LAND REFORM IN TANZANIA Attention to tenure matters began in 1989-90 with the establishment of a Technical Committee in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to draft new Urban Land Policy. This was quickly overtaken by a Ministerial recommendation to establish a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters. This began in January 1991 and presented its final report in January 1993. To achieve its objective, the 12-man Commission travelled widely in the country, holding 277 meetings attended by 80,000 people. The prime recommendation of the Commission to vest root title of most of the country in respective village communities, and to remove control over tenure administration from the executive into an autonomous Land Commission met with no support from Government and the lengthy report remained unpublished. In 1993 the Ministry draw up a position paper and draft National Land Policy which nonetheless drew heavily upon most other aspects of the Commission’s recommendations. This was presented to Cabinet in December 1994 and the subject of a public workshop in January 1995. The National Land Policy was approved by Parliament in August 1995. No public consultation was held.
Drafting of the requisite new basic land law began in early 1996, led by a foreign expert working with a Tanzanian team, a fact which angered the Commission chairman and resulted in several years of acrimonious academic exchange in local and international publications and the launching of a non-government lobby for changes, spearheaded by the chairman’s own organisation.
A final Draft Bill for the Land Act was presented by the working group in November 1996, and remained uncirculated in any form until late 1998. At that point, the extremely lengthy draft was gazetted as two proposed laws, a Land Bill and a Village Land Bill. A limited amount of public discussion ensued immediately before its debate in Parliament in February 1999, where the two laws received full support. A commencement date for the law has not yet been set, Government apparently keen to await the results of the upcoming election .
Plans for a national publicity campaign have been made but remain un-funded. Government is seeking donor support for this and the drafting the regulations through which tenure administration and control will be exercised. The need and role to conduct a thorough and comprehensive information and education programme on the law is especially critical in Tanzania; this is because the centre-piece (and main innovation) of the new tenure laws is the devolution of a great deal of authority and administration over land to the grassroots, in what is arguably a unique form of tenure democratisation. Unlike Uganda, Tanzania has chosen to use the existing and well-established village governance machinery for tenure administration and local dispute resolution, rather than depositing these functions in district level agencies. Each Village Council is the democratically elected government of the community [Village Assembly] and subject to its direction. Village Land encompasses the vast majority of lands in the country. The Land Act and Village Land Act designate Councils as Land Managers, responsible for guiding community decisions as to the distribution of land within the village into household, clan, community or other lands, and their adjudication, registration [Village Land Register] and titling [to be effected by the Commissioner’s offices in accordance with the decisions of the village]. The importance of clear, accurate and comprehensive guidance to villagers will thus be clear. Justification for the extremely detailed, procedural and prescriptive nature of the Tanzanian laws is also suggested. In theory at least, this extent of ‘democratisation’ of control over property relations should simplify implementation of the reform, increase accountability in local land matters, and cost a great deal less than is anticipated in the concurrent reform process in neighbouring Uganda.
Whilst the Tanzanian laws were subject to insignificant public consultation in their formulation, they have received abundant academic critique. Whilst disappointment has been widely expressed at the failure of the Government to release its ultimate ownership and control over land, there is as widespread approval for its handling of customary rights in land, the devolution of administration as noted above, and the express support in principle and procedure given to the security of women, urban ‘squatters’, and pastoralists. Significant innovations have been made to retain and develop the capacity of groups to securely hold land in common into the 21st century. At this point, early 2000, the main question facing the reform is the extent to which political will and central Government willingness to release powers as suggested in the new laws, will be realised.