Human RightsNews

Unnamed researchers ‘misled’ Oakland Institute, World Bank

While the Tanzania government has allowed over 20,000 farmers, herders and anglers to continue eking out a living within Ruaha National Park, profiteers are shortchanging them behind the scene at the expense of Mother Nature.

TUESDAY July 9, 2024

One of a series of warehouses built at Madundas Village in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, for storage of tonnes of rice produced in the village. PHOTOS | RODRICK MUSHI

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

Not a single person has been evicted from Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania as ‘unnamed researchers’ reported through the US-based Oakland Institute  last year.

The Tranquility News  visited one of five villages whose residents are claimed to have been evicted and mistreated only to see them busy harvesting paddy and grazing livestock, among other day-to-day activities.

Madundas Village Chairman Seni Nimka confirmed that they were still in the village carrying out their productive activities despite a last year’s directive to relocate them outside the park.

“No valuation has so far been conducted for us to be compensated, and education, health and other essential social services are still in place,” Nimka said.

Resident of the Madundas Village in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, Judith Tawete recalled that President Samia Suluhu Hassan had deployed Abdulrahman Kinana, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Deputy Chairman for Tanzania Mainland, to the village to inform them that they were allowed to continue with their activities.

Seni Nimka, Madundas Village Chairman in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, says villagers have neither been evicted nor compensated yet.

Mbarali District Council’s land official Faraja Nkwera said the land still belonged to the village as stipulated in the 1999 Land Act, as there was no directive yet to change its use.

“In case there’s need for changing the use of the land, there are procedures, rules and regulations to adhere to,” Nkwera said.

Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Senior Assistant Conservation Commissioner and Commanding Officer of Ruaha National Park Godwell Ole Meing’ataki said conservation laws were not applied in the village.

“We have been directed to leave the communities within the park,” said Ole Maing’ataki wondering, however, that the so called ‘unnamed researchers’ denied the park’s authorities of natural justice, as they never bothered to seek the other side of their report.

Colonel Denis Mwila, the Mbarali District Commissioner, accused non-government organisations, politicians and other players of framing the allegations the Oakland Institute ignorantly owns.

Judith Tawete, resident of Madundas Village in Mbarali District, says President Samia Suluhu Hassan allowed villagers to continue with their activities.

The Oakland Institute published a report last year accusing the World Bank of funding human rights violations, saying the Tanzania government forcefully evicted herders, farmers and anglers from their ‘ancestral land’ to expand the Ruaha National Park and boost tourism receipts.

The institute claims in the report that Tanzania National Parks’ (TANAPA) rangers and village game scouts confiscated property of the villagers, prompting the World Bank to swiftly suspend $150 million loan to the Tanzania government.

The loan was meant for implementing an eight-year Resilient Natural Resource Management for Tourism and Growth (REGROW) project aimed at improving management of natural resources and tourism assets in southern Tanzania. The project covers four national parks of Ruaha, Nyerere, Mikumi and Udzungwa.

The Tranquility News understands, nevertheless, that Ruaha National Park receives few visitors, making its management a drain on the country’s resources, the fact that contradicts the Oakland Institute’s claims that its expansion aims at boosting tourism revenue.

Ruaha National Park is not only a lifeline to wildlife animals and the ecosystem, but also contributes to electricity generation at Mtera, Kidatu and Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project’s dams.

Land official from Mbarali District Council Faraja Nkwera says there is no plan in sight of changing use of land of villages at the moment.

Both large and small-scale farmers and livestock keepers from across the country have been thronging Usangu flood plain and Ihefu wetland in Mbarali District in search for fertile land and green pasture.

The Usangu flood plain sips water from five districts, of Wanging’ombe and Makete districts in Njombe Region; Mbeya and Chunya districts in Mbeya Region and Mufindi District in Iringa Region.

Once filled, the flood plain releases excessive water to Ihefu wetland through Nyaluhanga Constriction where the Great Ruaha River water begins flowing for 164 kilometres within the park before the precious liquid reaches the dams and various other users downstream.

In fact, the German East Africa, which comprised Burundi and Rwanda, protected the entire Mbarali District area in 1910, before migrants, mostly farmers, herders and anglers from across the country, gradually decimated it.

As a result of increased human activities in the Usangu flood plain, the Great Ruaha River began drying out for between one and six months in 1990s, causing chronic power outages countrywide.

Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Senior Assistant Conservation Commissioner and Commanding Officer of Ruaha National Park Godwell Ole Meing’ataki says the government directed the park to leave alone over 20,000 villagers residing in the Tanzania’s second largest tourist site after Nyerere.

Besides disrupting production in the manufacturing sector, other businesses and denying the taxman of revenues, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute once found out that the decline of water flows in the Great Ruaha River, Usangu flood plain and its tributaries also significantly contributed to the decrease in population of buffalo and other species of fauna and flora within Ruaha National Park.

In 2008, authorities issued a Government Notice Number 28 aimed at protecting the wetlands, but the move did not prevent the farmers, herders, anglers and the business community from encroaching on the wetlands.

Last year, a Government Notice Number 754 withdrew over 400 square kilometres of the national park’s area and handed it over to 28 out of 33 villages that were residing in the park for them to carry out their productive activities.

The decision followed a committee of natural resources sectoral ministers visiting the wetlands and admitting that the 5,000-square-kilometre water catchment areas at Madibira and Mnazi should be conserved along with the national park.

The decision to stop human activities in the wetlands to allow water to flow into the Great Ruaha River and the dams all year-round triggered war among local investors in farming and livestock keeping.

The from page of the report of Oakland Institute accusing the World Bank of funding human rights abuses in Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

“They have been using the media, political platforms, opposition parties and non-governmental institutions like the Oakland Institute for showing Mbarali is not safe at all,” Col Mwila said.

The World Bank’s delegation was in the district last month to investigate the Oakland Institute’s allegations only to see villagers going on with their day-to-day schedules.

Col Mwila ruled out the possibility of the government allowing the villagers to expand their activities within the national park for fear of destroying the wetlands and disrupting generation of electricity which the villages also need.

In pursuit of its middle economy dream, Tanzania needs sufficient electricity for industries to operate smoothly, create employment opportunities and stabilise peace.

Col Mwila admitted that herders armed with traditional weapons attacked rangers and village game scouts when impounding livestock in the park, sometimes leading to injury of both civilians and the militiamen.

Mbarali District Commissioner Denis Mwila is surprised to see human rights defenders remain silent when criminals injure or kill Ruaha National Park rangers and village game scouts in the park as if the militiamen and women do not have the right to live.

“Surprisingly, the media, non-governmental organisations and politicians raise their voices when a herder is injured or killed in such clashes, but remain tight-lipped when a ranger or a village game scout is injured or killed,” observed Col Mwila, wondering whether the militiamen and village game scouts did not have the right to live.

The rich soil fertility in the Usangu flood plain compounded by soil erosion upstream leads wealthier farmers, herders and anglers to commission the ‘unnamed researchers’ to protect their own selfish interests.

By December last year, the district with an area of 16,000 square kilometres had a population of over 446,300 people and 374,000 cows, competing for the 5,000 square metres earmarked for agriculture, livestock keeping and fishery.

Ruaha National Park covers about 10,000-square-kilometre area of the district while Mpanga Kipengere Game Reserve covers the remaining 1,000 square kilometres.

“Given its contribution to conservation and electricity generation, the Usangu flood plain is an important area not only to the farmers, herders and anglers, but also to all over 60 million Tanzanians and the world at large,” Col Mwila stressed.

Trucks laden with tonnes of rice from Madundas Village in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, negotiate on an earth road.

He said behind the ongoing semi-mechanised farming and livestock keeping activities in the district were prominent members of the business community, politicians and civil servants with financial muscle.

“Unlike in other areas, farming in Mbarali is reliable. As we speak, we have 4,000 power tillers, over 3,000 tractors and some combine harvesters,” Col Mwila explained.

Last season, the district harvested 620,000 tonnes of rice. A farm was leased at between $115 and $190 while a combine harvester was hired at between $70 and $77 per hectare.

A farmer had to invest between $460 and $577 in paddy farming to harvest between 30 and 45 bags of the crop per acreΩ

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