Although the human population in Bagamoyo and Rufiji Delta is heterogeneous, there is no strong evidence of serious social divisions. There are no distinct social classes. Rather groups with diverse interests, such as farmers, fishermen, wage earners, and entrepreneurs, characterize the community. Most people fish, farm, and harvest mangrove products for subsistence and cash needs. Both farmers and fishermen are small-scale producers, using simple tools. Women fish for small pelagic shrimp, known locally as udavi, near the seashore, while men fish for larger prawns and fish in deep waters. In Rufiji Delta, both men and women cut and dry Phoenix palm (ukindu) for mat-making and for sale.
While the social structure in the study area is strongly influenced by the main economic activities, religion and culture also play an important role in shaping social behavior. Over 70 percent of the inhabitants of Bagamoyo and Rufiji Deltas are Muslims who maintain close family ties. Other instruments for social control are statutory rules and regulations. Each village has its own government, which is responsible for the day-to-day matters of peace and order.
Despite this seemingly peaceful scenario, social tension is common. In Kaole village, historical animosity, brought about by the “master-slave” relationship between former landlords (the Arabs) and the local people, has engendered mistrust between the two groups of people. This has split the village into those who support the village government, largely made up of local inhabitants, and a splinter opposition group, which is made up of the descendants of former rulers and landlords. Corruption and lack of transparency are cited as complaints of the small splinter group against the village leaders. It is alleged that the Kaole village government has not accounted for proceeds obtained from harvested mangrove poles for some time. Furthermore, the leadership, which is composed of many members of the same clan, is said to have overstayed their time, having been in office for the past 15 years. This leadership crisis has adversely affected the participation of the local people in protection of mangrove forest resources, as well as their day-to-day life. For example, although almost the entire population is Muslim, each of the two groups has its own mosque.
In the Rufiji Delta, social divisions recently became sharper when the proposed prawn-farming project was introduced to the people, dividing them into those who support it and those who don’t. Although social divisions have yet to become very serious, already some collective social functions have been affected. For example, some villagers in Mfisini and Salale villages no longer participate together in weddings or funerals because of animosity between those who support the project and those who are against it. Divisions affect families and even households, and social interactions between people of different positions have become limited and suspicious.
This social tension in the Rufiji Delta was heightened when several villagers decided to go to the High Court to sue the government over its decision to allow development of prawn farming in the Delta. This marks a dramatic change in attitude on the part of farmers who, for the first time, are intending to sue the government in order to protect their environment and their rights. This will obviously increase animosity within the village between contending groups, as well as heighten tension between the government and the villagers. A confrontation between the government and the villagers is imminent. As a farmer in Salale village pointed out, “the government resettled us during the seventies. We lost many of our possessions. This project intends to resettle us again. This time we are not ready to move out.”(National Environmental Management Council, 1997)
Socially, communities in Bagamoyo and Rufiji Deltas have changed in recent years. Formerly, girls were not given the same opportunities as boys. Now, many girls in Rufiji are reported to be attending schools and doing better than in the past. However, schools are in such bad condition that they discourage many pupils and parents alike. On the economic front, a few entrepreneurs in retail trade and transportation are emerging. For example, there are an average of about six to eight dhows–boats–in each village in Rufiji Delta. The owners of these dhows buy mangrove poles and hire out their dhows for transportation. However, unemployment and idleness, especially among the youth in Bagamoyo, is rampant.
Most of the people are poor. They cannot meet basic needs or improve their welfare. Incomes obtained from fishing are modest. For example, in Bagamoyo, an ordinary fisherman earns an average of $311 per year from fishing. In the Rufiji Delta, average income from fishing is about $164 per year.5 Village governments have few sources of revenue. Most of the village leaders complain that the central government has allocated to itself all the important sources of revenue. Currently, village governments retain only about 10 percent of all revenue collected for the District Council.
The Dar es Salaam-Kibiti-Nyamisati road in Rufiji is so bad that trade among these areas is affected, and goods from the Rufiji Delta are often stranded due to poor transportation. Trade in prawns has been seriously affected, with consequences for the income of the majority of people. Also, markets for agricultural crops are unreliable. Over 70 percent of all villagers complained about low prices for farm products and fish. Low prices were blamed on high transportation costs (30 percent), poor transportation (58 percent), and inadequate markets (46 percent). Because of the inadequacy of markets and poor transportation, most farmers concentrate on mangrove cutting for sale.
Similar problems were observed in Bagamoyo. Low prices for fish and farm products is the main complaint (82 percent), followed by price instability. Poor transport is not such a serious problem in the surveyed villages in Bagamoyo as it is in the Rufiji Delta. Bagamoyo is relatively accessible from Dar es Salaam, though during heavy rains the road is difficult. Broadly, however, factors that affect market status in Bagamoyo and Rufiji are the same, namely bad roads and poor transport, delay in receiving payments, expensive transportation, unstable prices, and inadequate markets.