The story of a Masai and the need for responsible land

22May 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
The story of a Masai and the need for responsible land

IT was fun to passengers who were on a bus travelling to Morogoro from Dar es Salaam when this child aged about four years saw a Masai young man for the first time, but for him it was one hell of a moment that he would live to remember. He had never seen a Masai before.

But the incident flashed memories of decades ago when I was the age and size of the boy. Then we were very free; we would roam the bushes and homesteads half-dressed or completely naked and no one would care.

There was also nothing like lunch, mainly because no one would be at home to cook for us as almost every able-bodied adult would be working in the farms.

During the dry season when everyone was at home, we would not be there to eat because we would be out in the bush catching birds and gathering wild fruits. Roast birds and wild fruits was part of the menu for our lunch. It rarely changed save on rainy days or during floods.

Then we would be forced to stay at home and our mothers had to prepare some kind of lunch for us.
But our parents had a rather funny way making us behave without having to do anything to us.

They would just tell us they would invite ‘the lady’ at home if we tried to leave home for the bush where we spent most of the day. Yes, the lady; a middle aged woman of bright complexion (I think she was minutes away from becoming an albino).

But I think there was more to the lady than just being a half albino that made children fear her to the extent that we would cry or scamper into the house at the mere mention of her name. Some children ran into their houses where they hid under the beds or in the darkest corner where they eventually fell asleep.

So it would be like, “Don’t do this, otherwise I will call Se Msosi (daughter of Msosi),” the mother would say and that would do it. The child would behave immediately.

Sometimes if the lady appeared at home unannounced, children would run into their houses and hide and not come out until she left. It was the same for all the children in the whole village, even if they had seen the lady several times before.
To-date I have failed to understand why we were afraid of her although she never touched any child with the aim of causing harm.

The Masai boarded the bus and since there were no vacant seats he moved along the aisle and stood near a seat occupied by two women and the boy. He was dressed in the traditional garb, with club and stick but without a spear.

It is then that the boy started wailing, moving away from the Masai. He had been eating something but at the arrival of the new figure, he just dropped it and concentrated in moving as far away from him as possible.

“Ero, wee naogopa Masai? Hapana kuona hata moja, eeh?” he said by way of reassuring the child and making him comfortable. It didn’t work as the child kept on wailing. The Masai decided to move further behind the bus and the wailing stopped but the boy kept throwing furtive glances in the Masai’s direction.

Earlier in the day there was an event to introduce a new approach to making investments in land more beneficial to rural communities than is the case currently.

The new approach, which is enshrined in the Responsible Investments in Property and Land (RIPL) Project, does not really have focus on direct material benefits but in the participation of members of the community, especially women and the youth, in negotiations and decision making that would result in investments which will benefit all parties.

“Through the new approach, we would like to ensure that Tanzanian communities, land users and smallholders are equitably informed, consulted and eventually benefit from land related investments,” explained Godfrey Massay, who is the project coordinator.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF) and Landesa.
Landesa is a rural development institute that empowers rural communities to improve their lives through land rights.

The project also intends to support the Government of Tanzania in its effort to achieve socially responsible land-related investments. It also seeks to provide investors with the tools needed to acquire the social license to invest in land and as such, reduce some of the business risks.

Earlier, TNRF Executive Director Joseph Olila had said that RIPL project would contribute to Tanzania’s efforts to help women and men, communities, government and investors to promote socially responsible land-related investments.

“With attention focused on land-related investments the project brings together government, donors, civil society and the private sector to see how they can improve land governance and investment practices in Tanzania,” he said.

A representative of Landesa Lukasz Czerwinski said that RIPL project employs a bottom-up approach with specific consultation of community members although government and investors will also be consulted.

“Our attention to communities is hinged on the fact that most of the world’s poor people live in the rural areas, rely on agriculture and forests to survive but don’t have legal control over land on which they depend,” he said, stressing that stronger rights to land have the power to reduce poverty and conflict and increase economic activity.

“But these rights also empower women who play an important role in strengthening food security. Land rights also improve environmental stewardship for an individual, a family, a community and an entire country,” he said.

A member of the RIPL Project advisory committee, Prof. Marjory Mbilinyi, highlighted the importance of empowering women and the youth in rural communities so that they may be able to negotiate effectively. At the end of the day the community can accept or reject a proposed investment. They should also be in a position to know what their decision means to the lives and wellbeing of community members,” she said.

Principal Land Surveyor in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Nassor Duduma, who represented the guest of honour, the Principal Secretary in the ministry, said that investments should bring tangible changes among communities in areas where they are made.

“Land-based investments and support programmes should lead to improved livelihoods and reduce poverty among community members. If these targets are not reached, such investments should be considered as failed initiatives,” he said.