This story might give you some ideas of the challenges to our life as Maasai people
Some guys came to our neighborhood village and sold to people living there land which is our pastures for small livestock for the past 30 years.
We have neighbors who are no Maasai who have been living on this land for many years but were later taken to villages in the villageisation process that took place in 1971.
In this process all Tanzanians were required to be in the villages so they can be reached by social services. Most people were brought to villages except the Maasai who escaped to be in villages because we are nomadic people.
But where we settled now is near to a village of cultivators because of permanent water sources nearby. So our immediate neighbors are cultivators with whom we for many years have agreed to share land use and accept to bordering of limits in their expansion when cultivating. So when you come to our villages you find these places which look empty or uninhabited but they are actually our small stock pasture which is our backyard.
One guy who knew that someone had money and needed land came and decided to sell the places that look empty and got some friends to sign as people who own and want to sell the land. The guys with money went on to buy.
So what happens is that we who live in the neighborhood suddenly find people busy working to cultivate these areas. When we ask what happened they say “We have bought this land”.
So we wonder about which village leader authorized this?
Then it became even more complicated because the ten cell leader who is the lowest in the government leadership is among the sellers of land which is not even neighboring him. He says his grandfather was cultivating this place in the 60s. So we Maasai pastoralists are newcomers to the place, therefore it is not our land.
I was asked at official capacity of Imusot e Purka to give help to this situation since my work is on making advocacy and awareness to the community and the government on various issues concerning pastoralists. It is also mediate on many land conflicts between pastoralist and cultivators.
I gave these people two choices..
- First, which would be my own choice, is to go and throw away the intruders so they start to go away to complain at whatever level of government they choose. This would have given the local people an upper hand in running the whole issue. It is easier to tell someone he is an intruder when they are on the complaining side.
- Second follow the government procedure of solving the land conflicts which is going from one office to another requesting for judgment that involves long processes which is a magnet for corrupt people and corruption to win.
My friends chose the second option which will take more time because they trusted that the village government will see the truth and give them justice quickly. Also it is peaceful. I told them “Welcome to the agony of follow ups money consumption until you are drained empty and exhausted before you reach the justice”. When they went there the case was decided in favor of the land sellers on the ground that it is true that the land was truly cultivated by the relatives of the land sellers. The inside of the matter was later mentioned as the fact that the ten cell leader who officiated the selling of the land is a relative of the village government chairman.
So the other fellow could not make a decision contrary to the relative at the lower level. They also knew that people from these places do not know where to go next.
The community came to me to ask for what next and I directed them to make an appeal at the higher level which is the ward level. At the ward level they should have a proper hearing of bringing the complaining party and the accused party together for face to face meeting and discussions.
Also the land committee should see what land is being disputed on the ground to establish the truth of the matter. These committees never made these parties meet and they never made a visit to see the areas of dispute. Finally they made a ruling to uphold the decision of the lower land committees. The main ground of losing being the tribal hatred that makes people in my area object to the selling of land. The government people think it is not right that there is a dispute caused by tribal differences. It was never explained how this was manifested in the proceedings.
So the plaintiff community lost the case and has 45 days to appeal at the higher level which then becomes the district house and land tribunal. This district tribunal is situated in Tanga, the regional headquarters. This means costs to go to Tanga for as long as the case is not finished. The village people can’t afford this and it is a good reason for them to loose their rights. We requested for the ruling document and in it there were many irregularities from which I drafted points for a rerun of the case because crucial points were not put into consideration when making the last ruling.
The ward committee refused to make the rerun saying that their ruling was final and the matter can only be appealed at the higher level because they were not in position to do this again. So we used the same points of appeal to get to the higher tribunal which are:-
- There has never been a case because the sellers of the land and the plaintiff have never been brought together to meet face by face for each to argue their case so he truth is determined from their arguments.
- It has never been made clear which statute of law was used to justify the ruling in favor of the defendants.
- The plaintiffs have been living and using the land for the past 30 years and the sellers of land don’t live near to the land they sold.
- They never used it for the past 30 years so what what gives them the right to claim possession of the land they sold.
- Why is ruling always made only to uphold the erroneous procedure made by the lower level without questioning any bit in the whole procedure? This has made us feel that something is wrong with the people who are making this ruling on this procedure. Is there corruption??
- The land which is being contested is being utilized by the ones who bought it when the law says when the land is in dispute then all activity should stop. How is this possible and why are these guys having all these favors before the land committees??
The point of difficulty which we brought as a reason for the miscarriage of justice the distance from Handeni to Tanga which many people cant afford.
These and many other issues were brought forward in our appeal as irregularities in the whole process. While waiting for the answer for the re run at the ward level we ran out of the deadline for appeal. They refused and gave this answer after the 45 days deadline and we had to first struggle to have our appeal to be accepted at the higher level. This we managed as we had all reasons as to why we could be in tanga on time to lodge our cases.
The process of district house and land tribunal involves sending court summons 3 times to the defendants and when they don’t appear the case is run with one side hearing because the other side has not appeared without any reasons known to the court.
The last date of our presence in court September 14, 2009 was to set the time to start the hearing without the plaintiffs. The next date is set for the October 15, 2009 to start the hearing.
Right now there is so much food shortage such that food is very expensive and no that much money for people to afford food let alone money to travel for a case hearing some more than 270 kilometers away.
We look forward to the hearing on the 15/10.