Intellectual Forum

26 09 2009

Zanzibar to treat Mainlanders like foreigners

By Dr. Mohamed Adam

My 2 cents on this issue of land allocation in Zanzibar is only a simple matter of clarification. I am quite sure that the Zanzibar Government has competent officials to explain adequately the issues involved to the citizens they serve.

In 1965, under the Government Land Decree of that year, all Zanzibar land was vested in the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar retrospectively from March 8, 1964. The decree, however, excluded existing rights and interest to improvement on land. This meant if you have a house or farm, they will not be under the Government’s jurisdiction unless confiscated as the situation was then. But the land on which your house has been built is owned by the Government.

A very simple scenario: if your house is completely demolished, that vacant land becomes a Government’s property and no longer yours. Land Distribution Decree of 1966 authorized the Government to allocate land particularly for agricultural purposes. Most three-acre plots were allocated using this law. The majority of three-acre plots were made from the confiscated lands largely under the Confiscation of Immovable Property decree of 1964. Land Distribution (Ammendment) Decree of 1969 was passed largely to authorize the allocation of urban lands/plots for residential purposes. The grantees were granted the title of using land forever. These laws and even land title did not specify who is entitled to a grant of land in Zanzibar. There was also no law governing the provision of land lease by the Government.

In 1992, Zanzibar passed new land tenure which made clear definition that it is only Zanzibaris who are citizens of Tanzania entitled to Grant of Right of Occupancy equivalent to the certificate of title forever. All people who are currently legally non-Zanzibaris are entitled to lease. Let me put a simple understanding of this for those Zanzibaris who, for one reason or another, have decided to change their citizenship to that of another country but had ownership of residential house which was under the title of land forever. Under this law, if strictly enforced, all those people will have their land titles turned into land lease by the Government with the lease period determined by the Land Officer of the Department of Land in the Ministry of Lands, Housing, Energy and Urban Development.

In fact, the Zanzibaris in the Diasporas have not been protected in any form in this law. With regard to land laws, the status of Zanzibaris in the Diaspora is similar to that of any Foreigner and Mainlander. Fortunately, Zanzibaris know each other and the Land Office does not have teeth to enforce all the provisions of the land laws; that is why we see things going in shamble. With regard to land issues, I strongly believe that Zanzibaris in the Diaspora who are currently citizens of other nations need to be specifically stated as having the same status of land ownership as local Zanzibari under the Land Tenure Act. I truly believe that this is one important ammendment to be lobbied by Zanzibaris in the Diaspora, possibly through ZIRPP.

Pending speculation of availability of Oil. Zanzibar main natural resources are land and sea. Land as you correctly put has been a source of conflicts to be even considered as the main reason that led to the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. However, we need to ask ourselves a question: Did the policy of distribution of 3-acre plots to the poor Zanzibaris truly reduced poverty to the poorest of the poor of Zanzibar? Is there any evidence to show that those who were allocated 3-acre plots in the fertile lands of West of Zanzibar, i.e. at Kiembe-samaki, Mpendae, Tomondo, Chumbuni, Bububu etc, are still in possession of those lands and farms? Isn’t it true that the majority of those same 3-acre farmlands have, since early 1990s, been swallowed by huge mansions in the suburbs owned by middle income and well to do Zanzibaris? Some of those lands are built of ordinary Swahili house or modern bungalows owned by often not well to do Zanzibaris; however, some Zanzibaris have put up some modest buildings that form part and parcel of their own houses by phase block by block.

I use this example to demonstrate that the three acre-plot is not a very significant reality in terms of accounting distribution of wealth in Zanzibar. Politically, the 3 acres are still used as symbolically important to justify why revolution was undertaken in the first place. I just wonder if Zanzibaris will wake up one day to reflect the reality of this issue of three acre policy instead of being stuck in the old rhetoric that, as a matter of fact, only helps the rulers rather than the true poor of the country. It is high time for the affected Zanzibaris to honestly question things out. In other words, they should have the audacity to question the leaders instead of just accepting any rhetoric belched by the politicians some of which are increasingly outdated.

As for the land rent, I believe the Land Officers in the Land Office will make a very fair calculation of land rent depending on the value of the property, location and productivity of such a property. I know that some of them are very competent people in making land valuation and calculation of land rent that make sense to each property in specific locations. It is just a matter of urging them to be effectively responsible for what they are supposed to be doing.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Zanzibar civil servants who are conversant with land issues to enlighten us on this important issue. I do hope that my 2 cents in this topic will help you to understand the intricacies of the issues involved. I also stand to be corrected by those responsible for land issues and who certainly are inpossession of up to date information.

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