Mviwata reduces land disputes in Songea

In a country where almost 80% of her population relies on agriculture for their livelihood, knowledge on policy and laws governing land use has to be given paramount attention as well as priority in national plans.

Although the Government has the number one responsibility to ensure that its citizens are aware of land issues and peaceful land dealings take place, other development stakeholders, including the civil society organizations, have a role to play. An active nonprofit organization can complement government efforts in reducing land squabbles by disseminating knowledge and awareness on policy and laws which are related to land tenure.

In Ruvuma region, Muungano wa Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania (MVIWATA) through grants availed by  the Foundation for Civil Society (FCS), has shown a green light to  the possibility of reducing land disputes among both families  and communities. The MVIWATA project—known as Stop Land Grabbing-Defend for Your Rights-- has been implemented in 13 villages from four wards of Songea Rural District since October 2016.

Endless land disputes, which in most cases ended disastrously, with heavy casualties suffered by some of those involved and propelled by lack of knowledge on land matters,  especially laws governing land ownership  and tenure, were factors which promoted the organization to seek  for grants to undertake the project in Mpitimbi, Magaguta, Muhulutwe and MpendaNgindo wards.

Graciana Ntango, one of the active project volunteers in Mpandangindo Village, had sufficient evidence to prove that the project--just in its third month-- was proving to be a resounding success. She was one of the 34 Trainers of Trainers (ToTs) who had been oriented on various land issues, including the Village Land Act No. 4 and 5 of 1999 as well as the rights of individuals and villages in relation to land tenure.

The role of trained ToTs, according to Denis Mpangazi, the organization’s communication manager, was three-fold: To engage villages in understanding the Land Act, provide a linkage between land tribunals and the local government authority in Songea Rural District and inform MVIWATA of the on-going cases of land dealings in their villages.

Graciana explained how the miracle occurred after only two months of intense work in the villages. “In one family, the father died leaving behind five children and a widow. Unfortunately, the man had other children out of wedlock, who were living in another village.  Children from the second woman demanded the right to acquire land in the village where their father originated, though they already possessed some plots in the village where their mother met their father some 25 years back. Efforts by the village land tribunal and later on the ward land tribunal could not salvage the situation”, narrated the paralegal.

“It seems most of the members in the land tribunals at village and ward levels had never come across the Village Land Act and other by-laws, this being one major reason why they could not sort out things for this family.”

Graciana said after MVIWATA had conducted training to 34 ToTs in early November 2016, she saw the missing link and factors behind existing land disputes in many villages of Songea Rural District.

“After the ToT training, we were charged with the responsibility to conduct hamlet and village seminars for members of the community, and later on, meet village land tribunals to enlighten them on the laws governing land matters,” she explained.

It was out of these continued meetings and tribunal sessions that the quarreling family members calmed down and decided to withdraw the case from the Village Executive Officer (VEO) and took it back to the land tribunal.

“Both the tribunal and family members agreed that children from the second family had the right to occupy some plots in the village where their late father had acquired as long as they also allowed their siblings to access land in their own village, something which was accepted by all family members. The land disputes between these family members are now history.”

Graciana also cited the case where two villages which were almost close to taking  arms against land grabbing involving another village, a case which deemed to make ward tribunals jobless. “My job is to mediate and create awareness to the feuding parties on matters related with land laws, by-laws and the right to land occupancy”, explained the jovial paralegal.

There was another vivid scenario of how the project had contributed to reduced land disputes between villagers and investors are the case of Mpokea Village.  The village government leaders had quietly sold100 hectares of land to a developer in the name of investment. The investor agreed in turn to build a school and dig three shallow wells for the village. Some 12 months later, the promise was never fulfilled, thus raising alarm among the villagers who now wanted to have their land back. The whole village government resigned and was taken to task.

Graciana faced both the village leaders and the investor, reminding them on both the rights of villagers and the investor in the land dealings in accordance with the Land Act. After only three weeks of Graciana’s intervention, the investor agreed to return half the hectares to the village, a proposal which was gladly accepted by the villagers. The investor signed a document committing himself to construct a school as well as digging some shallow wells within 24 months.

Laika is MVIWATA’s Filed Officer who has facilitated several capacities building sessions for legal volunteers. She had witnessed some of the land disputes being amicably resolved. “There is a lot of awareness these days. This is a wakeup call for violators who were used to infringing on land occupation rights before the project came into existence in October 2016. At that time, VEOs used to record an average of 10 to 20 cases of land disputes in a month. These days, they hardly have a case or two to deal with.”

MVIWATA produced and distributed some 200 copies of Land Law documents which were distributed to all volunteers and leaders. This was the first time literature on land issues was seen within the communities.

The value for land has soured more than the time when peasants could sell a 70 by 70 metres plot for a meager Tsh. 250,000. After the awareness campaign had taken place, the villagers realized that land was a precious property. Some were now selling similar plots at between Tsh.700,000 and Tshs1,000,000. With this market price, villagers can now invest in other economic ventures, thus boost their means of livelihood through land ownership in far better terms than was previously the case.

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