Tanzania: Land Incursions in Arusha Area - Implications for Investors
Thursday, 26 April 2012
This incident has received little to no coverage in the English-Language media, but was picked up by security firm Warrior Security who noted the incursion of villages onto privately owned land, leading to localised tensions over several days. According to the company’s CEO, Tony Sugden, the incursions had been triggered by the lack of grazing and water on the neighbouring smallholdings. Initially, villagers mainly trespassed to cut grass. However, according to Warrior Security:
‘The situation was exacerbated by political rhetoric in which opposition candidates vying for local seats allegedly promised villagers carte blanche access to large areas of land some of which is held by Tanzanian registered companies and others by individual landowners. With the conclusion of the elections, it would seem that villagers took them at their word and promptly broke down fencing followed by wholesale invasions.

There followed a tense week of direct threats, localised burglary and rioting, during which it must be said that the police acquitted themselves extremely well despite the usual shortage of resources.’

The situation was greatly improved through a formal intervention by the Arusha RC who spoke eloquently and forcefully and reiterated that the government is fully committed to protecting the rights of legitimate landowners and reaffirmed the government stance on the proper value of investors and their investments.’

It is encouraging to see that the Tanzanian authorities have taken a firm stand in this situation. In Tanzania as elsewhere in the region, land can be a very emotive issue and even when clear, undisputed land titles exist, investors and other landowners can be vulnerable to the demands (and, of course, needs) of the surrounding smallholders and their exploitation by local vested interests. Consequently, Sugden warned that ‘we need to recognise that there are other elements who will want to capitalise on the perceived vacuum created by the unrest.’

Foreign investors’ access to land has been even more contested in Tanzania than in the other EAC countries, but as governments try to attract investors in sectors that require large-scale land holdings – mining, forestry, agriculture etc  , these disputes will continue to flare up. One of the most drastic, long-running cases is African Barrick Gold’s challenging relationship with the community surrounding its Mara North goldmine. While the company has recently launched a major CSR programme and mechanisms to improve relations with the local community, the company is also building a 14km fence around the mine to ward off hundreds of artisanal miners trespassing on their territory every day. In May 2011, up to 1,500 people intruded on the property. The conflicting interests are well documented in this piece by the Globe and Mail.

Similar cases occur elsewhere: A forestry company pulled out of its investment in Uganda after having been accused of displacing up to 20,000 people. A key factor in the interminable delays in Kenya’s Kwale mineral sands project are the difficult relations with the local community. Land is potentially a mine field for investors: In an environment where landgrabs frequently occur and land registration is often both archaic and corrupt. Weak governance means that governments have generally not been very adept in ensuring the rights of local communities – and not just in relation to foreign investors, but also in overall provision of services to smallholders. This renders investors particularly vulnerable to local politicians and other vested interests.

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