My reaction on reading the Tanzanian part of the recent book ‘No Man’s Land: An Investigative Journey through Kenya and Tanzania’ by George Monbiot (Macmillan. £17.99) was to want to know more about the latest situation in the Barabaig country of Northern Tanzania, where a large Canadian-supported wheat scheme (Described in Tanzanian Affairs issue No 24, May 1986 – Editor) has been steeped in controversy for many years.
I did some research. I spoke to Charles Lane of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, to an official of the managers of the project – the National Agricultural and Food Company (NAFCO) in Tanzania and also to officials of CIDA the Canadian International Development Agency) in Hull, Quebec Province.
But first, about the book itself.
George Monbiot’s earlier book ‘Poisoned Arrows’ exposed the plight of the people of Irian Jaya in Indonesia. For this he received a life sentence in absentia. He then wrote ‘Amazon Watershed’ about tribal life in Brazil. Now he has brought to our attention the plight of pastoral tribes in Kenya and Tanzania. To do this he spent some time living among them. He encountered much hardship and many dangers but found friendship and people as human as we are. In fact, once again, a book about East Africa reminds us who we really are: ancestors of the first travelling people like those whose footsteps are preserved in Olduvai Gorge. ‘Humankind was born on the road. Our brains, our physique, our emotional identity, are those of the migrant. The restlessness, which in one corrupted form or another, is felt by every human being on earth, is incurable, for it is fundamental to our nature’. Writing like this, in its widest sense, helps us to live together with more understanding so has something to give to all its readers.
Monbiot visited Hanang District in Tanzania in 1991 and 1992 and met some of the Barabaig people and also Canadian and Tanzanian officials concerned with the 102,000 acre wheat farms. This chapter of the book usefully gives the history of the project including some of the scandalous details of the treatment of the Barabaig. It does not make pleasant reading. CIDA has serious reservations about some of what is written: ‘The chapter, which is written in pseudo-journalistic style, is filled with innuendos and misrepresentations. Mr Henckroth flatly denies many of the quotes attributed to him. ‘The author appears to be following his own particular agenda which does not include accurate reporting’.
However, Tanzania and also Canada have now faced up to the fact that there was a failure on the part of the original planners to give any consideration at all to the 40,000 Barabaig who depended on the land concerned for their survival. It is to be hoped that this story could not be repeated in the world of today. No doubt, at the time, Canada’s proposal seemed like manna from heaven to the Government of Tanzania but our understanding of development has matured since 1970 and human rights matter more, though not enough, particularly in the building up of democracy.
Tanzania eventually set up a lay commission headed by Appeal Court Judge Robert Kisanga to look into the problems of the Barabaig. In its 1993 report the commission made recommendations for the continued existence of the wheat farms and the Barabaig together. Some changes of staff were made on NAFCO’s side and the District Commissioner for Hanang was replaced. The Barabaig were advised to organise themselves to take a full part in discussions at district level and this they have done. NAFCO’s policy now is to help construct water points and to provide proper routes for the cattle of the Barabaig; to allow the people to visit their sacred burial sites; to stop harassing them whenever they are seen trespassing and to settle disputes amicably. The Ministry of Agriculture was recommended to update its guidelines on Hanang District and increase its extension services.
CIDA, for its part, is contributing Canadian $4.5 million towards the implementation of the Kisanga Report. Of this sum, C$700,OOO have already been provided for photomapping the area for the purpose of confirming land use and its registration. Al though CIDA is no longer involved with the wheat farms, since July 1993, they regard them as ‘of strategic importance to the domestic food security of Tanzania’. In 1994 34,430 tonnes of wheat were produced but this was not a good year due to drought. An average 40,000 tonne crop would produce 180 million loaves of bread.
CIDA conducted a mission to Tanzania in January 1995 in order to produce ‘an updated social and economic profile of the Hanang District’. A social and community development project is now being drawn up.
I hope that ‘No Man’s Land’ will be read by many people for the light it throws on the plight of pastoral people today: most of it is highly readable, well-written with humour and understanding, even though some of it, notably the chapter about the Barabaig, is quite distressing.