SPECIAL REPORT: Land grabbing in Tanzania: The truth and fallacies behind land acquisition

Wednesday March 25 2015

A villager works on her farm. The woes and dilemmas facing two investors in Kapunga Rice Project and Bagamoyo Sugar Project are evidently, thanks to government’s failure to protect its property and slow-pace, if not inability, to humanely and legally remove the intruders. PHOTO | COURTESY

 Dar es Salaam. For years now, the decision by the government to invite and accommodate investors in land has divided the nation into two main groups—those who views this move as legalizing land grabbing and the other group that sees this move as a modern way of introducing commercial farming in Tanzania.

The Citizen also sought to verify the finding of the same HakiArdhi-Mviwata study that Mrs Esther Sumaye, wife of former Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye grabbed a farm at Mvomero Village in Mvomero District, Morogoro Region.

“Wananchi were not completely involved in the acquisition of this farm but surprisingly, there are minutes that were prepared by village leadership that show a village general meeting with list of attendees attached,” implying that nonexistent was manufactured to legalise the land grab.

The Citizen reporter visited Mvomero Village recently and came up with the following findings on the ground which do not match what appears in the study:

The 382 acres of land at Mvomero Village, Mvomero District in Morogoro Region, belongs to wife of former premier Sumaye.

But according to Mvomero Village chairman Peter Ngulungwa, before its acquisition by the current owner in the early 2000s, the land was a private property that belonged to Wami-Magole Farmers’ Cooperative Society.


Village Executive Officer agreed that the land was privately owned though the villagers, being aware that its lease was to expire in 2002, tried to lobby to acquire and include it in their village development plan that aspires for the Township status.

“The farm is within the village, so we wanted to acquire it but before we made any steps in our intentions, the owner renewed the lease and sold it to Mrs Sumaye,” he said.

 But, in a country like Tanzania, where leaders are still adored and feared, it’s not clear whether the acquisition by the Sumaye’s family was something influenced by power or was just an ordinary transaction.

The ward councillor at the time of the transfer, Mr Humudi Ruwehy, said the village leadership was not formally involved in the acquisition process because the property was private. Mr Ruwehy, who served since single-party system era as the village chairman and the ruling party CCM village chairman from 1989 to 1993 and as a councillor from 1994 to 2005, added that since his tenure, the village wanted to acquire the farm due to its convenient location; it was located in the middle of the village.

When a decision was made to create Mvomero District, he recalled, he recommended that the parcel be used for the construction of district headquarters at the council meeting but the new district headquarters were built at Wami-Sokoine.

Apparently, villagers and leaders feel that the farm should have been a public property rather than a private one. But the fact remains that it is a private property that was legally acquired.
Weaknesses of the government

Do governments take leave? So where does it go when villagers invade, settle in and engage in economic activities on its land?

The woes and dilemmas facing two investors in Kapunga Rice Project and Bagamoyo Sugar Project are evidently,  thanks to government’s failure to protect its property and slow-pace, if not inability, to humanely and legally remove the intruders.

In Kapunga for instance, the investor leased and paid for 7,370 hectors but 1,870 hectors of his legally acquired land have now been ‘grabbed’ by the villagers.

And in Bagamoyo, the disputed land is part of the government’s contribution that gave 25 shares in Sh900 billion sugar plantation and factory project. The investor has been caught off-guard and  cannot understand what is happening because when the government pledged to offer land as its contribution, then whose title it produced, there was no way the investor could foresee the now-raging conflict.

If the four parties embroiled in the conflict are tried fairly, it is likely that the investors will come out innocent by simply saying ‘I legally acquired the land and here is the lease agreement’.

Wananchi will also be acquitted on humanitarian ground if they weep and ask ‘if the land is yours, where were you for the past 20 or 30 years? All my children were born here and they know no any other home but here’.

NGOs will simply say what they have always said ‘the government and investors are powerful and moneyed forces, it is our duty to protect human and land rights of the poor wananchi against the mighty two.’

What will be the government’s defence?

There are also apparent gaps regarding consultations and transparency on the side of the government. One of the reasons the government did not want ActionAid report to go public is because most of the information in it was not correct hence a need for further consultation.

To this, the NGO responded that its report had been ready six months ago and several government offices declined the request to meet, share the findings and improve the report. It accused the ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development, Bagamoyo District authorities and Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) of ignoring its call for audience.

Early last year, The Citizen wrote a letter to the Executive Director of Tanzania Investment Centre, requesting information regarding investment in land for agriculture and what the one-shop government agency was doing to avert the wave of conflicts in land allocated to investors  but by press time yesterday, no response came forth!

The letter was delivered to TIC offices by this reporter and was and was filed in the registry. That was followed by frequent calls and visits to the agency for better part of last year but all efforts were fruitless. The contact person has been the agency’s Public Relations Manager, Ms Pendo Gondwe.

In January this year, this reporter persisted with calls and visits and Mr Gondwe said she could not trace the letter, which this reporter witnessed being filed last year. She asked for the questions to be forwarded to her through email, something which was done immediately.

On 21 January, Ms Gondwe replied The Citizen’s email thus: Happy New Year to you. I am working on your request and I will come back to you soon. Thanks and best regards.”

This reporter and The Citizen’s News Editor have separately made several calls to Ms Gondwe but her answer has always been the same: I am working on it; I will get back to you soon.

Heartbreaks and disappointments

Two agribusiness investments: Bioshape in Kilwa District and Sunbiofuels in Kisarawe District, both in  Jetropha plantation, initially brought hope to the locals with the start of operation. Later, their hopes turned into tears and disappoints as the companies finally closed business. 

Although the two also feature in a number of “land grab” reports by various NGOs, interview by locals on the ground found that the closure of these firms have left local communities heartbroken and disappointed.

Bioshape for instance, acquired some 81,000 hectares in Kilwa for Jetropha farming, a plant that yields nuts that can be used in the production of biodiesel.

Village Executive Officer of Mavuji, one of the villages that celebrated the coming of the company, Mr Madadi Mwiru, said the firm got some 16,000 hectares in the village and land owners were duly compensated.

The project began in earnest in 2008 on a 1,000 hectares demonstration farm. The village received over Sh200 million, equivalent to 40 per cent while the Kilwa District Council pocketed the remaining 60 per cent.

How the money was spent

According to Mr Mwiru, Sh48 million was used to buy a lorry that was later sold at Sh11.5 million. Another Sh40 million was used to construct a market, the structures that are hardly used.

Mr Yusuf Kilwanda, farmer and former village chair of Mavuji, said the project was to benefit four villages of Mavuji, Migelegele, Nainokwe and Liwiti.

He recalled that the project kicked off well as the investor installed a water pump in the nearby river that pumped water to the village, pupils at Mavuji Primary School enjoyed free lunch paid for by the investor for six months and all villagers whose land was acquired were duly compensated.

“I was paid Sh1.5 million for my piece of land,” he said, adding that there were no complaints over the acquisition. He said the village then had 3,400 people and 652 households who considered themselves lucky because of the investment and the services that came with it.

Mr Ahmed Kuluwia, 30, is a disappointed man. From 2008 to 2009, he was employed by Bioshape and was pocketing Sh120,000 per month.

“To me they (Bioshape) were God-sent angels,” he said.

Mr Peter Malekela, acting district executive director at the time of this interview and who joined the district since 2009 said: “If Bioshape can no longer implement the project, they better relinquish that land so that we give it to another investor instead of leaving it idle as it is,” he said.

Migelegele, 1,621 villagers in 329 households

Mr Ramadhani Mchanjama, who was the Village Executive Officer said after the frustration following the closure of Bioshape operations,  in December 2012 two representatives from each of the four villages travelled to Dar es Salaam to seek answers from the TIC, which facilitated the acquisition of the land.

“They (TIC) told us that Bioshape could not continue with the project but they promised us that another investor was to take over soon,” he recalled,

“They also promised that they would come to see the situation first-hand and act on it but they never did,” he added.

The 74-year-old Rajab Ngozi said he was compensated Sh3 million for the 6 hectares he previously used to grow maize and millet to feed his family of 15 for 21 years. “Seeing this land lying idle here today, I feel traumatized,” he said.

Village chairman Selemani Chaola, who served as village governing committee member since 1994,  said in his analysis the investor was genuine in the initiative to provide employment to local community, provide lunch to school children, to provide clean water and promises to build a conference facility, to empower and involve out growers. “They were real; I believe something we don’t know went terribly wrong and that is why they closed their business,” he said.

But this Bioshape acquisition also appears in several research reports as “land grab”. One such study is a 2010 publication entitled ‘Accumulation by land dispossession and labour devaluation in Tanzania: The case of biofuel and forestry investments in Kilwa and Kilolo’ conducted by HakiArdhi.

The study concludes thus: “This occasional paper has highlighted the challenges associated with land grabbing that have been facing villagers in Kilolo District in Iringa and Kilwa District in Lindi since 2006. By tracing how New Forest Company and BioShape Tanzania Limited entered these districts respectively in search of land for their investments, the paper has shown how the processes of land acquisition in Tanzania tend to sanction land grabbing.”

It notes specifically about Bioshape investment: “the villagers have been left in the dark as they are not aware of the actual size of their village land in relation to the land that has been transferred. Benefits such as new employment opportunities and investments in the communities have been limited and short-lived, in all cases falling far short of what communities expected when agreeing to the initial investments. As a result villagers have lost significant portions of their farmlands and forestlands which have the potential of sustaining them irrespective of large-scale investments.”