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Land conflicts in the country of safaris April 19, 2009

Posted by veraquina in Uncategorized.
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by Vera Quina

p10302671Violent land disputes and forceful evictions of pastoralists have become commonplace in the once calm district of Kilosa, southern Tanzania. Since last January, clashes between pastoralists and peasants have left six people dead, a large amount of properties and houses destroyed and led to the displacement of more than 2,000 persons. The land question is central to the ongoing disputes in this area, but for some reason these events go unnoticed in Tanzania, one of the last peaceful countries in Eastern Africa.

Africa special relationship to land 

In Africa land has a dual identity, both as a material and symbolic good, a means of subsistence and a platform for the expression of traditions. Particularly for nomadic people like pastoralists, land is the foundation of livelihoods and cultural identity. Pastoralists use the soil to graze their cattle, but also revere it as the organic memory of their people.  Recently, however, with the effects of the food crisis and the increasing interest in conservationism, the national government realized how much it could earn by removing pastoralists from their traditional lands, transforming them into national parks to attract tourism or into arable plots to grow cash crops. By preventing pastoralists to use their traditional areas for cattle herding, they eventually force them to seek other lands and to encroach upon agricultural productions, thereby eliciting acute conflicts over land.

Competing values in regard to land 

Land disputes such as those happening now in Kilosa district are only one symptom of the broader implications of governmental policies. The underlying ideology behind these evictions is modernization, which is the main argument for the development of pastoralists. “We do not want all the country becomes a grazing land,” says President Kikwete, clearly pushing towards privatization.

Flawed ideas about pastoralism 

According to a Maasai pastoral advocate, Adam Ole Mwarabu, there are strikingly flawed ideas about pastoralism on the government side. He says that government officials too easily tend to characterize pastoralism as a “primitive way of life”, and even picture pastoralists as “troublemakers” who unnecessarily keep too much livestock for a question of social prestige and status, thus damaging the environment. This ideology is indeed quite convenient to justify land alienation from pastoralists, in order to later sell it off to tourism investors or agro firms – and in the meantime reap lucrative revenues. With the transfer of pastoralists’ unused lands to productive ends, the government is modernizing the country, developing the pastoral minority and protecting the environment, all in one move.

Legacies of colonialism 

According to Adam, these governmental policies are the continuation of the colonial mentality, mainly because the current education system – that denigrates pastoralism – as well as Tanzanian land laws are drawn from Western culture. He identifies an opposition between the national elites, influenced by the colonial inheritance, and the indigenous populations: “politicians have lost their cultures and see all African indigenous cultures are backward,” says Adam scornfully. In fact, African societies remain greatly divided between an elite educated by foreign values, generally a minority, and a broad majority of plural groups that encompass the national body. This separation is nothing but a legacy of colonialism, which still today is difficult to overcome.

“Strategies of extraversion” 

Historically, the way African elites have developed power has been inextricably linked to their readiness to adopt strategies of extraversion. These strategies are much more than mere external networking, which is inherent to the essence of political activity, but are the expression of an extraverted political system dependent on external resources. African intelligentsias tend to derive their authority and power from their access to external institutions and well-connected outsiders, and they build on patronage structures. Even today, the Tanzanian government is more responsive to external development partners than to its own electorate.

Besides, Tanzanian constituencies, particularly pastoralists, too often lack the knowledge or proper education to be able to assert their rights. This creates a disconnection between the government and the governed and generates a vacuum in governance processes that must be addressed.

Interestingly in Tanzania, since the end of Julius Nyerere’s socialist regime in 1992, pastoralists started to organize themselves to voice their discontent over the current land management system. Building an effective network of external allies such as NGOs to gain international support, pastoralists also are adopting a strategy of extraversion. 

Several local pastoral NGOs such as PINGOs Forum or CORDS articulated themselves with international NGOs in the 1990s, such as Oxfam, to try to influence policy in a sense favorable to be responsive to pastoral interests, and eventually to have pastoralism recognized as a mode of livelihood, what would ultimately protect their lands. Their actions take place at several levels in the governance spheres, through lobbying to the Parliament or through the holding of workshops and education seminars in villages.

Silas Olan’g, a Tanzanian program officer working at Oxfam says “there are several challenges both on the government side and on pastoralists, who have to cope with demographic pressures and climate change. However, both should adapt and cope with the changing dynamics”. He believes that a solution is possible, but there is a lack of political will in the current situation to carry out the task.

Push tourism for and conservation: Alienation of land from pastoral groups 

Despite the mobilization of pastoralists for the defense of their traditional lands, the core issue remains the special prerogatives on land issues upheld by the head of state. In Tanzania all land is vested in the President, who secures it for and on behalf of all citizens in the name of the public interest. What does public interest mean in plural societies encompassing a variety of cultural priorities?

In Mbeya region, on the border with Zambia, President Kikwete simply changed the category of land from village to reserve land under the argument of environmental concerns, completely bypassing the demands of pastoral groups. Instead of making that share of land a Game Reserve as promised, where both wild animals and pastoralists could coexist, the President transformed it into a National Park from which pastoralists are unmistakably excluded. However, if the presence of pastoralists seems to be detrimental to the environment of National Parks, the one of foreign tourists and luxurious lodges seems most welcome. In fact, inside the National Park, several parcels of land were given as a concession to foreign firms, all allegedly “in the name of the public interest”.

Call for a more democratic governance 

This is not to say that tourism is incompatible with pastoral livelihoods. There is in reality a stark – and constructive – distinction between consumptive tourism, such as hunting tourism, and non-consumptive tourist activities such as safaris and hiking in terms of their impact on the pastoralist way of life. Most pastoralists view non-consumptive tourism as positive for their development as long as they are included in the decision making-process. Non-consumptive tourism is not only a source of revenue that benefits to the whole community; but it also protects animals – as opposed to hunting activities – which ensures a lasting source of sustainable development.

Pastoralists make up 10% of Tanzania’s population and should not be neglected, nor protected at any cost. One should look for options to bridge the divide between indigenous populations and the government. Moreover, the government should start recognizing that pastoral groups do contribute to the economy. Even if their input is not yet important  – estimated around 2% of GDP – it could increase significantly if the government would support them with adequate resources to manage land

To avoid resource conflicts in Africa, there is an urgency to reconcile governments with their constituencies, and to create awareness of the different needs present in heterogeneous societies. If African post-colonial states are to rebuild their legitimacy, they should seek to understand and respond to popular demands through a bottom-up process, not an extraverted and centralized approach.


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