LAW REFORM AND LAND RIGHTS IN TANZANIA
To be presented to the XVI International Aids Conference Toronto,
Canada13th – 18th August 2006
Elizabeth Maro Minde,
P. O. Box 1873,
Tel: +255 27 2751121
MOSHI – TANZANIA
Land reforms are rooted in the historic legacies of Tanzania. Before colonialism,
the clan system, according to which land belonged to the community was
dominant. Land was held under Customary Law. According to this system, Land
belonged to men and women were dependants.
The impact of colonialisation was to introduce another land tenure system
popularly referred to as Granted Right of Occupancy. Under this system all Land
belonged to the Governor. The new Land tenure system did not have significant
impact on women. Customary Law and practices continued to inhibit women from
As early as 1898 a Declaration by the German Rulers was to the effect that, all
Land belonged to the Chancellor.
The British as per the 1923 Land Ordinance declared all Land to be Public Land
Under the Governor as the overall custodian.
Thus a dual land tenure system was practiced. Customary titles are freehold
titles with no development conditions. The titles are recognized as belonging to a
particular clan but not registered. Inheritance according to customary law was
through the male issue and ownership of land by women was limited. Women
could only use land but could not sell or bequeath it to their children.
The Land Ordinance 1923 governed only registered Land. Land in Urban areas
was registered and Certificate of Titles issued. One can get a short term Lease
for one year or a long lease for 33 or 66 or 99 years is the maximum. Land in the
Rural areas was governed by Customary Law and no titles were issued.
Law Reform and Land Rights in Tanzania
At the end of the lease period, the lease can be renewed. Apart from rights of
Occupancy having fixed time, they carried with them development conditions.
It is important to mention here that Land is the life line of people. The majority of
Tanzanians live in rural areas and the industrial base is very poor. Because of
the heavy reliance on Land by many people, issues relating to Land are
It is further observed that the sensitivity becomes even more critical when viewed
in the light of HIV/AIDS. Denial of rights to land for HIV/AIDS victims is a denial to
We shall examine problems of Land as they affect victims of HIV/AIDS and the
approaches of KWIECO with the view to propose strategies to advance women’s
1.2 Factors which necessitated Land Reforms in Tanzania.
The following factors enhanced the need to change the Land Law:-
Increased population of people and animals. This means
that Land available for use decreased and consequently
Increased demand for Land use led to degradation of
Increased awareness about value of Land led to Land
conflicts in both Urban and Rural areas.
Changes in the mode of Land ownership from a clan based
system to an individual system brought about by introduction
of Land markets, this applied particularly in areas where
Land is suitable for agriculture.
The existence of laws that prohibited certain traditional Land
ownership systems such as Nyarubanja enfranchisement
The villagisation programme 1971 – 1976.
The introduction of planned villages necessarily affected the
Court of Appeal decisions which recognized the planned
villages and provided the manner in which problems of clan
ownership can be handled.
The Village Act No. 22 of 1992, which legalized ownership of
Land granted to people during the implementation of the
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1.3 Land Commission and Land Policy
In 1991 the Government appointed a Commission to investigate into
problems relating to Land. The Commission finalized its work in 1993.
Many issues were identified and as a consequence of their
recommendations, the Land Policy was passed.
One of the issues identified was about gender discrimination in
distribution, inheritance and ownership of Land.
1.4 Land Act No. 4
Village Land Act No. 5
The main objectives of these laws are to provide for the basic law in
relation to land, management of Land, settlement of disputes and
Act No. 4 deals with Land other than village land and Act No. 5
concerns Village Land.
all Land in Tanzania is public Land vested in the President
as trustee for all citizens
all Tanzanians men and women above 18 years have rights
to acquire and own Land.
all existing rights are recognized and protected. This
includes customary titles.
Land should be used productively and that such use
complies with the principles of sustainable development.
that land has value
amount of land to be granted to any person or company be
full, fair and prompt compensation be paid to owners in the
event that, land is acquired for public purposes.
facilitate the operation of market in Land.
to provide for an efficient, effective economical and
transparent system of Land administration.
people of all sexes be represented in all decision fora for
1.5 Land Right issues and strategies for addressing them
a) Despite the conducive policy women are still discriminated. The
Law has changed but not the attitude of people. Women in Rural
areas are still dependent on men and cultural practices still
A case in point is:-
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A certain lady lost her husband due to HIV/AIDS. Two days after
burial their neighbour trespassed their land and extended his
boundary about 50 metres.
When the widow asked the man retorted “I cannot discuss with a
dead person” This meant that, because her husband died of AIDS
therefore she is also a dead person otherwise a defenseless
person. She felt extremely hurt and came to KWIECO for
assistance. The issue was not only that land rights were infringed
but that the motive behind was the sero status.
Subsequently a Court case was filed on her behalf. But this did not
end the problem. When she went home banana trees and plants
were cut down and her young children were harassed. For this she
had to go to Police. Considering her sero status, making her move
from court to Police to KWIECO made the victim even weaker.
The inability of an HIV positive person to fight a sustained Legal
battle is known within the community. This creates a conducive
atmosphere for the rights of HIV positive persons to be abused.
When the HIV positive happens to be a woman, the likelihood of
Dealing with attitudes requires a long term strategy. Awareness
creation through conscious sensitization of communities about laws
and discriminative practices that hinder gender equality is
important. KWIECO addresses the issue by organizing seminars,
workshops, role plays and posters with important messages to
Land Laws, Inheritance Laws and Marriage Laws are among the
important Laws that are addressed.
The current situation, is that people view HIV/AIDS impacted
persons as helpless and therefore as an opportunity to advance
their own greed.
One of the desired outcomes of the awareness creation is thus to
change the discriminatory attitudes towards attitudes of support and
care for the victims.
The other strategy used by KWIECO is through the Children Legal
Services, which aims to sensitize children as a long term strategy.
Children can adopt changes easily and if imparted with modern
Human Rights ideals, this may enhance changesy of attitudes.
4 Law Reform and Land Rights in Tanzania
b) Registration of Land and issue of titles for rural Lands is still
resisted. People do not understand the value of titles. In fact in
some places they fear and suspect the government motive of
wanting Land to be registered. People fear that their Land would be
taken if it is registered. Women in most cases do not register
themselves as owners or co-owners of Land. This is so despite the
Land Act 1999 allowing women to own Land either in their own right
or jointly with their spouses. The prohibiting factor is culture which
respects men as owners of Land.
Land is the main collateral for securing loans. Because Cultural
factors prevent women from owning Land, they are therefore
denied access to capital and also the potential to economic
Women who are HIV positive desparately need economic
empowerment, in order to provide them with the fundamental
necessities of life. A well balanced diet, money for transport to
hospital and counselling centres and provision of security for the
family, are examples of such necessities which are unobtainable
without the access to capital.
The life and condition of a woman living with HIV is therefore
jeopardized due to her inability to exercise her right to be a
registered owner of Land.
Awareness creation is regarded as a long term solution to the issue
of titles. By educating people about banking and loan systems and
about the legal value of title deeds, we can encourage people to
register as Land owners. In the situation of women this can have a
significant positive impact on their ability to fight for their rights. It
allows them to move away from the clan based system that is
prone to discriminate against women, and towards the
constitutional system that is more likely to protect them.
c) Women are represented in all decision making fora for Land but
they do not know what to do in those meetings.
Their participation is passive.
As discussed in (a) and (b) awareness creation is the long term
solution. At the village and ward Land committees, level women
are not assertive and often unaware of women’s Land issues, and
of the potential impact that they can make through the committees.
Both men and women must be educated on these issues.
5 Law Reform and Land Rights in Tanzania
d) Inheritance Laws have not changed to match changes in Land Law.
Thus while Land law allows women to own land, inheritance Laws
are silent: Customary Inheritance Laws still recognize inheritance
through the male issue.
Women have to put up a real fight in order to get inheritance related
Land rights. Cases end up in High Court or Court of Appeal. An
infected victim lacks the energy and support to sustain the struggle.
Assistance through Court representation allows women to assert
their constitutional right to own Land. Court precedents are created
which also help the legal machinery to appreciate the concerns
about women’s Land rights.
e) Emphasis on investment in Land has marginalized small farmers
who are mainly women.
Land is the engine of economic growth and population’s survival. In
Tanzania 80% of GDP comes from agriculture therefore any denial of
access to or ownership of Land can have severe consequences to
These consequences can be particularly acute when women are the
ones involved. Women living with HIV disproportionately suffer more
Land rights infringement.
Since traditional cultural attitudes are in general more to blame than a
lack of constitutional equality, a major effort must be made to sensitize
both men and women in communities. In the event of failure to attain
mutual respect for all through sensitization, a mechanism must exist for
women’s concerns to be heard and represented.
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