Loading...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have Tanzanians Forgotten Forced Villagization?

The "Danish PhD Candidate researching land rights and land reforms" in the so-called "Sub-Saharan Africa" never ceases to amaze me with his 'revisionist history'. This time he has come up with a blog post entitled 'Nyerere, Operation Vijiji and Violent Land Administration'. There are strange claims that makes me wonder if doing doctoral studies entails concocting a revised history to make one appear as if s/he has something new to say!

Writing in his blog known as 'Land Affairs' the researcher makes this claim: "Most Tanzanians prefer to forget operation vijiji?" But which Tanzanians is he really talking about? Virtually everywhere I have done research on land conflicts in the last seven years or so the year 1974 keeps coming up because it still has implications on the Tanzanians in the present - how can they then forget? I recall even asking my grandmother what she remembered about Nyerere and her response included 'Operesheni Vijiji'! While in Kilwa in Lindi and Kilolo in Iringa researching 'land grabbing/grabs' that moment was invoked again by villagers in relation to how it continued to add conflictual nuances to the land tenure problems intensified by larg-scale land investments to the extent that the repetition even made me think of writing an article entitled '1974 in the Tanzanian Imagination'!

Yet our new found expert on land affairs goes on to make claims that can hardly be justified:


Coincidentally yesterday I was quoting from this same article/chapter by Issa Shivji in my paper on Mahmood Mamdani's conception of decentralized/centralized despotism as applied to Africa in general and Tanzania in particularly. The article that the traveling researcher dismissively quote from has been of particular interest to me because out of so many texts that Shivji has produced that is the one I and my co-editor, Annar Cassam, chose to include it in the Pambazuka News' Special Issue on Mwalimu Nyerere that was subsequently published as an edited book entitled Africa's Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere as it did not simply hailed him uncritically. Nowhere does Shivji ignore the obvious fatal consequences of Operation Vijiji as it is claimed. The quote below that the researcher apparently used to make his outrageous claims by no means ignore such consequences that Shivji has also covered agitatingly in many of his publications on land including the 1994 report from the Presidential Commission on Inquiry into Land Matters that he chaired in 1992.


Now does the new land explorer want the seasoned land rights activist and lawyer to enumerate all those "dubious achievements" associated with forced villagization to qualify himself as not ignoring its fatal consequences? Or does he want him to recycle the passage below from his 2009 book entitled Where is Uhuru? Reflections on the Struggle for Democracy to show that he has not forgotten what forced villagization did to Tanzanians?


And if that is not enough does he have to recite again this passage in his media articles collected in his 2006 book entitled Let The People Speak: Tanzania Down the Road to Neo-Liberalism to convince the doctoral researcher that villagisation still matters?


Does one need to reproduce over and over again 'violence phonographically' to appear that s/he is not ignoring the suffering that his/her fellow citizens/subjects went through? Is that the way a nation heals - by replaying a tragedy graphically and frenziedly lest they forget? A people need such a reminder about their history that is not ancient but an actual lived reality?

The researcher, alas, seems to have found a new minefield of research to the extent that he makes the shameful claim below about the dearth of literature on forced villagization even though he has never even bothered to ask some of the key researchers and main research institutes/organizations on land rights in Tanzania about such literature - it was even a pity to learn that there can be a land affairs researcher who get to present papers in credible conferences and write working papers on Tanzania in a respected series whilst making sweeping claims about the state of the literature on land without visiting the physical archival library of Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI/HAKIARDHI)!


Did the researcher ever bother to revisit the archive of the African Review of Political Economy (ROAPE) that is 'littered' with academic articles on - including those written during the context of - villagization? Has he bothered to do a literature review of the books - including those that are out of print yet accessible through various channels - that were published by the then Tanzanian Publishing House (TPH) in the 1970s and 1980s? And does he even try to read Tanzanian novels such as the one that I cited in the quote below from an article I wrote or maybe they are not of an academic genre for doctoral studies? Could it be his ranting is a simple shortcut to get rebuttals that would give him a clue about references?

"It is not surprising then that the negative effects on the dignity and autonomy of those who were forcefully collectivized into villages are engraved in our collective consciousness. In imaginative ways that clearly borders the reality of non-fiction vis-à-vis the fantasy of fiction, they are reflected in cultural works such as Claude Mung’ong’o’s (1980) Njozi Iliyopotea i.e. ‘The Lost Vision’ and Chachage’s (1981) Sudi ya Yohana i.e. ‘The Tragedy of John, which appeared in the aftermath of enforced villagization. This paradox of development is summed up well by Africa’s first Nobel Laureate for Literature in his muse on Culture, Memory and Development:

"On the one hand, Ujamaa was evolved from certain principles of traditional social organization which had emerged through cultural evolution. On the other hand, violence was done to this obviously organic process by uprooting cohesive communities, relocating then in comparatively modernist villages where social amenities and access to centralized organs of development could be provided. The effect of this on the existing cultural security, itself a non-negligible factor and agent of productivity, was underrated. We are speaking here of a quantity beyond sentimental attachments. Century old and tested modes of production were abruptly interrupted; the results was, even in Nyerere’s admission, not the developmental model it was expected to be. Let me add by the way that I was, and still am, a believer in the basic philosophy of Ujamaa; indeed, I eulogized it in a poem. That aspect of interrupting, in such artificial way, the cultural cohesion of a community was however, one which remained for me, frankly, troublesome (Soyinka 1992: 205)" - http://www.norrag.org/issues/article/1096/en/engendering-sustainable-development-through-a-synthesis-of-struggles-for-cultural-liberty.html?PHPSESSID=947d5669e553ae242f631812c33206b0


Howard Stein who, together with Kelly Askew, have been researching land titling in such villages in the last three years or so do not even dare to make such sweeping claim that the doctoral researcher makes as if he has really exhausted the Tanzanian archive. Why? Because Stein is very much aware of the literature on the subject given the fact that he was living and lecturing in Tanzania when it was hotly debate and written about. In fact he co-edited a book in 1992 that has chapters that address the forced villagization problematic. No wonder an article with some of the preliminary results fom their ongoing research has this passage:


It is actually very difficult to meet any scholar of Tanzania who does not associate, even if it is in passing, Nyerere and forced villagization. Similarly it is very hard to get a book on Tanzania, whether political or historical, that covers 1970s yet does touch, even if it is scantly, on the issue of forced villagization. Now how can such a preoccupation escape our rising Africanist researcher? Maybe the clue is in this introduction of his to another post:

"Some days, I find reports on my desk which are so thick that I’m about to give up before opening them. In particular, scholars and activists working within the land grab business tend to produce this type of reports. It is as if they believe that the multitude of words, the length of the list of abbreviations, and the sheer number of pages can transmit the sufferings experienced by the local communities, whose land has been illegally acquired by investors or expropriated by the state. The Tanzanian policy analyst, Chambi Chachage, has produced a couple of this kind of reports. I have had them on my desk for quite a while, wondering if I would ever get to read them. Over the last couple of weeks I did. It turned out to be rewarding and thought provoking reading" - http://land-affairs.typepad.com/tanzania/2011/06/a-crash-course-in-tanzanian-politics-please.html

In the quest to come up with new findings in a path that is well trodden own can do a lot of injustice to those who have passed before. As much as critical revisionist history is important in debunking conventional historiography it is not an excuse to make dubious claims that masquerade as authoritative scholarship. Maybe the professor who advises his doctoral students not to rush to present/publish before they really have something to say has a point.

3 comments:

Rasmus March 25, 2012 at 2:03 PM  

Dear Chambi,
Thank you for your very insightful reaction to my blog post about Villagisation and land administration. You obviously know a lot about the topic - a lot more than I do.
My point with the blog post was not to criticise professor Shivji. My point was that he, in the article I quote from, is ambivalent when he evaluate Nyerere’s presidency. There were good and bad sides about this presidency. Most of the Tanzanians I have met feel the same. But most Tanzanians tend to focus on the positive aspects. So do most of the newspaper articles I have read. That is very understandable. Nyerere is a towering figure in Tanzania’ history and he contributed greatly to the country’s development.
When I discuss villagisation in the blog post, it is because I try to understand the consequences it may have on land administration today. That is the topic of the PhD I am writing. You may not find any of it new or interesting and I guess I can not do much to change that. The blog posts I write are reflections of my thoughts while I do my research. Only rarely are blog posts revelatory, particularly not to land experts. But I hope that they may provide new insights to people who are less knowledgeable about land affairs in Tanzania than you.
I do not – unfortunately – have a Tanzanian grandmother I can quote. But I hope that some of the insights of an outsider may be of value anyhow.
Best wishes,
Rasmus

Unknown March 29, 2012 at 10:52 PM  

Thanks for the refreshing and critical look at some retrospective readings of Ujamaa and African socialism today. The list of resources that you provided do not only show the extend of knowledge on the topic but also your personal experiences working on land tenure issues in Tanzania. I agree that there seems to a trope, a way of representing Africa so to speak , where "indigenous experts" are sidelined and certain arguments are continuously recycled. We must be careful as scholars not to force data into our hypothesis rather data should give us new ways of asking questions and framing our questions. But we must remind ourselves that it this these kinds of exchanges that enrich our understanding.

Unknown March 29, 2012 at 10:52 PM  

Thanks for the refreshing and critical look at some retrospective readings of Ujamaa and African socialism today. The list of resources that you provided do not only show the extend of knowledge on the topic but also your personal experiences working on land tenure issues in Tanzania. I agree that there seems to a trope, a way of representing Africa so to speak , where "indigenous experts" are sidelined and certain arguments are continuously recycled. We must be careful as scholars not to force data into our hypothesis rather data should give us new ways of asking questions and framing our questions. But we must remind ourselves that it this these kinds of exchanges that enrich our understanding.

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP