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3. Some implications of land policy and tenure

Lesotho's land policy under the land act 1979 and its implications for the agricultural sector
Social implications of land reforms in Tanzania
The legal superstructure and agricultural development: Myths and realities in Uganda
The perils of land tenure reform: the case of Kenya

Lesotho's land policy under the land act 1979 and its implications for the agricultural sector

A. Mosaase
Land Commissioner, Department of Lands, Surveys and Physical Planning, Maseru, Lesotho


The impetus given to land reform programmes in many developing countries is indicative of the failure of existing land tenure arrangements to meet the changing social and economic needs of these countries. In most African countries, the customary land tenure systems have been identified, in general, as the main institutional constraints to economic development. They have conditioned the pace of change in the agricultural sector. In agrarian societies, where land is the primary productive asset, land tenure plays a fundamental role in economic and political power. Any land reform policy will be influenced by those with vested interests in the existing tenure systems. Similarly successful implementation of reforms will depend on the political will of those in power because they assign priorities and control the finances. These facts are evident in Lesotho, where chieftainship, with its hierarchical structure, has maintained a leading role in the power structure.

Like other developing countries, Lesotho has recently embarked on a land reform programme, by enacting the Land Act 1979 and bringing it into operation in June 1980. An appreciation of the policies of the new law requires due consideration of the traditional land tenure system and its constraints on development. Lesotho's customary land tenure system is particularly instructive for two reasons:

  1. the system has operated in both urban and rural areas with virtually no foreign tenure system to influence tradition; and
  2. Lesotho's unitary tenure system has to date been controlled by the chieftainship, which forms a strong hierarchical structure and, as such, has been in a strong position to resist meaningful changes in land tenure.

This paper, therefore, briefly examines the customary land tenure system in Lesotho, in particular, the limitations it imposes on development and those factors which have tended to limit land reforms. The broad principles of the new law are then outlined before an analysis is made of the implications for the agricultural sector.

The Traditional Land Tenure System

The fundamental principle of Lesotho's traditional land tenure system is that all land is vested in the Basotho nation, and is held in trust by the king as head of state. This principle is indeed a sound one, since it is a forceful recognition that land is the most important natural resource and should be utilized for the welfare of the nation, present and future. As in all customary systems, there is no individual ownership of land. An individual can be allocated arable land to meet his family's subsistence, but he has exclusive rights only to crops and the land reverts to communal use after harvesting. There are no individual rights to grazing as all members of the community are entitled to communal grazing.

Before the land reform programme, the king's powers of land allocation were delegated to the chiefs, who, in Lesotho, have a strong hierarchical structure. The chiefs had absolute power in land allocation and land administration. The laws of Lerotholi, which spelt out the traditions and customs of the Basotho, specified that a chief had the power to revoke an allocation where, in his opinion, an allottee had more land than was required for his family's subsistence (Lesotho 1959). Because of the hierarchical structure of chieftainship, there were more than 1,086 chiefs possessing these powers.

Traditional systems of land tenure are considered to have advantages when judged on social criteria. They are thought to be egalitarian in land distribution and offer protection against socially disruptive tendencies such as land speculation and excessive aggregation of property rights. In 20th-century Lesotho the system has been seen as a form of security to satisfy basic needs on retirement or in case of the loss of off-farm employment for migrant workers (Starnes and Taylor 19801. However, in practice, these social advantages were hardly evident, and under population pressure, the system was less egalitarian than it was thought. A clandestine land market had developed and land hoarding and land speculation were on the increase.

The social advantages (if any) provided by these systems are maintained at an even higher cost of limiting economic opportunity. In Lesotho, land was viewed as a "free good." Because this fundamental factor of production was received free of charge, there was no cost factor to encourage greater productivity. Under heavy population pressure (in southern Africa, Lesotho is the most densely populated area), uneconomic subdivision or fragmentation occurred to further lessen the development potential of the land. This development stifled personal initiative and industry. The system provided inadequate machinery for the extension of agricultural credit in that the use right was not negotiable as a "borrowing" security.

Attempts to establish agricultural credit unions to help farmers with finance had failed because the individual was unable to use his land as collateral. Similarly, the opening of an agricultural bank had little impact on the agricultural sector. With no security of tenure there were few "safe" borrowers because most loans depended on the individual's creditability rather than on the potential of his land.

The abovementioned constraints led to further deterioration of the land resource base. Soil erosion has worsened despite great efforts to combat it since 1935. Communal grazing led to serious overstocking with poor quality livestock. Improving the quality of the livestock became impossible under the traditional system and, as Hardin has rightly pointed out, this is the beginning of the tragedy of the commons (Hardin and Baden 1977). Another significant feature of the communal system in Lesotho is that good agricultural land has been unnecessarily lost to other land uses. The traditional rulers allocated land without consideration of planning principles; hence, there is urban sprawl and ribbon development along main roads.

Attempts to Modify the Land Tenure System

As far back as 1874, there was already concern over indiscriminate allocation of land by the chiefs.

A district commissioner then said," If you Chiefs do not observe arrangements in preventing the formation of new villages, in setting the arable lands apart leaving room for pasturage, the country will not support either people or stock" (Sheddick 1954). Despite this recognition, it has been difficult to change the traditional system because of Lesotho's powerful hierarchical structure of chieftainship. This has been the main political force inhibiting meaningful reform. For instance, in the 1966 constitution and Chieftainship Act 1968, it is made clear that even the Government has no control over chiefs in land allocation (Lesotho 1966). The laws of Lerotholi remained for a long time the codified traditional law guiding chiefs in land allocations.

After independence in 1966, the Government passed two land laws-the Land (Procedure) Act 1967 and the Deeds Registry Act 1967. These were not land reform laws and did not make any change in the allocation and administration of land.

In 1973, two other laws were enacted-the Land Act 1973 and the Administration of Lands Act 1973. The former covered the whole country and was in operation until 1980, when it was repealed by the Land Act 1979. The Administration of Lands Act was never implemented because of very strong opposition, particularly from the chiefs. In 1978, instructions were issued to consolidate and amend the 1973 acts. This led to the enactment of the Land Act 1979.

General Concepts of the Land Act 1979

The basic principle that land belongs to the Basotho nation is still the basis of the land law. But major changes and new concepts are introduced in the legislation. The Government intends to achieve through this legislation the following:

  1. The king's powers over land allocations are now delegated to land committees in the rural areas and to urban land committees in urban areas, and not to the traditional chiefs (Lesotho 1979). The chiefs are, however, ax-officio chairmen of these committees. Since some members of the rural land committees are elected by the people, the Government hopes to achieve a more democratic system in decisions on land allocations. The Government has guaranteed control over these committees through directions which the minister responsible for the act can issue to these committees and the requirement for the minister's consent for allocations of land in respect of commercial or industrial purposes.
  2. The act provides for security of tenure and negotiability of title to land under a lease system for urban land use. A progressive farmer can also apply for lease title for agricultural land use if he so desires. Lease titles are for fixed periods, ranging from 30 years for the sale of petroleum products, 60 years for commercial and industrial land uses, and 90 years for residential, education, and religious land uses. The length of the lease should encourage permanent improvements in land, as the lease gives exclusive possession of the land leased and allows for mobility in land transactions. For urban dwellers, it guarantees ease of finance through mortgaging. In agricultural land, it means land can be enclosed by fences and mortgage credit can be easily obtained.
  3. Through procedures to be followed when land is required for public purposes, an equitable system of calculating compensation for loss of title has been introduced, and the Government hopes to encourage investments in land without fear of inadequate compensation for a bona fide investor. The establishment of a land tribunal is a futher guarantee that landholders will get a fair deal when the Government uses its powers of eminent domain over land which is the subject of lease title.
  4. Under the provisions of the Land Act, the Government can declare any area of land as a selected area for development or reconstruction of new residential, commercial, or industrial areas for the purposes of town planning. The idea is to extinguish all titles in the selected development areas to facilitate the carrying out of construction or reconstruction projects; the former title holders are entitled to substitute rights within the project or to adequate compensation. These provisions are meant to tackle Lesotho's special land problems, where urban sprawl occurred following valid allocations granted by chiefs under previous laws. Titles to land in these selected development areas are granted by the minister and not by the land committees.
  5. Similarly, for reorganization of agricultural land holdings the Government can declare an area of agricultural land as a selected agricultural area. This would allow for replanning of land holdings, including consolidation schemes where appropriate, before the minister grants agricultural leases giving foremost consideration to applications by previous allottees within the area. Under the communal system, fragmentation of agricultural land holdings has occurred. The provisions of selected agricultural areas can be utilized to create viable agricultural holdings. The intention is to encourage farmers to form co-operatives so that investments in agriculture can be profitable.
  6. The act provides for land revenue in the form of assessed ground rents, licence fees, and development charges. This will introduce a cost factor for greater productivity in land and, above all, create a land market which does not exist under the traditional system of land tenure.
  7. Finally, land administration under the act is to be carried out by the Department of Lands, Surveys and Physical Planning as opposed to the traditional authorities. The Government hopes to achieve sound land administration since the department has professionals in disciplines relevant to land development, land survey, and land planning.

Implications for Agricultural Development

The provisions of the land act as outlined above can have far-reaching implications for all sectors of the economy within the country. In particular, they affect the agricultural sector in four ways:

  1. the land allocations in the rural areas are now inheritable;
  2. an allottee of agricultural land can apply for a lease title;
  3. the provisions of selected agricultural areas can revolutionize the rural sector; and
  4. through land-use control and sound land administration under the act, self-sustaining future development can be achieved.

Unlike previous laws, the Land Act 1979 defines an allocation as a use right in rural areas which is now inheritable. Under customary law, the heirs of an allottee had no clear rights over arable land al located to the head of the family. Obviously, this discouraged permanent or long-term improvements to the land. By providing for inheritance, a breakthrough has been made to encourage farmers to effect better improvements and hence achieve greater productivity.

Under the new law, a lease title is the most important use right and gives the lessee exclusive possession of the land leased. Furthermore, leased land can be transferred, sub-leased for long periods, or encumbered by a mortgage. Thus, an allottee of agricultural land use who applies for an agricultural lease can reap these benefits. The implications are that the less competent farmers could be permitted to transfer their leases, sublease all or part of their holdings, or even enter into approved share-cropping arrangements with competent farmers. Although the conditions and terms of agricultural leases have not been finalized, the act is clear that an agricultural lease can only be issued after consultation with and approval by the Ministry of Agriculture. Obviously, one of the conditions would be the requirement for the land to be farmed properly.

The most significant provisions of the act which should affect the agricultural sector are those for formal declaration of selected agricultural areas. This allows for restructuring of land holdings, consolidation of fragmented parcels, and the provision of infrastructure before the granting of lease titles. The provisions can be well adapted for the good management of village agricultural resources and pastures. This would reinforce the policy of cooperatives based on village committees. Such committees would be enabled to institute management systems for the grazing areas under which numbers of livestock could be controlled. The selected agricultural areas also have the advantage of systematically bringing old titles into the new lease system. Hence, supporting systems, such as survey and land registration, can be efficiently utilized.

By introducing stricter controls on land use, good agricultural land that was the subject of indiscriminate allocations for other land uses by the chiefs can be saved. There are provisions in the act which prohibit land committees from allocating agricultural land for uses other than agriculture. The Land Regulations of 1980 promulgated under the act require land committees to revoke an allocation where the allottee refuses to adopt soil conservation measures and when so advised by the Ministry of Agriculture. Sound land administration, on the other hand, will eliminate the uncertainties over land titles prevalent in customary land tenure systems. This will reduce litigation on land matters and give farmers confidence in their titles. With this confidence, better utilization of the land can be expected.


Lesotho has formulated an ambitious but necessary land reform policy through the Land Act 1979. These policies are meant to remove serious constraints imposed by the traditional land tenure system on agricultural devlopment and rural reconstruction. The implementation of the reform measures is, therefore, fundamentally important. The magnitude of the task will test the capacity of the Government at every turn.

It is a long way from legislation to actual alteration of an agrarian structure. There will be the well-known experiences of delays, legal setbacks, irregularities, practical and technical difficulties, and normal vacillations in political will. Inevitably, any land reform programme becomes a political issue, and this is already evident in the early implementation of the Land Act 1979. No doubt the provisions of the act will shift the power structure because it limits the control of the traditional leaders. Thus, support for the implementation of the law, through funding and publicity campaigns, is already lukewarm and is being frustrated by those with vested interests in the communal system. Implementation, therefore, will require a strong political will, commitment of funds, and, above all, trained manpower in disciplines relevant to land administration, land use, land survey, and land management.


Hardin, G., and T. Baden. 1977. Managing the Commons. W.H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco.

Lesotho. 1959. The Laws of Lerotholi. Government Gazette, Maseru.

_____________ 1966. Constitution of Lesotho. Government Printer, Maseru.

_____________ 1979. Land Act: Act 27 of 1979. Government Gazette, Maseru.

Sheddick, V.G. 1954. Land Tenure in Basutoland. HMSO, London.

Starnes, 0., and C.R. Taylor. 1980. Report of the Multi-Donor Agricultural Sector Evaluation Mission. United Nations Development Programme, Maseru.


Social implications of land reforms in Tanzania

S.D. Mtetewaunga
Department of Land Development Services, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


"Land tenure" is a complex social relationship which exists among people as to their rights to the occupancy and use of land, that is, a relationship between owners and users of the land. Over the centuries, and in all societies and nations, complex and differing land tenures have been created.

Land reform involves changes in and a restructuring of these rules and procedures in an attempt to make the land tenure system consistent with the overall requirement of economic, political, and social development. A restructuring of these rules and procedures involves changes in the political, social, and economic power positions of the groups within a society. The extent of the reforms and the ability to carry them out depends, inter alia, on peasants' demands and political pressure on the ruling class. Hence, the changes do not always proceed along rational patterns and often cannot be predicted. They range from political revolutions in Ethiopia and Mexico to piecemeal measures in India such as the attempt to remove intermediary tenures and land taxation.

This paper discusses the social implications of land reforms with a particular emphasis on Tanzania.

Land Tenure in Tanzania

Before colonization, all the land belonged to the various tribes. It is believed that over 123 tribes, ranging from very large groups, such as the Wasukuma and Wanyamwezi on the southern shores of Lake Victoria (now each over one million people), to small tribes like the Wapogoro or Zanaki, inhabited the Tanzanian mainland. Within the tribal lands, the chiefs played an important role. Some powerful chiefs and sub-chiefs had the power to grant land to clans or minor officials at their own discretion; some officials who got areas of land were even able to lease their lands to peasants for a consideration. This was practiced among the Bahaya tribe in north-west Tanzania under the "Nyarubanja" system. In other smaller tribes, the chiefs had a minor role and the land was divided by clans and families. The head of the clan or family could divide the land as he deemed just. Generally, in the then Tanganyika, the overriding principle in almost all tribes was that the land belonged to the tiller. When the clan or family vacated the land, it could be alienated to another clan or family.

Towards the end of the 1 9th century, the Germans colonized and created German East Africa. The regime interfered with land ownership on about one million acres of fertile, cool regions on the slopes of Usambara, Kilimanjaro, Meru, and Livingstone mountains.

There was little attempt at land reform on the remainder, apart from introducing regulations for the proper planting, weeding, and harvesting of specified important crops at the risk of a fine on defaulters. The Germans were conquered and evicted in 1919, when British colonization began. Within four years, in 1923, the Land Ordinance (Cap. 113) was promulgated. This is the most important legislation controlling land acquisition and use. Since 1923, several amendments have been enacted. Under the Land Ordinance, all land in mainland Tanzania, whether occupied or unoccupied, is public and is vested in the governor (now the president), who has the power to issue rights of occupancy and revoke the said rights for "good cause." A rights of occupancy is, therefore, a right to occupy public land. It can be acquired under an express grant under Section 6 of the ordinance, or is deemed to have been granted under Section 8 (the latter is applicable on customary land holdings which were not surveyed or registered). The land registration and law of conveyance were immediately enacted to control dispositions (transfer and mortgages) of the granted land. It has been estimated that these imported English laws catered for only 5 per cent of the Tanganyika lands; the rest were still subject to customary laws. Until 1963, there were four categories of land tenure:

  1. freehold;
  2. leasehold (granted mostly by the Germans);
  3. granted rights of occupancy; and
  4. deemed rights of occupancy.

Granted and deemed rights of occupancy cover about 95 per cent of the land holdings held by the peasants and are mostly subject to customary land laws of sale, pledge, inheritance, wills, and leasing. In 1963, all freehold tenures were abolished and were converted into 99-year leases (Tanganyika 1963).

The Government undertook this conversion because of its particular objection to the fact that the freehold titleholder could opt not to develop or could develop or misdevelop the land with little Government control. Some development conditions (building, farming, and land rent) were attached to the ex-freeholds. But, by 1969, the Government felt that the controls were inadequate. The Government Leaseholds (Conversion to Rights of Occupancy) Act No. 44 of 1969 was passed in which all the existing leasehold rights were extinguished and converted into rights of occupancy for a term "equal to the unexpired term of the government lease for which the land was held immediately before 1st April, 1970" (Tanzania 1969).

Beginning in 1970, therefore, land in Tanzania can be held only under rights of occupancy-expressly granted under the Land Ordinance-or deemed rights of occupancy under customary rights.

Rural Development and Land Reform

In 1976, the famous Arusha Declaration and TANU (Tanganyika African Nation Union) Policy on Socialism and Self-reliance was adopted. The declaration states that the prerequisites of development are:

  1. people;
  2. land;
  3. good policies; and
  4. good leadership.

On land the declaration states:

Land is the basis of human life and all Tanzanians should use it as a valuable investment for future development. Because the land belongs to the nation, the Government has to see to it that it is used for the benefit of the whole nation and not for the benefit of one individual or just a few people.... It is the responsibility of the Government and the cooperative societies to see to it that our people get the necessary tools, training and leadership in modern methods of agriculture (TANU 1967).

From the above-quoted policy and statement of intention the Government (central and local authorities) passed laws and took administrative measures to ensure that the land is used for the benefit of the nation as a whole and to abolish or reduce exploitation of man by man through land dealings. On rural development the Arusha Declaration has the following objectives:

  1. to improve the quality and quantity of peasant life and rural condition;
  2. to emphasize the importance of proper exploitation of land resources for national development;
  3. to advocate "ujamaa" and the co-operative mode of production, and emphasize the role of the Party and Government in guiding, supporting and expanding the formation of ujamaa; and
  4. to encourage popular (mass) democratic participation in economic, social, and political decision-making (TANU 1967).

The Presidential Circular No. 1 of 1969 states inter alia:

Our ultimate objective must be to make the description "Tanzania is a nation of cooperative farmers" a more true statement.... This demands a fundamental change in the rural economic and social organisation of Tanzania. It is not something which can be done overnight and it cannot be done by force. It will duly be achieved by a deliberate effort to encourage the growth of cooperative production, cooperative marketing and distribution, and communal rather than private expenditure patterns.

The Government emphasized the creation of more State farms, but most of its attention was directed towards the creation of ujamaa villages, which were to be given priority in credit, servicing, and extension services, at the expense of the individual producer if necessary. In this effort "no department of the Party and no Ministry of Government is exempt from the requirement to participate and to contribute to the success of this policy." The development of ujamea villages was to be implemented in two phases:

  1. the education and training of party and Government leaders in the ideology, purpose, and methods of establishing ujamaa villages; and
  2. taking the ideas to the people; to educate and help them to see the relevance of this policy to their own desires and their own needs. "It may even be necessary sometimes to explain the advantages of cooperative living or cooperative working."

A policy paper, "Socialism and Rural Development," was adopted in 1967 in which it was envisaged that the efforts and steps to be taken have to take into account the social and economic conditions prevailing in each region.

Following the above declarations of intent, the Government took revolutionary steps in implementing land reforms, the success of which has varied, for reasons to be explained later.

In 1972, the Decentralisation of Government Administration (Interim Provisions) Act No. 27 of 1972 was passed by Parliament. The aim of this act is to decentralize government functions so that much of the decision-making and implementation of projects is being done in the respective regions and districts, the leaders of which are more conversant with the social and economic realities of their people.

There was ad hoc legislation dealing with registered farms. On registered lands Parliament passed the Coffee Estate (Acquisition and Regrant) Act and the Sisal Estates (Acquisition and Regrant) Act. Under these acts, many coffee and sisal estates were acquired and regranted to cooperative societies or public corporations such as the Tanzania Sisal Corporation. These farms were previously owned by individual foreigners or their foreign companies. Many of them are now being efficiently run by co-operative societies which have plenty of government assistance on credit, transport, and extension services.

The Rural Farmlands (Acquisition and Regrant) Act 1968 provided for the acquisition of other farms (maize, sugar, rice, etc.), the land titles of which were held by foreigners but which were run by local persons or societies who were accordingly enfranchised and given the de facto and de jure right to occupy the lands.

A more general legislation known as the Rural Lands (Planning Utilisation) Act 1973 empowers the president, in the public interest, to regulate land development in any area of Tanganyika by making a declaratory order in the Tanzania Gazette to that effect. After the publication of such order, the minister for regional administration, after due consultation with the minister for lands, may make regulations for: building, farming, and mining operations as well as reservation of land for ujamaa villages, forests, and parks. He may also provide for extinction, cancellation, or modification of the rights, titles, and interest over lands falling under the order. This act deals mostly with lands held under customary laws. The district councils, accordingly, have passed rules and bylaws governing minimum areas for planting specified crops, weeding, and harvesting, and they impose stringent fines or imprisonment on defaulters.

In this way, the Government and the party ensure that the rural lands are properly utilized for the economic welfare of the public at large.

Two other important pieces of legislation dealing with rural land reforms must be mentioned. The first is the Villages, Ujamaa Villages (Registry, Design and Administration) Act No. 21 of 1975, in which planning areas lands can be granted to the villages and ujamea villages to be developed cooperatively and communally. The land can be registered and loans can be granted by commercial banks and the Tanzania Rural Development Bank. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of the rural population in Tanzania now lives in such villages (see also Mlay 1986).

The second piece of legislation is the Customary Leaseholds (Enfranchisement) Act No. 47 of 1968. This enactment needs a brief explanation. In certain areas of Tanzania, customary letting of land was being practiced by certain tribes, particularly the Bahaya (the Nyarubanja system) and the Wakerewe (the Obusi system), both on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. Other tribes involved in this practice are the Wachagga (on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro), the Wanyakusa (in south-west Tanganyika), and the Wasambea and Pare in Usambara Mountains. These areas have potentially rich alluvial soils and accommodate dense populations; hence, there is an acute land shortage. A few rich landholders occupied large farms which were partitioned and rented to poorer segments of the rural population for payment in cash or kind. The Bahaya Nyarubanja was well developed. Detailed rules on registration of both tenants and landlords or their successors were established. Other rules concerned transfers, inheritance, evictions, mode of payment, rights of women, and so on. As land became more and more scarce, much friction, quarrels, litigation, and even fights and murders took place. Studies were carried out with the intention of abolishing these capitalist land-holding structures. The first attempt was made in 1965, but the legislation was so weak and had so many in-built exceptions and loopholes that it caused more friction and litigation. Furthermore, no proper institution was formed to carry out the intended enfranchisement. Instead, the act relied on ordinary courts, with their cumbersome rules of evidence, procedure, count fees, and adjournments.

Under the Customary Leaseholds (Enfranchisement) Act 1968, a Customary Land Tribunal was then formed. The duty of the tribunal is to ascertain the landlords and tenants in each such customary case. Once the tenant or tenants are known, the land in dispute is measured and a judgement is given in which the tenant(s) are enfranchised. The proceedings of the tribunal are quasi-judicial and the appeals go to the minister responsible for lands, whose decision is final and conclusive. Provisions exist for payment of compensation for crops and buildings with respect to the enfranchised piece of land. This is a very popular piece of legislation among the peasants and thousands of cases have been instituted free of charge before the courts. The landlords (ax-chiefs, sub-chiefs, and headmen) have tried to evade the rigours of this act by non-attendances and other steps. To counteract this, the tribunal is now empowered to grant ex parse judgement, once it is shown that the landlord intentionally disobeyed the summons.

So far, the discussion has centred on the formulation of policy, intent, and legislation. It is now necessary, before expounding on the social implications, to explain the main machinery empowered to carry out the intended land reforms. From the above, it has been seen that both judicial and administrative institutions, with a bias towards the latter, have been used. Administrative registrars of farms have been appointed to deal with acquired farms. Tribunals have been formed to deal with rent disputes and customary land enfranchisement, and Government departments, particularly the Directorate of Land Development Services, have been given many functions in implementing the programmes. The political party, TANU (now Chama cha Mapinduzi, CCM), has played an indispensable role. The Government, now an organ of the party, has been authorized and allocated funds to carry out the intended reforms. Much planning and implementation is being carried out by the regional, district, ward, and village councils as well as ten-cell leaders as part of the participatory one-party democratic organization. In this way, as the president and party encourage, the masses in the rural areas are now able to understand the policy and participate in project planning and implementation.

The land reforms have encountered many problems of implementation, resulting in differences in success. In an attempt to encourage people to move into villages and grow specified crops, not enough research on soil, weather, water availability, and social structures was carried out. Some of the villages, therefore, failed dismally. Traditionalism demands that intensive public relations efforts are made before people voluntarily remove themselves, their animals, and other belongings to new areas in which co-operative production and marketing rather than individualisim will be practiced. In such cases, the Government has to decide what amount of coercion (e.g. denial of loans to private individual land holders, and access to extension services by co-operatives and registered villages) has to be used in addition to the declared policy of educating the masses so that they understand the benefits and fully participate in the planning and implementation stages. Sometimes, the middle-cadre leadership has been guilty of misunderstanding the reform, of lack of commitment, or of application of improper methods of implementation such as threats. Furthermore, in a poor country like Tanzania, shortfalls in staffing, training, finances, transportation, and proper technology, among others, are prevalent.

Although the emphasis is on self-reliance, the Government is still forced to apply for foreign loans, credit, and personnel. Lastly, dualism in a mixed economy of villagization and co-operative tenure existing alongside individualism creates the policy formulation that has to cater for both so that the economic, social, and political situation prevailing is not seriously interrupted. These are just a few of the problems encountered in our land tenure reforms. Sometimes, these problems and/or mistakes have given rise to misimplementation or nonimplementation of the intended reform.

Social Impact of Land Reforms

Any assement of the socio-economic and political impact of land reform will be met by difficulties arising from incomplete and unreliable data. The assessment of success and failure will depend on the criteria adopted, such as productivity, employment, income distribution, tax revenue, and general socio-political effects. Some of these criteria cannot be measured in monetary terms. There is much debate in the world today which is still unreconciled on the merits and demerits of public land versus "freehold" individual land ownership. Some are of the view that public land ownership gives little incentive towards proper utilization of land. The controversy will continue and the varying beliefs depend on the experience of each society.

In Tanzania, experience has shown that freehold individualism had many disadvantages in urban as well as rural areas. After the abolition of freeholds and leaseholds, all land in Tanzania became public and is subject to express grants (with implied or attached development conditions). The advantages accruing are mainly four:

  1. the state controls and directs the nature of national growth. The right to occupy the land depends on the duty to utilize the land. Those who default on their obligations will have their rights revoked and compensation will be paid only for the unexhausted improvements attached to the land. No money will be paid as compensation for the land itself;
  2. the Government is able to carry out experiments (which are necessary for any attempts at economic development) without being fettered by unnecessary court cases;
  3. the Government has been able to reduce land speculation and the unjust enrichment of a few rich and clever foreigners; and
  4. with the aid of financial regulations, building regulations, and so on, the Government has been able to assist indigenous people in acquiring cheap plots for building their family houses.

These advantages have facilitated faster implementation of the villagization programme. Needless to say, this criterion of assessing the land reform cannot be measured in fiscal terms.

One criterion for gauging the social implications of land reform is productivity. At the initial stages of any land reform there is a likelihood of a decline in productivity due to instability and apprehension on the part of the peasants, the former landlords, and the governing class, who have to provide the essential supportive services and guidelines.

The major land reforms in Tanzania were initiated after the 1967 Arusha Declaration. The villagization policy was legally enforceable from 1975. The interim period is too short and the data too scanty for a genuine assessment of the reform. There has been much publicity in the Western press to the effect that the present economic plight in Tanzania is due to unrealistic land reforms, villagization, and the policy of socialism. The Government has vehemently denied this. What can be observed in the short period is that, under villagization and the co-operative or State farms mode of production, certain villages have been able to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural produce. The Chamwino, Kismani, and Liwale villages have several times been selected as the best villages. Many villages have been able to produce enough food for their members, and sold some of the products in order to purchase lorries, buses, tractors, and ploughs, build clinics and schools, and share some money (according to the input of each member) while saving enough for a rainy day. In order to gauge the economic, social, and political progress of the villages, the Government has instituted district, regional, and national "best village" competitions annually. There is a national body to scrutinize development projects, their planning and implementation, at different levels and the winners receive agricultural prizes while some of their lucky leaders are sent on short courses or study tours abroad. Many ujamea and co-operative officers are now assisting the lesser developed villages.

A further criterion is to assess the impacts of land reform in terms of employment. For a country like Tanzania, with a total area of 940,000 sq km and a population of just over 17 million, it is inappropriate to talk about unemployment. Apart from isolated places, the land is plentiful and generally suitable for crop and animal production. In these circumstances, it is more realistic to talk about underemployment or misemployment. Some economists tell us that the increase in employment in the rural sector is inversely related to farm size, that is, the smaller the farms the greater the rate of agricultural employment and vice versa. It is regretted that this aspect of the impact of recent land reforms has not been subjected to systematic study and scientific analysis. What has been observed is that, apart from a few towns such as Dar es Salaam, in which urbanization is on the increase (bringing with it several economic, housing, transport, and employment difficulties), there is a marked decline in rural-urban migration. In the villages, the members have specialized duties, with some involved in the provision of social amenities, thus making rural life less deplorable.

I believe one criterion in which the land reforms in Tanzania can be said to have been successful is in the field of income redistribution. Before independence and even before the Arusha Declaration, the disparity in income averaged in the ratio 1:17. After concerted party and Government efforts at improving the rural conditions of life, it is estimated that this has been reduced to 1:11. This has partly been achieved due to the national policy of progressive direct income taxation of employees of the Government, parastatal corporations, and private companies. The peasants pay no income tax while heavy indirect taxation has been imposed on such items as alcohol, cigarettes, certain textiles, and petrol. The extra revenue is partly spent on improving rural life. In Tanzania, it needs no high academic qualifications to discover that there is a great difference in shelter, housing, transport, social welfare, and the number of schools and clinics in rural areas. These are more numerous now than they were 10 years ago.

Lastly, there are general social and political effects such as the elimination of undesirable social classes and political awareness of and participation in village, ward, and district plans by the majority of the population (both urban and rural). Land reforms can create a sense and pride of "belonging," which is very crucial for the political stability of any nation. Many peasant revolts or revolutions throughout the centuries have occurred because the majority of the citizens regarded themselves as "subjects, " "serfs, " "objects, " "outsiders, " or mere observers of the social, political, and economic intrigues of their masters. Using this criterion of impact, Tanzania's land reform has generally been hailed as a success by friends and foes alike.


Mlay, W.F.I. 1986. "Environmental Implications of Land-Use Patterns in the New Villages in Tanzania." Part 4, chapter 12, this volume.

Tanganyika. 1963. Proposals of the Tanganyika Government for Land Tenure Reforms, Government Paper 2. Dar es Salaam.

TANU. 1967. The Aruska Declaration. In J.K. Nyerere, Freedom and Socialism: A Selection from Writings end Speeches 1965-1967, 231-256. Oxford University Press, Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania. 1969. Conversion to Rights of Occupancy Act (No. 44).

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