Tanzania’s experience with land administration, policy reforms

Land policy reform activities have been gaining prominence in developing countries of late. This is not an accident. Reforms are being given due weight in the drive for poverty reduction strategies and because any further neglect thereof allows untold conflicts and disputes to surface where calm seemed to prevail. Land is space for all human activities and it is because of this fact that responsible governments, the world over, desire to ensure good custody of land through grant and guarantee of land rights.
Land policy reform is a mechanism aimed at supporting good governance and paving way towards secure investments in food production, housing, infrastructure development and environmental protection, among other benefits.

However, sustainable land policy reforms are built against the backdrop of sound political, economic, legal, institutional and technological frameworks that are pivotal to guaranteeing land tenure rights.

In this regard, therefore, a good land administration system is an essential component of any democratic government.

It supports land development in the broadest sense as a part of socio-economic development that stands firmly on good governance principles.

Further, land administration enables the state to broaden its revenue base through equitable taxation and levies at the same time.

Major world organizations (e.g. the World Bank, the European Union, Donor Agencies, etc) concerned with economic and human development have, in view of the overwhelming advantages recently worked out, issued guidelines and involved themselves in assisting in land policy reforms particularly, in the developing World.

About a year ago, the African Union (AU) also announced its intention and resolve to work on land policy reform guidelines for countries of Africa.

This is understandable as the economies and peoples of all countries in Africa, especially those of sub-Saharan Africa, would benefit immensely from such guidelines.

It is important to note, however, that although land issues have a universal nature, there is no single or simple prescription for reforms that suit all countries.

In fact, it would be possible to have several prescriptions even within a single country due to the diversity of relations with land prevailing within ethnic and regional groupings.

This fact points, therefore, to the difficulty facing the AU in this endeavour and the extent to which the product of their work could have meaning, or otherwise to individual African countries.

A general view of production modes in African countries shows that many are more rural and agrarian than are urbanized and industrial.

This means that the majority of nationals in these countries earn their livelihood directly from the land as producers or labourers.

In this regard, issues of land access, land rights and land tenure are of prime importance to the lives of the majority of people and the economy at large.

Much care is needed in molding policy options since land issues are issues of the majority population in communities.

One needs to note further that various African countries, as free nations, differ in their stage of development with regard to addressing issues of land access and distribution.

A few such stages are worthy of note: Firstly, at one end of one spectrum would be countries in which communities some are yet to settle permanently on the land and simply put, have not developed firm land ownership relations.

In some such incidences governments do not have policies geared at land distribution within legal frameworks.

Secondly, there are countries that have been encumbered with internal conflicts, including full-scale war, being fought on the very land needed for production and economic development, whilst some are far from reaching consensus on land policy, let alone land laws.

Lastly, at the other end of the spectrum would be countries that have populist land policies, and laws and are at stages of building strategies for a land dispensations that recognize and uphold land rights, security of tenure and enabled land markets.

Land policy reform issues in different countries are quite diverse in nature. For example: (i) issues of concern to countries upholding some role of tribal chiefs in local government would not work where chiefs have no part to play in land matters, (ii) issues concerning post-colonial conflicts between former settlers and natives would be specific to such situations and probably differ from issues in countries that had no settlers economy or where the settler legacy has been absorbed; and (iii) issues that evolve as a consequence of complexities in social relations that are again, specifics of countries or even ethnicities.

Whatever issues constitute a priority and whatever their gravity on the socio-political agenda, one thing is clear and that is that guidelines to land policy reform ought to take a very careful analysis of prevalent and emerging issues prior to their being internalized.

Also, the parameters of their application should be made explicit.

Tanzania may have something to offer in a way of experience since it has had a rugged path in land policy reforms over the past century.

Several unique experiences in land tenure and policy, and hence in land administration, standing out conspicuously include the fact that Tanzania is one country: (

i) that abolished the powers of Chiefs, among other things, over land within two years of independence.

This act that was initially greeted with suspicion and had temporarily left a void in local land administration, but soon people got used to not having royal blood among them and getting leaders by the ballot.

(ii) that abrogated on customary tenure and almost extinguished it in law, but not all could be subdued and has made a come back with a bang as a shining beacon for other countries to learn from.

(iii) that tried with several band-aid solutions to make the colonial policies and laws palatable to national aspirations, without success, until it learnt the hard way to ask the people in a participatory way to define their own land tenure policy, and save the day.

However, until this stage some untold experiments had been done on people's land relations, enough to stifle land development and degrade the landscape with such a damage that could take long to reverse.

And (iv) in which consensus on a land policy was prolonged, as was the development of new legislation and repealing the old land laws.

Equally, many years past before a strategic plan was put in place.

But, at least on the record now Tanzania has a careful and systematic process of redefining people`s relationships with the land that cherishes customary rights with elements of freehold tenure and legal framework to address grievances.

On the historical record stand several historical milestones including: (i) the fact that the Berlin conference of 1884 and subsequent processes in Europe's 'scramble for colonies' interrupted the free development of land tenure in Africa; (ii) adventurous European and Asian tribes emigrating and roaming parts of the continent prior to colonialism found their fate sometimes alongside with the indigenous tribes of the continent; (iii) local customs and traditions were often contradictory to those of adversaries on their way, within the general rule of thumb of `the winner takes all'; and (iv) colonial regimes halted free movements of people across the continent.

It is unimaginable as to whither way self-advancement would have propelled people`s relations with the land in various communities.

Perhaps, the development of socio-economic formations would have wholly defined tenure issues or clan, ethnic and tribal conflicts would have taken hold as a part of historical dynamics, if uninterrupted by foreign guns and battles.

History tells us that conflicts that were pacified at some point when subjugated powers succumbed to the victors, seems to have been resuscitated at independence upon the rise to the throne of the under dog in wholesale takeovers of policies of former enemies.

Today, in many African countries, meaningful land policy reforms are being demanded by the people rather than designed by those in power. This is a new and progressive development.

Whatever the historical setting, the role of the land policy reform guideline development, as proposed by the African Union, would be that of providing leads on policy options to the African governments of the day and facilitate initiatives to engage the people in meaningful policy reforms for the benefit of all so as to guide land administration in taking up its proper place for development and reduction of poverty.

In a nutshell, land tenure is an important aspect of human life.

The value of land has widely been acknowledged by all and with this awareness issues have emerged that are not easy to reconcile, even within a country or geographical regions thereof.

The result of awareness in the value of land has many advantages for land tenure but has also unfortunately, fueled a rise in explosive conflicts such as those occurring in Zimbabwe and other less explosive such as the lack of consensus on land policy and land administration approaches in many African countries.

This paper series will discuss six key issues in a land reform agenda for Africa by tracing human relations with the land in Africa but focusing on Tanzania's experience.

The dar es Salaam Institute for Land administration and Policy Studies, DILAPS hopes to make a contribution to focal issues in land policy reforms that may constitute guidelines to those wishing to learn from neighbours`' experiences.

The six highlighted issues in this attempt are: (i) historical land tenure developments; (ii) pressure, both internal and external, brought to bear on land policy makers; (iii) the cardinal role of customary tenure in a non-industrialised economy; (iv) gender issues in search for equitable access to land and land rights; (v) titling in rural lands and the importance of a well crafted physical adjudication process; and (vi) an informed position of land-use conflicts and land tenure disputes with regard to tenure security enhancement.

Source: Guardian - Furaha N. Lugoe