In this weekend’s by-election in Arumeru-East, which Tanzania’s ruling party, CCM, lost to Chadema, land reform suddenly became part of the agenda. According to an article in the East African, representatives from both parties, including the winning Joshua Nasari, pledged that they would redistribute land in the area.
A newly-elected MP can hardly expect to push through a land reform on his own. Neither can even quite powerful politicians, in the short run at least. Land ownership is well protected by Tanzania’s land laws. And with good reason. Land redistribution carried out hastily and without compensating the ones loosing the land may scare the investors that Tanzania has worked so hard to attract in the last couple of decades.
I do not know much about the history of land in the Mount Meru area. But I do know that it is of utmost importance to make a well-designed programme before embarking on such a project. Without a proper plan, redistributive reform may do more harm than good. The experience from Zimbabwe shows us.
Zimbabwe, after its liberation from white minority rule in 1979-80, carried out a redistributive land reform. Land distribution was highly skewed and reform was needed. Back then, the reform was largely based on the willing seller/buyer principle and without the use of force that came to characterise the reform of the 2000s. The pace was extremely slow.
The first Zimbabwean plan aimed at the resettlement of landless people. The aim, according to the book ‘Gender and Land Reform: The Zimbabwean Experience’ by Allison Goebel, was clearly a fairer distribution of land. But that agenda changed in the last half of the 1980s. Principles eroded. Slowly, reform became a question of indigenisation, not of redistribution:
...commercial agriculture (and by implication the land allocation issue) entered the ‘indigenisation’ discourse. Indigenisation simply means the shifting of control of key aspects of the economy from white to black hands, and thus the interests of the rural poor were sidelined in favour of those of large-scale black farmers... (Bratton and Nkale according to Goebel 2005: 20).
If you are an old-fashioned nationalist, the change of ownership, from white to black, may be desirable in itself. If you wish to give the poor a bigger share of national wealth, on the other hand, you should think twice before entering the Zimbabwean land reform path. In Zimbabwe, the cake got smaller. Capital started fleeing the country and jobs disappeared. Most people got less.