Land Conflicts in Dar es Salaam and their Socio-political Implications

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Land Conflicts in Dar es Salaam and their Socio-political Contexts:

Can Universities and Research Institutions Make a Difference?
Kombe, W. J.

Ardhi Univerity, Dar es Salaam,Tanzania.


In countries where most of the people live and subsist on land and land-related economic activities the state’s failure to resolve land related conflicts can accentuate poverty and create fertile ground violence. This paper examines land conflicts which ensued government’s and large scale developers’ attempts to appropriate land from poor settlers in the peri-urban areas of Dar es Salaam.

It is argued that the attempts to resolve land conflicts flawed inter alia because of institutional deficits which include disregard of the rights of the sitting land occupiers. In the two cases, the interventions by the state have had catalytic effects on the conflict, giving rise to violence. It is concluded that resolution of conflicts that concern sensitive issues such as appropriation of scarce resources such as land requires informed third party opinion, impartiality and improved good governance practices, and not least empowerment of the poor to access information, recognize their rights and obligations. These are areas where universities in developing countries can play a critical role.

Key words: Land conflicts, socio-political implications and the role of universities.

1.0 Introduction

Land is a resource whereon almost other resources depend. It is also the source of all material wealth, from it we get everything that we use, be it food, fuel, shelter, metal and precious stones. We live on the land, from the land, and to the land our bodies or ashes are committed after we have died. Most individuals and communities in Tanzania need and depend on the land in many ways of sustaining their livelihoods. Therefore, in the mindset of most Tanzanians, especially the low income social groups, land simply means life.

In the context of Tanzania, it is also noteworthy that over the last two decades, there have been many socio-economic and political changes that have altered or transformed the perceptions towards land. This includes policies that have given rise to the operationalisation of land markets, mortgaging of land, development by secondary markets including rental markets, and increasing the efficiency of real-estate property markets (Kombe and Kreibich, 2006).

In Tanzania land remains in principle an exclusive property of the state despite the adoption of new liberal economic policies which have been steering the country towards a market economy since the mid 1980s. The President is the custodian of land and individuals have only usufruct rights or titles. The right to access, develop and occupy land is therefore granted by the government under leaseholds ranging between 5 and 99 years. Therefore, state retains the ownership of land and is entitled to take it back if leaseholders do not develop it within the period defined in the letter of offer, normally, three years. The Land Act of 1999, the Land Acquisition Act of 1967 and the Urban Planning Act of 2007 give the President overwhelming powers to acquire land required for public use or interest. On the other hand, the national constitution (1977) provides for the protection of private property rights. Besides, compulsory acquisition laws stipulate that persons whose land is expropriated for public interest have to be fairly and promptly compensated. The spirit of the compensation payable to dispossessed persons is to ensure that households affected neither lose nor gain as a result of their land or property being appropriated for public interests.

This paper presents observations in progress based on a study on land conflicts arising from attempts to expropriate land for expansion of a private cement factory; establishment of a new satellite town, and construction of a campus for the state University of Health and Allied Science (MUHAS). The three land use demands fall squarely within the conception of what is legally considered “acquisition of land for public interest”. Particular reference is made to socio-political implications of the conflicts that involve the government (local and central) and investors on the one side, and the landholding communities and their local leaders on the other. At the centre of the conflicts, some of which have escalated into violence and destabilisation of peace, lies the disregard of private property rights. In a way the public officials and professionals who were involved in the land acquisition process seem to have taken advantage of the land occupiers ignorance which is largely attributed to lack of or inadequate knowledge and information about the various protocols, laws and regulations pertaining to urban land administration as well as their rights and obligations.

One of the critical issues in the paper concerns the role universities and research institutions can and ought to play in conflicts that concern resources such as land and involving parties that have no adequate information and are neither informed nor knowledgeable about various laws, protocols being applied.

The findings are from the four settlements of Msikitini, Chasimba, Kwembe and Luguruni in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The author engaged a class of post-graduate students to undertake the study as part of their course in urban land management during the 2007/08 academic year. The decision to conduct the study in the areas was prompted by two factors. First the author’s interest to follow-up of the wide spread press coverage of the conflict between settlers and public officials and investors, and secondly informal discussions and contacts between the author and local community leaders. The latter contacted the author with a view to seek technical advice and support1.

Household interviews were conducted mainly with heads of households and a few tenants. Face to face interviews were conducted with community leaders, opinion leaders and elderly settlers, the Kinondoni Municipal officials. Besides, focus group discussions were held with selected groups involving residents and community leaders as well as with residents only. We could not, however, formally interview key Tanzania Portland Cement Company (TPCC) and MLHHSD officials because they argued that the matter is still with the court; as such they prefer that we wait till the court verdict is given. We could, however, obtain essential information from informal interviews and from the secondary sources. Whilst local leaders were ready to be quoted and their names mentioned, other respondents requested that their names be kept anonymous due to the unresolved court case.


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