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Tanzania's Pastoralists Make Their Voices Heard

Grassroots movements to ensure concerns are addressed are making up for shortcomings in Tanzania's constitution consultation process.
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An elder gives his views in a Barabaig meeting. Photograph by Katharina Neuriter.

Bagamoyo, Tanzania:

Early in July 2012, several hundred people assembled in Kidomole, a small village in southern Tanzania, expecting to witness a process unique in the country’s history. For the first time, these villagers and pastoralists were to have their chance to contribute to their country’s legal future. Ahead of the new constitution, which President Jakaya Kikwete has promised to deliver in April 2014, the Constitutional Review Commission is touring the country to consult people across Tanzania.

On this day, however, the waiting was in vain. The government official did not turn up and the locals went back to their fields and cattle disappointed that they had missed out on their chance to input their grievances about land rights, farming, and politics.

Despite reports of a smooth start, this episode sends a disappointing signal for the review process, and it is of further concern that the Constitution Review Chairman Joseph Warioba last week suggested that limited time will make it very difficult for the consultation team to reach and listen to all who wish to air their views. These developments are particularly worrying seeing as the existing constitution has been accused of lacking legitimacy since it was crafted without the majority consultation and been criticised for its denial of fundamental rights and liberties. 

Exclusion of minority groups

As per usual in Tanzania, ideas designed on a high political level are generally progressive, but the reality on the ground does not always match up. This is especially the case for certain minorities such as Barabaig pastoralists who find themselves largely excluded from political and social participation.

The Barabaig, as well as a number of other groups in Tanzania, have largely maintained their nomadic lifestyle, moving in pursuit of grazing fields and water for their cattle. Given the lack of boarding schools, few have received formal education and most speak little Swahili, the de facto language of the country.

Many Tanzanians believe pastoralists’ activities may harm their own interests. A number of politicians and members of the business elite, for example, want to put a halt to the pastoralists’ nomadism because of the perception that the maintenance of grazing fields hinders land-based investments such as mining, tourism and large-scale agricultural projects. Grazing land also rivals demand for farmland in a country where a fast-growing population is leading to the increasing scarcity of fertile land.

In line with the concept of ujamaa, which underpinned the first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere’s creation of a united Tanzanian (rather than tribal) identity, the country does not define ‘indigenousness’ in its usual sense but claims that all ethnic Tanzanians are indigenous.

On the one hand, this is commonly seen as a major reason behind Tanzania’s relative peacefulness. On the other hand, the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (PINGO), among others, believes that the lack of political recognition and representation for certain distinct groups is a contributing factor to the infringement of human rights and repeated land conflicts with the state.

Pastoralists are disproportionally affected by forced evictions and internal displacement in the name of conservation or development through government projects and private investors. And it is on account of this that the Barabaig are eager to bring their viewpoint to the table and debate with government officials.

Expressing grievances

Recognising the gaps in the Constitutional Review Process, marginalised people are now taking matters in to their own hands. Following the episode in Kidomole, the disappointed cattle herders approached the few educated members of their tribe to help them contact the review committee. They brought together a number of pastoralists scattered around the district to meet the review committee’s representative.

The official was ready and willing to listen to the assembly of about 35 pastoralists and discussed their grievances such as the controversial government policy that requires pastoralists to register the number of cattle they own in a given village.

Pastoralists are unhappy as they traditionally keep high numbers of animals, which require large portions of land for rotational grazing; the new policy demarcates grazing land and confines animals to one place making it harder to keep as much cattle.

Additionally, as villages only have limited amounts of grazing space, they tend to only allow smaller herd owners to register. Since social services such as schooling and healthcare can only be accessed through village membership, many pastoralists thus find themselves excluded from these basic services.

The Barabaigs also raised concerns about perceived injustices they suffer such as the large fines they are required to pay in compensation for the “environmental degradation” caused by their animals. Avoiding payment can lead to legal pursuit, which disadvantages the Barabaigs as they are often unable to understand proceedings and sentences given in Swahili.

It is also believed that farmers are given preferential treatment over pastoralists in the distribution of land. One pastoralist remarked: “The government tells us we are all Tanzanians yet we see the rich people from Dar es Salaam entering the areas we have been for decades and buying large swathes of land, forcing us to move away into areas with no water or insufficient grass and then the government commands us to reduce herds. Who tells the city people to reduce their cars?”

In the discussions between pastoralists and the government representative, the assembly proposed a management system whereby farmers and pastoralists can coexist in peace, for example by formalising the informal cattle markets around the area. In addition, they highlighted the economic benefits pastoralism brings to a region, such as the fact that Barabaigs’ animals sustain the local meat industry while their large polygamist families buy bulk purchases of maize flour and other goods.

Participation and legitimacy

The gathering dispersed after an afternoon of debating and was content with the feeling that they had been listened to. It is a shame, however, that this discussion was not enabled by centralised political action, but had to be forced by initiatives from the grassroots.

For Tanzania’s new constitution to have popular legitimacy, it will be crucial for the government to ensure the consultation process genuinely manages to reach all members of society and allows for fair participation. This will be particularly important around the deep and complex grievances surrounding the land and grazing rights of groups that feel marginalised and politically excluded.

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Comments

The only reason why Tanzania has had relative peace is because all land has been in the hands of the government. Now that things have changed and the rich well connected people are on land grap- spree, inter-tribal violence will follow.