Were the new wave land reforms introduced only to enable the elites in sub-Saharan African countries to legalise the grabbing of land? Based on my impressions from Uganda, I discussed the question in a previous blog post. I concluded that it could be the case. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why so little effort is put into making the new land administration services, prescribed by the law, available to the majority of the population.
In Tanzania, which I know better because this is where I did most of my field research, the situation is, in some ways, less clear. The issue of land grabbing is not really part of my PhD project (which is more about land administration). However, since a titling project had been carried out in one of the districts I have studied, I could not avoid digging into it. I have focused on the choice of pilot implementation districts. Here comes my reflexions.
Four larger pilot projects have been carried out in Tanzania. I have described some of the initial experiences in the Working Paper Tanzania’s Land Law Reform: The Implementation Challenge. I do not all of them in detail and I do not know a lot about all of the districts in which they were implemented. However, there seems to be a pattern in the choice of pilot districts. There seems to have been pre-existing commercial interests in the land in the chosen districts.
The first major project was carried out in Mbozi District by the Ministry of Lands. The official explanation that I have come across for the choice of Mbozi as a pilot project district is the district’s ‘commercial farming potential’. In Mbozi District, according to the report The State of the Then NAFCO, NARCO and Absentee Landlords’ Farms/Ranches in Tanzania by Chambi Chachage, there is a large, formerly state-owned, maize farm in the waiting to be privatised. There are also a number of coffee farms owned by the Mbozi District Council. Furthermore, according to Andrew Kiondo, in the book Agrarian Economy, State and Society in Contemporary Tanzania from 1999, there were reports of illegal land sales in that area in the 1980s (p. 48).Mzeri Village. The ranch is in the hills behind the village.
The second pilot was MKURABITA’s project in Handeni District It is a project I have researched quite a bit. The official explanation for the choice of Handeni District, according to Kosyando’s report Mkurabita and the Implementation of the Village land Law was that the district, due to a previous land use planning and forestry project funded by a German aid agency, had the equipment and knowhow to implement a pilot project.
I thought of a less noble explanation when I was there. The huge Mzeri cattle ranch (41,246 hectares) was being privatised - or subleased according to Chachage’s report - in the period. The then Prime Minister Lowassa (who was later fired because of corruption) got a big chunk of land there. So did the local MP. Accidentally, one of the pilot villages is situated right next to the ranch (see the map: the green area indicates the ranch, the blue area indicates the village) and people were evicted during the survey, when they were found to be living on land that had been allocated to the farm in the 1970s. When I asked, nobody in Handeni would confirm that the pilot had to do with the privatisation of the farm. Still, I found the correlation between pilot project implementation and privatisation remarkable.
The third pilot was carried out in Bagamoyo District. With its proximity to Dar es Salaam it is a much more urban setting and there is a pressure on the land because of the expansion of the city, but also because ‘it is an easy target for land based investments, such as biofuels’ (Kosyando’s Bagamoyo report p. 5). Apparently, there is no relationship between the pilot project and land privatisation. But again, there is a remarkable correlation in time between the MKURABITA project, carried out from September 2007 to February 2008 and a large Biofuels project in the district starting from January 2008. The biofuel project, thoroughly described in Kjell Havnevik’s chapter in the book Biofuels, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Africa and Chachage’s report Acquisition and Accumulation in Tanzania, had a Swedish investor and was to be carried out on 22,000 hectares of a large, idle, cattle ranch belonging to the Government of Zanzibar. Havnevik describes how there was a ‘great confusion’ over what the project area entailed and that pastoralists and neighboring villagers used the land. Chachage also describes a number of smaller state farms in Bagamoyo which were to be privatized in the period from 2005 onwards.
The fourth – and by far the biggest – pilot project has been carried out in Babati and Bariadi Districts by the Ministry of Lands. I do not know much about these two districts. But again, there is a correlation between project and the privation of a farm, although it is not as clear as in Bagamoyo. The pilot was carried out from 2008 to 2010, whereas the Setchet Farm was privatized in 2005. I have also noticed the recent newspaper reports on tensions over the land. According to the Citizen’s article Envoy’s Fear on Babati Clashes 30 January, much of the land had allocated to settlers during colonial times, but was left idle, sold or taken over by the state after independence. Is this the land now being resurveyed as part of the pilot project and is that giving rise to the clashes in the area? I do not know. But the commercial interests in the land seem be the same in Babati as in the other pilot districts.
My conclusion on this? My conclusion, so far, is that the 1999 land law reform may result in Tanzania’s elite legalizing the land they have grabbed, but it is not the only purpose of it. There are other elements of the reform, for instance the land court system, which has greatly helped a lot of people in the country. The land use planning requirements also have some potential. And most of the pilot project outputs actually benefitted non-elites. The people I talked to who had received a customary title deed – a CCRO – were happy about having it.
Still, when it comes to the choice of pilot implementation districts, there is a remarkable correlation between the choice of pilot project sites and commercial interests in land, in particular linked to the privatisation of former state farms and ranches. A similar focus on the sale of former state farms to investors, by the way, can be found in the Tanzanian government’s prestigious SAGCOT agricultural growth corridor. Is it land grabbing? I am not sure. Some would argue that the transactions are illegitimate and that the land, when not used by the state, should be returned to the communities it was taken from. From their point of view it is land grabbing. From a strictly legal point of view, however, I guess there is nothing wrong with the re-surveying old boundaries and the selling of the land. What do you think?