ON MY MIND : Making National Land Policy inclusive and people-centred

Tuesday November 29 2016

The government has held a series of stakeholders meetings to enable different interest groups to present their views on the draft National Land Policy, 2016. The government review team (Secretariat) will reportedly take these comments into consideration when revising the Policy, and then submit the final version to the Ministry of Land for further discussion, before sharing with other related Ministries. The final version will be tabled before the Cabinet.

I hope this means that the Ministry of Lands welcomes further views from the public, especially given the limited opportunity to participate in earlier stakeholder sessions. With this in mind, I wish to share the comments of other researchers on agrarian and land issues in rural areas.

Questionable Statistics: The ‘70 per cent village land, two per cent general land, 28 per cent reserved land’ thesis adopted by the Policy is based on 20 year old data and is likely to be inaccurate, given the amount of land which has been appropriated by large-scale enterprises in the 2000s, according to one researcher in Bagamoyo. For example, the SAGCOT Centre has reported plans to transform “350,000 hectares of land into profitable production“ by 2030. Increasing commercial pressure to transfer village land to general land indicates the extent of involuntary displacement and resettlement of villagers that will follow.

Compensation woes: The draft NLP rightly acknowledges that, at present, there is no administrative appeal mechanisms for those aggrieved with compensation, and that there are significant delays in compensation payments. In Bagamoyo, for example, many people are waiting for compensation and displacement to make way for a large-scale agro-industrial project, an economic processing zone, a port, a tarmac road, an airport. The policy actually gives investors a ten-year grace period before revoking Rights of Occupancy for non-development of acquired land. What does this mean for the original inhabitants? Moreover, the present valuation exercise in Bagamoyo has been male biased. Government valuers mainly registered men, as they were perceived to be the ‘heads of households’ and/or the de facto owners of land. In this way, government systems are systematically depriving women producers of their rights to land.

Making Tanzania’s National Land Policy inclusive and people-centred: In a recent blog, eight scholars and activists (Emmanuel Sulle et al 24/11/2016 PLAAS) praised the NLP,2016 for its strong statements on ensuring equal rights to land for women and for marginalised groups such as small-scale hunters and gatherers. However, they identifed areas which need improvement, and called for additional consultations at grassroots level, public feedback and commentary. Very few NGOs were invited to participate in the earlier consultative processes in 2015 and November 2016. Big International NGOs were over-represented, and short notice meant several organisations were unable to attend. This undermines the government’s intent to have an open inclusive process. And as the case of Bagamoyo has shown, gender equality rhetoric is not matched by practical implementation on the ground.

The NLP, 2016 retains the government’s power to transfer village land to general land, with full, fair and prompt compensation for the original inhabitants. The PLAAS team argues that this is not sufficient – “.. displaced people should instead be recognised as stakeholders in each land-based investment in relation to the land assets they contribute, deserving equitable ongoing gain from the economic, environmental and social benefits that result from such investments” [my emphasis].


Village ‘commons’ land provides invaluable resources for communal use, but may be falsely labelled as ‘unused’ and transferred to ‘general land’ which is available for outside investors. The Policy needs to recognise and strengthen the power of Village Councils and Village Assemblies to oversee land allocations and use, as well as the powers of Parliament as the country’s top oversight institution in land governance, management and administration. I have already suggested the same in an earlier article and also recommended that these powers be embedded in the new Constitution.

The authors take issue with the emphasis on land titling, arguing that evidence elsewhere suggests it may even increase insecurity of land ownership and use, especially for women. The core problems of land administration noted in the Policy are, in their view, “poor administration, incompetent staff, corruption and widespread ethical decay among civil servants and wider society, which has become particularly acute in recent years.”

The authors have joined many other commentators, including myself, to urge that the draft policy be translated into Swahili, with more time available for wide consultation. Land is the basis of the livelihoods of a majority of Tanzanian women and men, and they have a right to participate in decision-making about it.