21 March 2018

Tanzania: Fix Land Rivalry, Which Has 'Graduated' to Crisis Levels


I AM a great movie fanatic. The beauty about these shows, quite many of which are essentially fictitious, is that they fool-yes, fool-the watcher into believing that the things depicted there-in are real.

Some of the movie themes are products of the fertile minds of script writers, which are converted into motions by professional, very creative producers. Others are based on real-life events, an example being 'Titanic', a movie based on the sinking, off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 12, 1912. An estimated 1,500 people perished in the disaster.

The movie captures the tragedy so powerfully that it prompts a faint-hearted watcher to shed tears liberally. Whenever I encounter shocking movie scenes, the weapon I apply, and successfully, is to recall that, it is fictitious stuff after all. Not so for real-life situations. One of the most compelling is the brutal manner in which one of my earliest teachers, Mwalimu John, was butchered by a deranged fellow in my home village over five decades ago.

My classmates and I were cast into disarray when we heard the teacher, who was conducting a lesson in the next class, yelling. Scrambling out of the room as the first step to sprinting towards home, I cast a momentary glance at the butchery-in-progress. I saw the assailant's 'panga' make two-three swift downwards- upwards movements as he struck our teacher.

By the time other teachers and villagers had rushed to the scene, and by which time the assailant (whose beastly deed had reportedly been engineered by a long-nursed grudge) had fled, and the wounds inflicted on the victim had been too severe to fix. He died shortly afterwards.

A year or so later, I tasted the bitterness of a panga slash when, accidentally, a fellow pupil who was next to me as we slashed grass on the field that served alternately as a meeting arena and a sports ground, struck my knee. But when my yelling subsided as the pain eased, and after healing, courtesy of a herbal concoction administered by a grandmotherly woman, I did a bit of soul searching.

Its outcome was that the torture I had suffered was a very big joke, compared to the agony that Mwalimu John had endured. In-between, villagers were delighted when a bitter quarrel between two neighbours over ownership of a banana plant located on a spot along the border of their farms.

There was a hilarious angle to the merciful outcome, though. The rivals used the pangas they had been wielding, which may have occasioned bloodshed, to slash the plant into several, useless pieces. In my residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam city, stories of that nature are commonplace, some of which are based on trivialities like why a few branches of a tree have crossed the border and are hanging (trespassing ?) over the other side! Land is a deeply thorny issue, constantly revisiting which serves to remind us that we are not out of the woods yet.

Earlier on, I touched on movies that spring from creative minds, on ether fictitious or actual tragedies. I did the same on real life experiences, related to the near-miss by two panga-brandishing neighbours, and, at the very bottom, neighbours quarrelling over 'intrusions' of tree branches across fences. We have on the other extreme of our essentially very beautiful land, the extremes of bloody, ugly conflicts between pastoralists and peasants, whose genesis is land ownership or user entitlement.

Real-life rather than fictitious land conflicts, byproducts of which include bloodshed and simmering deep-seated enmity between communities, and right down to clan and tiny family circles, are among the challenges with which leaders at all levels are grappling.

Virtually without exception, wananchi seek interventions by President John Magufuli and Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, during their regional tours. One of the disturbing angles is the misunderstanding between wananchi and religious establishments. The president, for one, often expresses deep dismay over the fact that some of the conflicts start off as minor misunderstandings but subsequently blow up to almost unmanageable proportions. The authorities who could prevent or tackle them merely looked on helplessly, he laments, stressing that the Head of State cannot fix all problems.

That ugly scenario, which is broader beyond land conflicts, demands the emergence and consolidation of an energetic, focused collective leadership in partnership with cooperative wananchi to polish.In one of my distant past columns, I noted, tongue-incheek, that a zebra crossing was the riskiest spot at which to cross a road.

Reason: Quite many motorists feel that they are senior road users and pedestrians are junior ones. Nowadays, thanks to the fear of being sanctioned by traffic police, they slow down upon approaching the crossings!

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