Dar es Salaam — Tanzania's former prime minister Frederick Sumaye has accused the government of unfairly taking almost 800 acres of farmland he and his wife owned, as it presses ahead with a campaign to seize idle agricultural land for redistribution to poor farmers.
The east African nation has become increasingly concerned about land speculation by investors and the conflict it creates with local residents.
"I have received a letter informing me that my 326 acre farm has been taken away by the president and I am not allowed to set my foot there," Sumaye wrote on his Facebook page this week.
"What has surprised me is that the farm has... electricity, crops of different kinds, 200 heads of animals, deep wells and different equipment but they have taken it on the pretext I have failed to develop it."
Sumaye, who was prime minister between 1995 and 2005 and defected to the opposition in 2015, told a news conference that the decision to revoke his title deed was political.
Sumaye's wife, Esther, also lost 473 acres of land when the government reclaimed 14 large farms totalling 15,567 acres of land in Tanzania's central Morogoro region this week, Tanzania's lands minister William Lukuvi said.
It is the second time Sumaye's title deed has been revoked. He lost a 13-hectare (33-acre) farm in 2016 on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city.
The government said the decision was in line with its policy of reclaiming parcels of land exceeding 20 hectares (50 acres) that are not being farmed.
"We do not target any individuals," Lukuvi said at a ceremony to hand landless farmers more than 2,000 title deeds to plots that were taken from investors this year.
"The government routinely identifies and revokes title deeds of farms belonging to anyone who has failed to develop their land, irrespective (of) their (political) affiliation."
Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania's economy, employing more than 60 percent of the workforce.
Since his 2015 election, Magufuli has taken steps to monitor and improve government control over the country's land sector in an effort to tackle inefficiencies and corruption.
The government had given Sumaye 30 days notice to explain why he had not developed his farm, Frolence Kyombo, a local government official, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The reasons he gave were too weak to convince the government to reverse its decision," he said.
Reporting by Kizito Makoye. Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths.