A Growing Crisis: How Foreign Investment Fuels Forced Demolitions and Displacement

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The pace of permanent structure demolitions in Kibaha, Pwani has been efficient and cruel, presaging that the pressure to reclaim land is not pushed by internal factors but by external ones. Victims of demolitions have been complaining that at wee hour they were awakened and found police had cordoned off their residences, and bulldozers moved in quickly to destroy their homes and properties without notice!

This article examines the role of investors in land expropriations, which have begun to push the poor into the nightmares of landlessness and endemic poverty. In my concluding remarks, I offer recommendations to ensure humane guidelines are in place before transferring land rights from our citizens to foreign investors.

Since January last year, there has been a continuous stream of sad news about land takeovers in the Kibaha District, with authorities claiming they were targeting land squatters. Initially, the focus was on road reserve claims, where illegal builders were accused of encroaching on reserved land and were given time to remove their structures to make way for road development. The issue of road reserves has become contentious, involving legal and political malpractice.

Recent road reserve laws have expanded these reserves, encroaching on established human settlements. These new laws have overridden existing permanent settlements, violating human rights principles that new laws should protect the rights of those affected by repealed laws. Failing to do so amounts to legal and political malpractice.

Another area of concern is the takeover of indigenous lands by local governments. These ancestral lands have been passed down through generations long before local authorities existed. The owners have used these lands for cultivation and livelihood, sometimes selling them to newcomers. However, local governments have been labelling these newcomers as squatters without proving how they initially acquired the disputed land.

Read Related: The Silent Land Grab: Dubai Firm Buys Up African Forests, Displaces Indigenous Communities

Local governments insist that land must be surveyed and title deeds issued, creating a significant problem. Most local governments were established after the land tenure system was already in place. The question arises: since when did new local authorities acquire public lands? Can local bylaws terminate Indigenous land ownership without compensation?

Logic and common sense dictate that local governments should refrain from taking over indigenous lands legally bought by newcomers. However, local governments have created a legal framework that disowns new landowners on the basis that they lack title deeds.

Before the demand for land by foreign investors, local governments tolerated what they called “squatting.” But now, with the incentive of collecting taxes from foreign investors, the relationship between local authorities and new local landowners has deteriorated.

Foreign Investors Driving the Land Demand Bubble!

With land rents in Tanzania far below market rates, the unchecked appetite of foreign investors for land has driven locals into a state of landlessness. Foreign investors, whether seeking dry land ports, tourism investments, or land for farming and factory construction, have escalated the stakes in informal land ownership.

The most undervalued aspect in this situation is the true value of land. When true land value is considered, foreign investors are essentially acquiring land for free.

Foreign investors promise to pay direct taxes, create jobs, raise land value through infrastructural developments, and sometimes bribe their way into indigenous lands now owned by locals through legitimate means. Locals cannot compete with the offers from foreign investors, who can also expedite processes with bribes when they see fit.

Forced Landlessness Will Lead to Economic Confrontations

In the short term, local authorities may succeed in violating the rights of the locals, but as this trend continues, it will become evident that the citizens of this country are no longer the primary beneficiaries of their land. Within the next three decades, we could witness a surge in economic freedom movements similar to those seen under leaders like Mugabe.

Politicians who advocate for the return of stolen land to locals will gain popularity and win power fairly. As foreign investors, with the support of local authorities and security forces, strip locals of their land ownership and treat them poorly, the political landscape will shift dramatically.

Also, read Reviewing Ministerial Powers in House Demolitions: Legal Boundaries and Remedies

When land is needed for development, the current owners should not be treated as squatters, losing their legitimate rights. A caring government must provide alternative land and fair compensation to those displaced, treating people with the dignity they deserve as they embody the true image of God.

Land Law Reforms are Still Needed

The current land regime, once praised as a “breakthrough,” is proving inadequate in practice. It is essential to recognize informal land ownership as legitimate, rather than dismissing it as “squatting.” This acknowledgement would prevent local authorities from displacing legitimate landowners on the weak basis of lacking title deeds.

Authorities have 12 years to evict urban public land trespassers or provide comprehensive compensation after this period. Urban idle land should not remain unused unless reserved for conservation; otherwise, adequate compensation must be a prerequisite for reclaiming the land.

Conflicts of interest arise when local authorities, empowered to adjudicate land disputes, appropriate land for themselves. An impartial entity is needed to investigate and resolve these issues, including reviewing whether local bylaws encroach on informal land rights.

Currently, local authorities are conducting illegal land expropriations, leaving victims unable to defend themselves without risking their safety. Including village chairpersons in land councils was a significant mistake, as these leaders often exploit their positions to amass land and mislead buyers.

Local leaders should not participate in land dispute resolutions. Instead, impartial individuals not involved in local government administration should be elected to these positions to ensure fair dispute resolution.

The adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is relevant to our land governance system, which promotes elitism and fosters corruption, lack of accountability, and transparency.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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