Tanzania draft constitution stirs land rights debate

By Deodatus Balile in Dar es Salaam

June 18, 2013

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Tanzanians are debating whether the new federal government should give up ownership and control of all of the country's land as framed under the draft constitution.

  • Tanzanian farmers in Muleba district prepare food from bananas grown on government-owned land. Under the draft constitution, land rights would be transferred to the states of Zanzibar and Tanganyika. [Simon Maina/AFP/FAO]

    Tanzanian farmers in Muleba district prepare food from bananas grown on government-owned land. Under the draft constitution, land rights would be transferred to the states of Zanzibar and Tanganyika. [Simon Maina/AFP/FAO]

Unveiled by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) on June 3rd, the first draft blueprint of Tanzania's new government structure has left some wondering if the new constitution would guarantee citizens the right to lease land.

Currently, all land in Tanzania is publicly owned and citizens can only use it for personal or commercial interests by leasing parcels from the government. But the draft constitution removes land from the government's scope of responsibilities, transferring governance of land-related matters to the states of Zanzibar and Tanganyika.

Nowadays, Zanzibaris can lease plots of land on the mainland, but Zanzibari law prohibits Tanganyikans from leasing parcels on the island. This law, which contravenes the Union Constitution, came about in 2003 with the amendment of the Zanzibar Land Tenure Act of 1992. However, the union government never formally challenged that law, thus creating more confusion.

When the government of Tanganyika is reinstated, as proposed by the new constitution, rules about who can lease land on the mainland likely will be restricted to locals in retaliation to the Zanzibari law, observers said, even rescinding the rights of Zanzibaris who now lease land there.

Land rights a union matter?

"If each partner state [Tanganyika and Zanzibar] in the union decides to go her own way, this will be the end of the union," said Josaphat Kanywanyi, a constitutional lawyer and chairman of the University of Bagamoyo council. "There is no logic for a Zanzibari or Tanganyikan to be treated like a foreigner on the issue of land when one crosses either side of the union."

To avoid chaos and keep Tanzania united, the constitution should include a provision conferring Tanzanians the right to lease land anywhere in the union regardless of which state they are from, he said.

"We need to sit down as Tanzanians and decide our fate. There is no way we can be Tanzanians and yet not be able to exercise our basic rights in parts of the country," Kanywanyi told Sabahi.

The federal government should have jurisdiction over land management to ensure that regulations are the same throughout Tanzania and to level the playing field for all citizens, Njelu Kasaka, a former Lupa province parliamentarian.

"I think the draft constitution has to be revised to include land as a union matter along with other natural resources such as oil, gas and uranium," he said, adding that such a federal mandate would help maintain "peace, unity and love among Tanzanians".

Salma Omar Ahmed, a 67-year-old Zanzibar native and retired Temeke district municipal council clerk who lives in Dar es Salaam, said she fears losing the house she built after years of saving up her hard-earned money.

"For the last 40 years I have been residing here ... I go to Zanzibar only to visit," she told Sabahi.

"It is worrying me. Our leaders have to think afar. I am not alone, there are so many others like me," she said, urging leaders to come together to keep Tanzanians united and ensure that new legislation does not penalise working people.

CRC Chairman Joseph Warioba said he welcomed such debates about the new constitution.

"This land issue and other ongoing debates about the draft is what we expected," he told state-owned Daily News. The next draft will incorporate ideas with merit that come out of this phase of the constitutional writing process, Warioba said.

The next step is for the Constitutional Councils of each district to review the draft and submit their recommendations for the CRC for inclusion in the second draft of the constitution, due in August. That draft will then go to the National Constituent Assembly for review and adoption.

A final version of the constitution is expected to be enacted on April 26, 2014.

Question: Should control of the country's land remain with the new federal government or is it better to transfer jurisdiction to Tanganyika and Zanzibar? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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Reader's Comments

  • Samson Machibya
    July 17, 2013 @ 04:37:39PM

    On the question of land control, it is better to shift powers to the governments of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, because it is where the owners of the land are. I do also propose the following: 1. Three-tier system should be approved with no hesitation, so as to give equal rights to both parts of the union. 2. Expense of running the union/republic government should be equally divided between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. 3. Tanganyika Constitution should be written quickly before the 2015 general elections using the same commission. Thank you all.

  • Mwambungu
    June 19, 2013 @ 04:14:10AM

    It's absolutely true that the constitution has left many basic things.

  • Keto Maulid
    June 19, 2013 @ 12:34:10AM

    It is very wise and safe for the land matters to be under mandate of the Federal Government, though useful products from it, like minerals and fuels may be governed separately (subject to consensus of both parties)

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