Decentralization from Above, Dispossession by Recognition: Contradictions in Tanzania's New Wave Land Reforms

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Juan José del Valle Coello


Recent decades have seen a surge in land reform throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, largely described as “new wave” land reforms aiming to promote rural development through decentralization and formal recognition of claims to land. Focusing on Tanzania, a country with historically highly centralized land management, this investigation examines how new legislation, in particular the 1999 Village Land Act, has attempted to address both local concerns and international pressures and evaluates how successful reforms have been in terms of both. This paper analyzes these reforms in the context of neoliberalism and the related “pro-poor growth” model, which advocates for the formalization and marketization of land titles as a long-term solution to rural poverty. It first provides a theoretical background on the debates surrounding land reform strategies and then examines specific examples from reforms in Tanzania.

Tanzania’s reforms have been guided both by local grievances (such as lack of clarity and security regarding access to land) and international pressures (desiring, among other things, greater ease of foreign investment and the creation of a rural land market); as such, issues have frequently arisen in attempting to reconcile sometimes contradictory demands and determining priorities. The results of reforms have been mixed. Formalization, in particular, has shown the potential to exacerbate inequality instead of reducing it, and the process of formalization itself can lead to an increase in conflict over land. However, reforms have also opened new avenues for previously marginalized groups, such as pastoralists, to secure land access through participation in civil society.

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del Valle Coello, J. (2017). Decentralization from Above, Dispossession by Recognition: Contradictions in Tanzania’s New Wave Land Reforms. IU Journal of Undergraduate Research, 3(1), 54-61.
Social Sciences