In Summary

Cassava would remain evergreen even at the height of the long dry season the vast district has been subjected to until last week. On the farm are also residues of other crops, notably maize.

Kiteto. He was famous as Mzee Mhogo, and not surprisingly. Cassava is one of the crops under cultivation at his farm at Chekanao village in Kiteto, some 18 kilometres from the district headquarters.

Cassava would remain evergreen even at the height of the long dry season the vast district has been subjected to until last week. On the farm are also residues of other crops, notably maize.

Like many smallholder farmers in the area, Zuberi Itato alias Mhogo also keeps some livestock just as nomadic pastoralists, the original people of the land, have embraced farming.

But October 20 would be his last day. He was at his farm when a group of livestock keepers drove their animals through. He attempted to stop the herders but could not. He was slashed to death.

The murder set in a wave of recent killings, mainly pitting farmers and pastoralists, and which within days, claimed the lives of seven other villagers and scores injured in Kiteto District, Manyara Region.

The flashpoints centred on Matui and Kiperesa wards, to the south-west of Kibaya on the direction of Dodoma. This is an area with the highest concentration of livestock keepers and farmers mix-up.

The fighting between the two groups intensified from around November 11. Within a span of three to four days, seven people had been killed, forcing hundreds to abandon their houses and hid in the bush or seek refuge in trading centres.

The seven pastoralists and farmers reported to have lost lives besides Zuberi Itato are Hassan Kundajo, 62; Salum Iddi Juma, 70; Lematui Sendalo, 46; Julius Andrew, 50; John Makavu, 42; Juma Omari Bakari, 65, and Maria ole Siriana, 36.

At least 13 suspects have been arraigned in Kiteto District Court last week allegedly for killing the seven pastoralists and farmers in Matui and Kiperesa wards.

Four suspects among them were accused of murder while nine were charged with murder and theft of 309 heads of cattle worth Sh213 million, property of Matui villagers.

The case was adjourned for another mention on December 12. The existing land conflict, between farmers and farmers in Kiteto District started way back in 2003. Ever since at least 30 people have been killed and about 200 injured in the clashes.

The situation appeared to have normalized by last week with intensified patrols by the police and arrest of key suspects, some of whom were arraigned in court, but last weekend there were unconfirmed reports of another death.

The heavy presence of the police from the regional headquarters as well as from neighbouring Dodoma and the Force headquarters in Dar es Salaam has apparently guaranteed some sort of peace.

However, local leaders, villagers, government officials and other people interviewed affirm that the trouble was still far from over. In fact, there are fears the volatile situation could flare up again if the root cause of the conflict was not tackled.

“The presence of the police will only help to stop the killings and destruction of property for now. That is fine. But that would not end the conflict for ever,” said a resident of Kibaya who requested anonimity.

To many, including the outsiders, it is seen as a conflict between pastoralists and smallholder farmers. Others see it as a problem created by the invasion of the area by people seeking farming land from neighbouring districts. Persistent violence has also been linked to the now much talked about Emborney Murtangos, a community conservation project to the south-east of the district under which thousands of hectares have been put under conservation after some people were moved out.

Yet what is perceived as land conflict in Kiteto could be a mere ploy to divert the attention of the public and the policy makers from the reality. Some residents or local leaders are alleged to have instigated villagers to take the law into their hands.

Nicodemus Bei, the acting District Administrative Secretary (DAS) also sees the issue as a conflict between farmers and livestock keepers, mainly for grazing or farming land and water.

However, he maintains that the problem could have been aggravated by failure of the parties concerned or the local administrators to adhere to the rule of law or follow the proper procedures and, of course, corruption.

He acknowledges, nevertheless, that the rising human and animal population in the 16,000 square kilometre district, whose land apparently has a low carrying capacity for resources because of its semi-arid conditions, was partly to blame.

He said although the Constitution provides that every citizen of Tanzania can settle anywhere in the country or is eligible to be offered a living space, there were some limitations as to per the 1999 Village Act.

Under the legislation, no individual could be offered more than 50 acres in a village. That could be the reason why some farmers who had settled in some areas of Kiteto from outside Manyara region were kicked out, triggerring the conflict.

He said, however, that the killings which rocked the district from November 11th convinced political leaders and security officials that something should be done urgently to tackle what used to be isolated murders or land clashes.

The district official recalled an incident on Tuesday November 11th in which a prominent elder at Matui village (one of the victims hacked to death) reported to the police that some livestock keepers were grazing their animals in his farm.

According to the police records, he pledged to settle the matter amicably once the animals were moved out. This could not be. As he argued for them to move out, he was beaten to death and his body found the following morning.

On sensing this, up to 500 farmers regrouped and started hunting down the livestock keepers, starting by torching their bomas and huts. Five cattle kraals and 55 living huts were razed down almost immediately.

“By 1 pm (on November 12th), five people had been killed from both sides. One of them was a woman whose three year old kid was fortunately spared,” said Mr Bei. That was when the district and regional leaders stepped in as security forces began to hunt down the culprits.

Generally though, the approach used to tackle the crisis for many years had been reconcillition through convening a meeting of traditional leaders from both communities; pastoralists and farmers.

The livestock-keeping Maasai formed the bedrock of the herders while smallholder farmers composed of the Wagogo, Warangi and others. The latter groups settled in the district few years ago, some running from repeated droughts in their original lands.

As the regional defence and security committee camped in the district mid last month in order to address the worrying situation, it emerged that the district leaders were divided on the issue, some alleged to sympathize with the herders while others sided with the land tillers.

The district commissioner Ms Martha Umbulla, who has held the position from May 2012, admits that she had been under fire (allegedly for failing to tackle the crisis) but said no DC could have done better under the persisting hatred between the local leaders.

“It is very unfortunate that Kiteto district is ridden with this cancer. The leaders are divided and some of them are going to an extent of instigating people to fight among themselves”, she said.

During a meeting held here only days after the horror killings, the DC denied that she has failed to meet the two sides of the conflict, saying at different times she has called on the village representatives to her office or visited the villages on the same mission.

“The problem is hate campaign against some of us leaders on how these clashes can be addressed”, Ms Umbulla said, pointing a finger at a senior CCM official in the district Emmanuel Papian whom she accused of instigating people against the authorities.

Mr. Papian, who is a member of the ruling party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has alleged that the DC has failed to meet both sides of the conflict (farmers and livetock keepers), hence the endless clashes.

The Manyara Regional Commissioner Elaston Mbwillo also dismissed claims that the regional leadership has failed to find a lasting solution to the crisis as raised several times in the Parliament, including during the just-ended session.

The prime minister Mizengo Pinda told the House in Dodoma recently that the government was contemplating to make changes, including transfers of some government leaders in Kiteto and Manyara in the wake of repeated clashes.

“I am aware of what has been said in Dodoma and I am not afrad of being transferred”, he told the district and regional leaders here on November 21st, insisting that land conflicts in Kiteto would be end through reconcilliatory meetings among the conflicting parties with the involment of traditional elders and religious leaders.