communities and restored amicable relationships between pastoralists and farmers.

Rufiji District Commissioner Nurdin Babu shared the view, telling journalists that the committees had managed to resolve major conflicts between farmers and pastoralists in the district.

“We still have problems in villages like Muyuyu and Mtanange but the committees are working on them and I believe they will find a solution. In other villages the two groups generally live peacefully, thanks to the committees they formed,” he said.

Nyamwage is one of the villages where the committees have recorded tremendous success in resolving conflicts. “There are only minor conflicts mostly between individuals. But the committee deals with these as they emerge.

It is not possible to get rid of all land-based conflicts because people have now realized the value of land and are tempted to take what is not theirs. Besides, people from other parts of the country are attracted to settle here because the land is fertile and there is plenty of water. But the new comers tend to neglect rules and regulations set by the village, eventually resulting into conflict,” said Athman Mgomi, a village farmer.

In Ikwiriri, Mwarami Nguyu told the journalists that the village had formed the committee and it had resolved several conflicts. “People here trust the committee and honour its decisions probably because it is not a government institution. Its working schedule is not consistent but meets on emergencies,” he said.

However, causes of major conflicts still exist in some villages. “There are cases where villages accommodate livestock keepers with their herds of cattle but no land has been set aside for pasture.

On the other hand there are cases where land has been set aside for pastoralists but they keep coming in with large herds that cannot be accommodated in the allocated land,” said the Executive Director, adding that in either case, the livestock grazing in farms has caused conflict between pastoralists and farmers. Villages such as Mkupuka, Kilimani and Tawi have been overstocked with livestock.

But that is not all. “Sometimes pastoralists have taken the liberty to allocate themselves large swathes of land that provide pasture and water only during the rainy season. Once the season is over they get into problems and complain that the government is not treating them fairly,” Salum said.

According to DED, Rufiji District is historically a farmers’ place and the mere fact that other people have brought in a new activity has caused problems.

“The new comers do not respect customs and traditions of the natives. Locals feel insulted when for example a pastoralist buys crops that are still on the farm only to feed them cattle and claim ownership of the land on which the crops had grown. This has been another cause of conflicts in some parts of the district,” he told the journalists.

Beside efforts made by village land tribunals and committees to resolve land based conflicts, drawing land use plans and ensuring that villagers abide by them when they conduct their activities could go a long way towards eliminating conflicts.

But the district lacks funds to speed up the exercise with the result that many villages do not have land use plans.

“Some of the conflicts that we witness have their solutions in the change of mindset and attitude which, however, cannot be influenced by land use plans and allocations. Community members must respect other people’s property if they are to avoid conflicts and live in harmony,” says Salum.