Arusha. During the commissioning of military officers in Arusha two weeks ago by President John Magufuli, one of the placards held up by aggrieved citizens in the audience for the Head of State to see had a clear message concerning what has become known as the ‘Loliondo Dispute.’
Prof Jumanne Maghembe – the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism before he was dropped from the Cabinet yesterday – had become a burden to the government for his apparent failure to resolve long-standing land conflict in Loliondo.
Pitting nomadic pastoralists against foreign hunting firms and conservation agencies, has been dragging on since the 1990s.
Representatives of the herders cut through the protocol in the fully-packed Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium during the commissioning ceremony to make their grievances clear to the President. Their complaints were basically directed against the then-minister and the conservation agencies.
The Loliondo pastoralists – who, for years, have agitated against annexation of their grazing land – must be elated no end by yesterday’s announcement from State House on the change of guard at the Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry.
But Prof Maghembe is certainly not the first ‘causality’ in the Loliondo saga. Some of his predecessors since the crisis began in the early 1990s were the late Abubakar Yusuf Mgumia and Dr Juma Ngasongwa whose inglorious exit from the ministerial post in those days was linked to the crisis. Whether by pure design or mere coincidence, the unceremonious exit of Natural Resources and Tourism Ministers in Tanzania – notable among them Khamis Kagasheki and Ezekiel Maige – have more often than not been linked to the Loliondo land disputes and the contentious issue of hunting blocks!
Indeed, it was not by coincidence that the latest minister to so exit was appointed to the docket. But, the professor of forestry and natural resources – with a long, exalted record at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro Region before crossing over into politics – has set a record of sorts in this!
Maghembe had held the ministerial docket during the regime of immediate-past President Jakaya Kikwete (2005-15) – and was considered by President Magufuli to be the right candidate to also head the crucial sector for the national economy. Dr Magufuli has been President of Tanzania only from November 5, 2015.
Critics saw Prof Maghembe as a laid-back politician, with trappings of government bureaucracy, who lacked the zeal and vigour needed to push matters forward in the like and manner of fellow Cabinet members in the no-nonsense fifth-phase ‘Hapa Kazi TU’ Regime of Dr Magufuli!
It was not the first time when Prof Maghembe was accused on September 23 of being a ‘Mzigo,’ a burden in government! That started in the President Kikwete Administration!
However, his admirers suggested that the array of criticisms directed against him was partly due to the labyrinth of intrigues and contentious issues which have haunted the Tourism and Natural Resources sector for decades. A few days before his last public ‘show’ at the Arusha central stadium, the former minister was in the Loliondo, one of his countless visits to the area in an attempt to resolve the land crisis.
He defended the government against allegations of human rights violations during an operation made to evict livestock herders from inside or within the fringes of the Serengeti National Park, insisting it was being done within the law.
He reiterated that the same measures were applied in another operation to remove large herds of livestock from, and demolish human settlements in, the disputed ecological zone in Loliondo area which is close to the Park. He was not quite safe in the Tourism stakes either – which happens to be the leading sector in foreign exchange generation.
Last year, Maghembe defended the introduction of value-added tax (VAT) on tourism services – much to the dismay of nearly all players in the industry!
He was highly criticised for that – although but was on record that tourism did not suffer from that fiscal measure as had been feared by many!
Last year, for instance, Tanzania hosted 1,250,000 tourist arrivals – although that figure still contrasts with the world-acclaimed attraction sites found in the country!
In any case, as Tourism minister, Prof Maghembe was not a friend to dishonest tour operators in Arusha, the hub of Tanzania’s multi-million US-dollar tourism industry. Some tour operators are often alleged to con foreign visitors. So, every time that Maghembe was in town, he would hold meetings with local tour operators and other stakeholders, sessions that would often turn stormy and extend well into the night!