Tanzania and land: Preaching water, drinking wine?

Tanzanian East African Cooperation Minister Samuel Sitta. Photo| FILE 

Last week, Tanzania's minister for East African Cooperation Mr Samwel Sitta insisted that the country's land remained a sovereign matter and cautioned against attempts to drag it into the East African Community's agenda.

The prospect of "foreigners" (Read entrepreneurial Kenyans) owning land in the country due to the opening up of the region by treaties governing the bloc has been highly sensitive, and indeed Mr Sitta was quoted by the state-owned daily as saying that there were all sorts of "dirty tricks" being employed in order to drag the land issue into the EAC treaty.

Speaking in Dar es Salaam at an induction seminar for newly-elected Tanzania members to the East African Legislative Assembly, Mr Sitta claimed land was a key target and urged the legislators to guard the national interests of their country.

While it is understandable that state representatives in regional affairs have a duty to safeguard their national interests, events in Tanzania may be punching a hole in the minister's thinly veiled attempt at land "protectionism".

Earlier this year, the Tanzanian-based Land Resources and Research Institute published a damning report on land conflicts in the country.

The report says land disputes pitting poor villagers against powerful investors are now at more than 1,000 every year.

According to the institute's executive director Yefred Myenzi, on average there are five land disputes daily in Tanzania and, three out of five involve powerful investors.

In this context Mr Sitta's call should come in for closer scrutiny given the famously protective country cannot guarantee the interests of its locals.

Conducted in December 2011 and covering 16 out of 132 districts, the study insinuates that what is happening in the country is that the well to do--both citizens and outsiders-- are in a land grabbing race.

Biased contracts

The study further reveals that most of land contracts in the rural areas are biased against villagers because decisions are illegally made and no one is held accountable.

The research, based largely on media coverage, shows that there were 1,825 general land disputes in a year, 1,095 of which involved powerful investors. 

The so-called powerful investors are foreigners mainly from the western world.

It is estimated that more than 75 per cent of the Tanzanian population leaves in villages and they solely depend on land for their livelihood.

But this land is illegally being sold to foreigners and powerful people in the country at a dizzying speed while Mr Sitta is distracted protecting it against the devil EAC.

The casual observer would then wonder, in whose interest is Mr Sitta invoking his power to protect land when it is no longer in the indigenous poor villagers’ hands?

If the report is anything to go by, foreign investors and powerful people may be the beneficiaries of the status quo given new land policies and laws may be drafted if land becomes a regional issue.

While the minister has played up the fact that Tanzania has ample land lying idle for locals, the study says it is misleading to argue that Tanzania has excessive or enough arable land because simple arithmetic shows that one person cannot own more than two acres of land if the total land area is divided by population size.

The research says the country simply does not have enough land for every Tanzanian and that only a select few own huge land tracts.

This big fish do not count the millions of ordinary folks as belonging to their pond.

--The writer is a sub-editor with the Africa Review 

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