Dodoma — THE government plans to suspend 'Operation tokomeza' over disturbing reports of killing and abuse of innocent people and their livestock by executing officers.
The operation, aimed at weeding out poaching and illegal ivory trade in various parts of the country, including evacuating those grazing animals in conservation areas, received wrath from Members of Parliament with some giving chilling stories of how officers executing the operation were reportedly involved in wanton killings of animals, their owners and innocent citizens.
On Friday, the government hinted at suspending the operation as MPs were firm in their contributions that the operation had failed to deal with the powerful poaching and ivory trade racket.
The Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki said that as a result of MPs' concerns, the operation will have to be suspended to allow a Parliamentary Committee to visit affected areas to get first hand information directly from the local people.
He directed that all livestock confiscated from owners for grazing in national and game reserves before and at the beginning of the operation should be returned to them without condition-but that they should not return to the reserve.
He also directed that those whose livestock were shot and have tangible evidence should go to the ministry for action.
He said it would be wise to assess the operation to get the bigger picture of what has transpired by visiting various parts of the country to get direct responses from the wananchi.
"Since there are many complaints from the MPs regarding the state of the entire operation, we must take action against any executing person who contravened a code of conduct put in place for the operation.
I want to assure MPs that an evaluation of the exercise will be made and results brought to Parliament through the Committee on land, natural resources and environment.
For that reason, Operation Tokomeza will be suspended," he said. Some 80 per cent of the country's elephants are found in core protected areas, national parks, Ngorongoro conservation area and game reserves, while the other 20 per cent are found in forest reserves, game controlled areas and general lands.
He said the number of elephants had decreased from 203,000 in 1977 to 57,334 in 1991, but that one operation christened 'operation uhai' in 1980 that sought to wipe out poaching, resulted in the number of elephants to increase to 130,000 by 2002.
Recently, he said the number had gone down to 109,000 in 2009, a situation that influenced observers, including wananchi to ask the government to use its state organs to reign on the trend.
In responding to concerns from legislators the Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Development, Dr David Mathayo, noted that grazing land has been decreasing each year due to a growing population and other land use needs.
He said that some areas that were previously used by the livestock keepers as alternatives during drought periods in their areas had been turned into conservation areas, national parks, residential areas, crop agriculture and infrastructure.
He said that between 2005 and 2013, the country was hit by drought periods which affected livestock keeping due to lack of water in areas such as Shinyanga, Mwanza Mara, Arusha, Manyara, Morogoro, Singida, Dodoma, Tabora and Kilimanjaro, necessitating many pastoralists to migrate to other regions in search for pasture for their livestock.
Despite the Ministers' explanations, legislators from either side of the political divide were united in criticising them for the operation they viewed as having defeated its purpose. In some cases, MPs alleged that innocent people were being held and shot simply because they had asked the government go for the 'big shots' reportedly involved in poaching and sale of ivory.
Kilolo Member of Parliament, Prof. Peter Msolla (CCM) called for a special Parliamentary Committee to investigate reported injustices occasioned by the operation against innocent livestock keepers. Busega Legislator Dr Titus Kamani (CCM) said harassing livestock keepers only made the ministry lose legitimacy and credibility as a protector of the animals.
Kangi Lugola (CCMMwibara) disagreed with the Ministers' explanations, saying they were 'simplistic' in the face of 500 cattle already shot by unscrupulous officers in the tokomeza operation, also calling for a committee to investigate the reports for Parliament to come up with resolutions.
Halima Mdee (Chadema- Kawe) attributed the reports to poor land use management systems, calling for a thorough investigation into the operation.
Mwijage (Muleba- CCM) punched holes into the operation, noting that it should have been more systematic than it has been carried out.
"You should look for elephant killers, not those small people that the operation is after," he said. Following concerns from the MPs, Speaker Anne Makinda formed a special committee to investigate the conflicts between pastoralists and crop farmers and asked the Parliamentary Committee on natural resources and Environment to investigate 'Operation Tokomeza'.