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Hii ndiyo habari iliyompatia Tuzo ‘Mzee wa Majanga na Migogoro’

 

Technical error to blame for land conflicts in Kapunga rice project

 

By Daniel Mbega, Mbarali

ON November 15, 2006, Sangalali Mashishanga, a 49-year-old and father of eight, lost five houses when 80 houses in Kapunga village, Mbarali district were burnt down.

The incident, he says, left him learning what poverty means. His family lost 20 bags of food, the only reserve they had, following the inferno which according to Mashishanga, was caused by Export Trading Company, the investors at Kapunga Rice Project, who wanted them to move off, after they bought the former National Agricultural and Food Corporation (NAFCO) earlier that year. Kapunga villagers, on the other hand, continue to refuse to do so as they don’t have another place to go.

According to Mashishanga, the trouble began around 10 in the morning, when the Kapunga Rice Project Limited Manager, Sunil Kumar Shrivastava, led by the former Kapunga village chairman, Hezron Mwashikumbulu, arrived at his compound with two vehicles full of armed guards and a bulldozer.

Like a war scene

“A week earlier the village chairman had come to my house and told me I was required to vacate the area citing that it was the investor’s property. This was news to me because I had lived there for more than fifteen years. So, I told him that I wasn’t ready to leave at such short notice. Then, the chairman told me he wasn’t to blame if anything happened.”

Mashishanga says, when they arrived they took down his houses which were grass-thatched, as his whole family stood there and watched.

“It was like a war scene. It was the worst thing I have ever experienced.” 800 villagers lost their houses that day.

Mashishanga, who is also the current Mkanada hamlet (kitongoji) chairman, and his family had no food, shelter and lost even the seeds they had been keeping for the following year.

“I have two wives and eight children, so I built a hut using poles and grass but, when it rained there was no difference between us and those who were outside,” he remembers.

Sangalali Mashishanga

Not ready to borrow, Mashishanga sold 17 out of his 35 cows to rescue the situation but it was at least a year before he slept in a house again which he built at Mkanada hamlet, some three kilometers from where they used to live.

Emmanuel Kasekwa (35), who was also a resident of Kapunga at the time, lost four houses, 16 bags of food, poultry and other property.

“For more than one month we struggled to get food and shelter, and we didn’t know what the coming season would be like as we had no seeds and we didn’t know whether we would be allowed to cultivate our farms,” says Kasekwa.

The incident was reported to police at Chimala and even to district and regional administration, but nothing was ever done to help them out.

The Kapunga Rice Project was sold during the privatisation drive that included several former NAFCO farms. Export Trading Company Limited bought the former NAFCO farm at Kapunga for Shs. 2.311 billion in 2006. However, the company claims that it has legal rights to more than just the former NAFCO farm but also Kapunga village and the small-holders’ farm in the area. This claim is confirmed by title deed number 6249-MBYLR, which was issued to the company by the government.

The small-holders’ farm, which has an area of 800ha, was built at the same time with the NAFCO farm in a view of helping small-scale farmers in Kapunga where the project was being held and it was part of Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project (KRIP).

The sale took place during the privatisation drive that led to the sale of several former NAFCO farms. According to the Government advert issued by The Presidential Parastatal Sector Reform Commission (PSRC) and published in The Guardian of Monday, July 12th, 2004, the assets to be sold comprised of 5,500ha of agricultural land, part of which was developed, and farm assets, which included buildings, vehicles, tractors, farm machinery and implements.

Disputed land

The registration document for Kapunga village.

William Kasekwa (73) who was among 39 Kapunga villagers who attended a meeting on November 14, 1985 to release 5,500ha to NAFCO.

The bid documents for the Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project stated that, the total land allocated to the farm was about 7,850ha with the developed farm occupying 3,000ha and undeveloped land amounted to 4,850ha.

However, according to the Assets Sale Agreement, the total area for sale was 7,370ha. This contradiction concerning what exactly was sold has left more than 2,000 villagers unsure about whether or not they can continue to call home the land on which they have lived in for 40 years, since Kapunga village was established and registered.

An officer from the Regional Land Office in Mbeya who requested anonymity says that the Kapunga conflict is a technical issue and it can only be resolved if the President revokes the current title deed.

“Constitutionally, the President has the power to issue and revoke land title deeds,” the officer says.

According to the officer, the title deed that was issued to Export Trading Company Limited is not for the former NAFCO farm but rather, it covers the whole Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project.

“The ex-NAFCO farm was referred to as the Kapunga Rice Project (KRP), but the whole project was cited as Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project (KRIP) and included the NAFCO Farm, the small-holders’ farm and the Kapunga village; all totaling 7,370ha and it covered under the 1994 title deed,” he says.

When the government secured a buyer for the ex-NAFCO farm it was discovered that the farm had no separate title deed, so PSRC who had the mandate to supervise all parastatals, decided to use the KRIP title deed, which covered the whole area, including the village (1,070ha) and the small-holder’s farm (800ha).

“The only solution to the problem here is to cancel the KRIP deed and issue two title deeds – one for the Kapunga Rice Project another for the small-holder’s farm – and the issue could be resolved for good,” he says.

‘We are not against development’

Meanwhile, villagers in Kapunga refuse to leave the area which they say was never NAFCO property.

Rev. Brighton Ngella, a former NAFCO employee and currently a Kapunga village resident, says the area that was sold by the Government was not exactly what was supposed to be sold.

“The government used the survey map which, after all, doesn’t show any project. This map, which now we are sure was the one that enabled the government to get a title deed in 1994, was re-drawn the Regional Lands Division in that same year without our knowledge. You can’t use a survey map to sell a project,” explains Ngella.

William Kasekwa, a 73-year old and father of nine, was among 39 Kapunga villagers who attended a meeting on November 14th, 1985 to release an amount of 5,500ha of arable land for NAFCO, according to the village council’s minutes.

“The government has done us an injustice by selling the Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project without consulting us and even providing us with a replacement area for shelter and our economic activities.

“We are not against development, but as Mwalimu Nyerere said, if real development is to take place, the people have to be involved,” he says.

As the resource demands of globalization increase, land has emerged as a key source of conflict across the globe. In Tanzania, more than 80 percent of people are dependent on land.

Albano Kamanga (58) was NAFCO Farm Board secretary until the property was sold. He say what happened between the government and the investor is deliberate theft because the area that was sold is not what the investor tendered.

“How could the government hand over land that was not advertised? And why did the investor receive an area that he knew was not what he tendered?” he queries.

He says, according to international merchantile law, it is criminal and urges the government to revisit the procedures used in the sale of the farm.

The Kapunga village chairman, Ramadhani Nyoni, says what the villagers want is for the government to resolve the boundaries’ conflict in the area so that other economic activities can continue.

Kapunga Village Chairman Ramadhan Nyoni expressing a point on the conflict. On the flank is Emmanuel Kasekwa, one of the victims.

Itamboleo Ward CCM Building at Kapunjga village still on construction.

Several prominent personalities have already weighed in on situation in Kapunga, which has raised different kinds of concerns.

Shadow Minister for Land, Housing and Human Settlement, Halima Mdee (Kawe MP – CHADEMA) is concerned that government mishandled the sale of the Kapunga Farm.

“The Kapunga farm was not to be sold at such a low price; it gives the impression that government officials are not serious about our natural resources, especially land,” she says.

In The state of Nafco farms and ranches in Tanzania, a report written for land rights institute HakiArdhi, by Chambi Chachage and Richard Mbunda describes how media reports at the time of the sale accused then Minister responsible for Agriculture, Joseph Mungai of nepotism and corruption.

The report also writes that similar allegations were directed to the then PSRC coordinator Joseph Mapunda.

Some media sources reported citizens’ complaints that the farm was sold at a price that does not reflect its actual cost. These complaints continue to date.

Kapunga residents left stranded

In the mean time, thousands of Kapunga residents have been left stranded for three months now after the roads going to Mpunga Mmoja, where many of their farms are, were closed down by the KRP Production Manager.

Kapunga residents, who have been using the roads passing through the farm for the past 20 years, have not been able to begin preparing their farms for the next planting as the alternative way to Mpunga Mmoja is 14km long.

“He says if we want to go to our farms we have to take the long way to Site One village. Even if you woke up at dawn, you would be too tired to work when you got there,” says Shem Masharubu Nziku (80), a Kapunga resident who has lived in the village for 25 years.

Kapunga Village Chairman Ramadhan Nyoni, says efforts to persuade the project manager to reopen the roads have proved fruitless for three months now.

He says villagers have notified the Mbarali District Commissioner and the District Council Director, but nothing has been done so far to solve the problem.

“Kapunga village only has more than 2,000 villagers, but there are more than 3,000 people from as far as Chimala who have farms are at Mpunga Mmoja and this decision could lead to poor harvests for everyone next season,” he added.

Speaking in an exclusive interview at his office in August, Sergei Bekker, KRPL’s production manager said he was blocking all roads that pass through the farm because some of Kapunga residents were stealing rice.

Sergei Bekker, Production Manager at Kapunga Rice Project Limited, during an exclusive interview.

“Some of the villagers steal my rice when passing through on those roads, so we have had to close all the roads off. Let them pass through Site One,” he said.

Bekker said that theft was a big challenge since Export Trading Company took over the farm as some of their employees have been stealing diesel, batteries and spare parts, and selling them to the nearby.

Asked as to why he only decided to block off roads through the farm this year, Bekker said it was because the company’s relationship with Kapunga residents has been deteriorating.

The investor added that the Kapunga village was within his property according to the boundaries and contract documents.

“We bought the farm. If there was any mistake then the government is responsible. Where is the government? Since we paid for the farm, they have left us to fight for our rights on our own. Somehow the villagers, if they have been living there for many years, are right. But is it proper for us to take the blame? The government sold this place. Is it true that they didn’t know that there were people living in Kapunga village?” says Bekker.

Modestus Kilufi, the Mbarali MP, urged the government to act quickly to resolve the problem which was hindering economic development in the area.

“The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Cooperative, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe, and the Minister for Land, Housing and Settlement, Prof. Anna Tibaijuka have promised to visit the area,” he says.

Mbarali District Commissioner Cosmas Kayombo, says he was aware of the ongoing controversy in Kapunga, adding that the issue was being handled by the regional office and the ministry.

“The issue is being worked on but I can’t tell when it will be resolved. The Regional Commissioner’s office as well as the Ministry are aware of itt. Let’s be patient while the government is working on it,” he says.

Kayombo says, it is a technical issue but there was also a need to restore peace and good relations between the investor and villagers in the area.

“I heard that the investor had closed all the roads used by villagers to get to their farms. I know it is his property and he can do whatever he wishes, but because there is no any other way for the villagers, it is better to sort this issue out urgently,” said Kayombo.

Former Mbeya Regional Commissioner, John Mwakipesile, said in an interview in August that there was no conflict in Kapunga whatsoever, and that villagers invaded the former NAFCO Project Area and built houses so that they could claim that they had been there for years.

Mwakipesile, who was NAFCO’s Board Chairman when the farm was sold, wouldn’t say exactly the size of Kapunga Rice Project, citing that PSRC were responsible for that.

“The wananchi invaded the NAFCO Project area long ago and started constructing houses. About the project area, I think PSRC are responsible for that. I know nothing,” he said.

However, the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives, Engineer Christopher Chiza, admitted that he is aware of the conflict at Kapunga and that his office is working on it.

“I visited the area last August. Of course the villagers had their complaints which basically are logical. I can assure you that the government is doing its level best to solve them,” he says.

When summing up this year’s budget estimates for her ministry in August 2011, the Minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development Prof Anna Tibaijuka said her government would visit all areas with land conflicts to see what needed to be done.

mbega.daniel@gmail.com
0715-070109

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