Tanzania: Moving beyond ‘land grab’ rhetoric to finding solutions

Thirty kilometers east of Serengeti National Park, a cluster of people draped in red ‘shuka’ (the iconic red checkered cloths often worn by the Maasai) dots the golden acacia woodlands and short grass plains. It’s a community meeting, with everyone gathered to discuss issues related to the ongoing land conflicts between the local Maasai residents and outsiders who have acquired land parcels for commercial ventures. A young man shares his opinion with the crowd, “We’ve become slaves in our own country while foreigners enjoy it to the fullest.”

This is not an unusual story in Tanzania. Newspapers are being filled with “land grab” headlines. Stories about displacement and dodgy land deals are becoming normal street-side conversation. But strategies for mitigating or resolving such conflicts and challenges over land and land-based investments have yet to be realized, and, as a result, tensions are only intensifying.

Land laws in Tanzania are cumbersome, complex and even contradictory, resulting in conflicts and disputes. In the case of the Serengeti, local residents want to graze their livestock and have access to important natural resources in the area, while investors want to take advantage of the picturesque landscape and wildlife hotspots to develop photographic tourism and hunting businesses. And, despite years of conflict, the situation remains unresolved due to disputes over land titles, and conflicting land policies and land laws that do not support village tenure. While investors and community members struggle to claim ownership and rights, their stakes in the land remain uncertain.

Whether its agriculture, mining or tourism, land-based investments in Tanzania are not working. Due to unclear and complex land tenure laws and acquisition processes, communities are vulnerable to having their land ‘taken’ for investment purposes, which often results in unequal benefit sharing arrangements and ongoing disputes. At the same time, investors also face challenges due to a general lack of information about how much land is really ‘available’ for investment, as well as clear and transparent investment procedures for properly acquiring land.

In an effort to dig deeper and identify avenues for addressing this issue, the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF), IIED and Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA), carried out a scoping study and a national workshop to gauge stakeholder interest and develop strategies for moving forward. It was agreed during the workshop that any dialogue and government land-related policies must focus on the following:

  • securing land tenure for local villages and communities;
  • strengthening governance over land, natural resources and approaches to foreign investment; and
  • seeking out quality foreign investments that contribute to the growth and development of Tanzania and its citizens.

A short film was made describing the results of the workshop and an information brief was published to pull out the key messages of the scoping report. It also sets out the different types of land tenure and administrative rights that currently exist within Tanzania.

Consultations and discussions at the workshop reveal that stakeholder views on the challenges related to land-based investments vary.  But they do share one common, and powerful, sentiment — there is an urgent need to understand, address and find solutions to these challenges. Based on results from the workshop, TNRF, IIED and REPOA are developing a proposal for a multi-stakeholder dialogue to seek solutions to issues related to land and land-based investments in Tanzania. Let the dialogue begin…

Jessie Davie is Head of Communications at TNRF

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