20 years of the 20,000 plots project in Dar: A preliminary evaluation

Thursday August 04 2022
Dar view

An aerial view of a section of Dar es Salaam. The government began implementing the 20,000 plots project in the city two decades ago. PHOTO | FILE

By J.M. Lusugga Kironde

The 20,000 planned plots project which was implemented in Dar es Salaam and replicated in a number of urban areas in the country, was inaugurated in 2002. It is twenty years now since then, and this is an opportune time to reflect a bit on this ambitious project. Besides, the Project was one of those that received the support of President Mkapa, reflecting his concern for orderly urban development. Again, given that there is reflection on the Mkapa legacy, during this period of the second anniversary of his passing on, the twenty thousand plots projects gives insights into his thinking, with regard to problems of dealing with rapid urbanisation.

By way of background, many cities in Africa are developing haphazardly, with the majority of the population living in areas which are unplanned, and which are growing faster than the rest of the city. From studies carried out in Dar es Salaam, comparing the cost that individuals pay to acquire formally planned land to that of acquiring informal unplanned land, it was argued throughout the 1990s, that planned land was highly subsidised, thus denying the government the resources to mount continuous large-scale planned land schemes; and that low income households were in fact paying higher for unserviced land. Planned land, which was pricey, cheap and scarce, invariably ended up in the hands of medium to higher income households, although the idea was to make it accessible to all.

It was calculated that, in Dar es Salaam, the informal sector was producing some 19,000 plots pa to meet the plot shortage emanating from the gap between the number of officially planned plots and the unsatisfied demand gauged from applications for land received by public authorities. This figure informed the 20,000 plots project. The government thus decided to roll out a large planned plots project on a cost recovery basis to tap on these resources that were otherwise directed to acquiring unplanned land.

The main objective of the project was to make available, 20,000 serviced plots in one year, aiming at solving the problem of shortage of surveyed and serviced plots in the City in a sustainable manner. Specific objectives were to: alleviate the shortage of surveyed and serviced plots in the City; tackle the rapid increase of informal settlements; control land speculation; address corruption in land offices and in land transactions; implement the government’s drive to deal with poverty, develop satellite towns that would attract people and create employment and provision of services to the people within the area; and to implement the ruling Party’s Manifesto that insisted on the planning of the towns, surveying, and construction of better human settlements.

The Project was pre-financed, using a loan of Sh8.9b billion from the Treasury which was to be recovered with profit in a short period by selling the planned and surveyed plots.

A number of considerations were taken into account in determining the areas in which the Project was implemented. These included: areas which were sparsely developed in terms of buildings so as to minimise the compensation costs; environmentally fragile areas were reserved and protected; marketability of the planned and surveyed plots i.e. those areas with a potentially high land value and which land seekers would be willing to buy readily, so as to recoup the Project costs; proximity and accessibility to social and physical infrastructure; and representation from all the three municipalities of Dar es Salaam;


The identification of these areas was done silently before the Project was publicly announced. In August 2002, aerial photographs were taken of all the areas under the Project to record what was on the ground; and inquiries were carried out on land prices in the relevant areas.

These measures were aimed at protecting the Government from unjustified claims for compensation.

In terms of expenses, 62.3 percent of the money went to paying compensation. Much as the Project took longer that the envisaged one year, more than 58,590 plots were surveyed (40,000, in Dar, and the rest in Mwanza, Mbeya, Morogoro, Bagamoyo and Kibaha).

The Treasury loan was recovered and on-lending to other local authorities was made. The Project was efficiently implemented.

The downside is that the poor were unable to afford the plots; and this, and non-replication of the Project, have seen a rapid growth of unplanned areas surrounding the islands of those areas that were planned. Land prices in the latter areas have skyrocketed.

A major lesson is that pre-financing of planned land schemes is possible, but precautions needs to be taken to increase affordability such as by having a larger proportion of small plots, from the 16.6 percent, in this Project. Capacity building at local government level and a larger use of technology and engagement of the private sector are crucial.