Volume 1 of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters* has been published recently. Its Chairman, Professor Issa G Shivji has made available to Tanzanian Affairs a copy of an interview he gave to HARAMATA (a quarterly published by the IIED) in which he explained the Commission’s recommendations. There follows a summary of the interview.

The Commission found that the land tenure regime in Tanzania was in a mess. The last major review had been the East African Royal Commission in 1953-55. All lands were then declared ‘Public lands’ vested in the Governor. Indigenous land users continued to be governed by their customary law so long as it was in the interest of the state

This regime continued after independence. In fact, the control of land by the Executive led to enormous abuses, contrary to the interest of rural land users and the long run interest of the nation. Some major changes in the structure of the government – decentralisation (1972)’ villagization (1972- 74) followed by reintroduction of local governments a decade later etc. led to total disruption of land administration.


a) The tenurial status of all lands would be declared constitutionally to be either national or village lands; in urban areas the present system of allocation through rights of occupancy would continue;

b) national lands would be vested in a National Land Commission independent of the Executive, accountable to the Legislature and overseen by a reconstructed Judiciary; village lands would be vested in Village Assemblies;

c) dispute-settlement machinery would be reorganised by creating Elders Councils at the village level and Circuit Land Courts at a higher level in which elders would participate; community values would be brought to bear on decision-making by magistrates and judges;

d) a limited land market would be created which would guard against anarchic tendencies and socially disruptive effects by providing for overall control by the community through the village assemblies (in the case of village lands) and elected ward and district committees (in the case of national lands);

The Commission’s recommendations were based on certain underlying principles:
a) to encourage agrarian accumulation from below based on a vision of an autonomous national development (albeit capitalist) as opposed to the current practice of incautious opening up of the country to predatory merchant and compradorial capital, both local and domestic;

b) to break up the monopoly of radical title in the executive arm of the state and diversify it in a way which would permit control and administration of land from below and to create countervailing forces against abuses by monopolistic state organs; and,

c) devise procedures which would be legitimate, accessible, open and transparent.

Land would be placed squarely in the public domain under the broad regime of public law (constitution, basic law etc.). Our proposals assume a strong political will on the part of government to implement them. If the government were to implement them it would garner strong support from the people. It would also face strong opposition from vested interests.

Asked about the next steps at a meeting in London sponsored by OXFAM on March 19th this year Professor Shivji said that Mwalimu Nyerere had advised the Commission to ensure that the report was published. If the people knew about it they would make sure that some action would be taken.

He also said that the IMF/World Bank had brought considerable pressure to bear on the subject of land tenure. They wished to see arrangements made for privatisation so that owners would have an incentive to invest. But their wish was not supported by the people in the villages who were suspicious of attempts to take away their land.

* REPORT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO LAND MATTERS. Volume 1. Land Policy and Land Tenure. Scandinavian Institute of African Studies. Uppsala. Sweden. 350 pages. f 28.95. (Volume 2 is an analysis of 40 land disputes selected on the basis of their illustration of important socioeconomic trends and legal problems. As it contains sensitive matters its circulation will be limited).

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