The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania in collaboration with Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU) organized a three-day international conference on land justice for sustainable peace in Tanzania held in Dar es Salaam from 10 to 12 September.
In a country whose backbone of the economy is agriculture, land is central to the livelihoods of millions of its people. Participants to the conference argued that land right was a human right and it should, therefore, be spelt out in the proposed Constitution.
Government officials who addressed the 200-plus delegates, echoed a message to the effect that there was no evidence of land grabbing in Tanzania as far as land laws and policies are concerned. Opening the meeting the Prime Minister, Hon Mizengo Peter Pinda pledged Government's willingness to protect people's land rights and ensure that land remains a blessing instead of becoming a curse.
The conference attracted delegates from outside and inside the country including Researchers, Academicians, Church leaders, Government officials, Parliamentarians from the East African Community and Tanzania as well as individuals including pastoralists and farmers who have suffered deprivation through land grabbing.
The Minister for Land, Housing and Human Settlements Development, Professor Anna Tibaijuka, said the laws make it cumbersome for investors to get land but admitted that in 2001 some of the first generation investors were fraudsters taking advantage of carbon trading initiative; hence their land deals ended up in conflicts. However, she said one bad case should not be used to generalize that land investment was a bad thing.
Professor Tibaijuka presented a paper on "State Engagement and Interventions in Dealing with Land Acquisition". Prof Tibaijuka caused uproar when she said traditional pastoralism as a way of life was no longer economically viable in the country.
She said the world over the majority of people have moved out of the agricultural sector in order to give way to large scale investment in the sector. "We should forget romanticism and the life we are used to by claiming land we cannot use. It is like a frog in water crying my water, my water without being able to drink it all."
On corruption in land deals the minister challenged religious leaders to ensure they teach more on morality to curb abuse of power by those entrusted with the noble goal of administering land acquisition and land equity at all levels beginning with family level.
Hon. Benjamin William Mkapa, the former President of the 3rd Phase Government gave the Keynote Address. He said people who thought there is land grabbing in Tanzania were misled and if anything the land is underutilized. He said the best way to go is to modernize livestock husbandry and agriculture to boost productivity and strike a win-win situation from land investments.
Just before the Prime Minister opened the meeting, Msasani Sunday-School Choir from Dar es Salaam sang their composition entitled: 'Mkutano wa Dharura' meaning "an emergency meeting" the message being that they (children) had convened an emergency to tell the leaders to be serious in land administration and implementation of land laws and policies for sustainable peace and to avoid going back to colonialism.
Land grabbing (uporaji ardhi) is widely heard in Tanzania. Presenting a paper on "The Scramble for Land in Africa," Professor Sam Moyo said land grabbing whether alleged or true is not a new phenomenon here in Tanzania just as it is not new in other developing countries.
He said the European colonizers went for scramble for African farmlands and natural resources in 19th century with the partitioning of the continent and the plundering of its land and natural resources. It is from the same division that Tanganyika (and then Tanzania) was born.
Bishop Dr Steven Munga who spoke on behalf of the ELCT Presiding Bishop explained that among other things the objective of the conference was to facilitate discussions to address justice in relation to land acquisition by local and international investors for sustainable peace in the country. After three days of discussions the meeting ended with the creation of a "Land Justice Forum".
Participants and activists who attended the meeting said although the Village Land Act of 1999 requires that people be compensated for any land loss, the processes for consulting on this and determining the level and manner of payment of compensation, has led to conflict.
Much of the compensation is paid by the investor through the state authorities like the district or municipal council rather than local people to be compensated. It also takes substantially long time from the time when valuation is done to the time when actual compensations are done and the time value of money is not taken into account.
Furthermore, compensations do not consider dynamic future streams of incomes but only static values at the time of valuation. In case the locals are not paid properly, it causes frustrations and sending them to abject poverty. Such complications arise primarily because of lack of transparency in the deals. These problems are potential critical threats for sustainable peace which need urgent attention.
After listening to speeches participants put across a number of questions to government officials like why do we have the land laws and yet have an increasing number of land conflicts? Are there really new situations or something is not working properly somewhere? How knowledgeable are the local communities about these laws?
Giving an experience from Ghana Festus Boamah said the dramatic rise in land acquisitions across Africa and elsewhere originates from three main drivers termed as 'the triple-f crisis' meaning food, fuel and finance. However, the question is: who really benefits in such a situation? Normally the food and bio-fuel is for export and the finance is given to foreigners.
He explained whether it is land grabbing, land acquisition or land deals - all mean the same thing depending on who is using them. To the investor it is a land deal or business; to the government official it is land acquisition and to the person deprived it is land grabbing.
Tanzania and other African countries have noticed a fast growing land business in their countries. Domestic and foreign companies as well as local and foreign rich businessmen are buying vast tracts of land for investment and speculative purposes.
Aidan G. Msafiri presenting a paper on "Redefining Ethics of Land Justice and Use in Tanzania" during a group discussion said the competition for land acquisition is encouraged by maximisation of profit in a globalised world and the expectation that future wealth, economic strength and power lies in the rights to land and freshwater.
Some of the poorest people in Tanzania are losing their customary rights on land, water sources and other natural resources that have supported their livelihoods for generations. Speaking on behalf of farmers from Kisarawe District Ramadhani Jetha from Marumbo village said Sun Biofuels (T) Ltd had acquired about 8,810 ha of land in 11 villages in 2006 for cultivation of a bio-fuel plant (jathropher).
The investor had agreed to pay compensation for the land, provide jobs, improve the infrastructure including roads, provide solar energy, deep water well, construct a dispensary, a secondary school and a hostel for each village.
Some of the villagers engaged in labour-intensive jobs became sick due to insecticides they have been using to fumigate the farm without protective gear. The farm operated for two years before it closed shop.
As of July this year individual farmers were paid compensation but no compensation had been paid for the village land and none of the promised benefit had been obtained. To make matters worse the villagers have been cut off from the only water source they had before and women can no longer pick firewood from the farm that has remained idle for a long time.
From Mabwegera and Mlingo Mberesero in Kilosa District, Mr Sadiki Mwibera said to them land is everything; it is the source for their survival and for development in general and a gift from God. However from 1998 the farmers were at logger heads with pastoralists that have ended in bloody conflicts.
Msafiri said although such investments are being labelled as poverty reduction projects, it is difficult to see how they contribute to poverty reduction. The acclaimed benefits such as job opportunities fall short of expectations since they are few, short-lived and lowly-paid. Likewise, the revenues collections are not significant let alone the fact that they are limited by tax exemptions.
The facts on the ground bring into light the reality that not every investment is good and beneficial - and growing evidence from the strong voices of the people suggest that large land deals are not the best way to follow.