Effectively resolving conflicts is an essential ingredient of all peaceful societies, so an article in a leading Tanzanian newspaper last Thursday provides an interesting glimpse into the ways a village in the Fipa section of the country is handling a local dispute.
The difficulty concerns a Mr. Said Mohammed, who has been harassing his neighbors and not getting along with the leaders in his community, Milepa, located in the Sumbawanga District of Tanzania’s Rukwa Region. The news report gave enough details to reveal the extent of the local animosities that have built up.
Apparently, the trouble began when Mr. Mohammed started charging his neighbors up to Sh500,000 (US$314) each time he caught someone’s cattle roaming into his farmland. It is not clear from the news report what earlier events had prompted Mr. Mohammed’s actions. Perhaps the cattle had often entered his land and the neighbors had not offered to pay damages. The article did say that if the owner of the cattle refused to pay the fine, Mr. Mohammed would then slaughter the animals for his own use.
The details of the charges, and Mr. Mohammed’s countercharges, came out at a meeting called by the Regional Commissioner of Rukwa Region, Ms. Stella Manyanya, who was visiting the village along with some other regional officials to attempt a reconciliation. “We can’t continue living with this man,” said Mr. Potino Simfukwe, a resident of the village. Mr. Simfukwe begged the Regional Commissioner to take Mr. Mohammed away with her, or else “something terrible would happen.”
The chairman of the village, Mr. Godfrey Njelu, told the Regional Commissioner that there had been numerous complaints about the actions of Mr. Mohammed, so the villagers had reached an agreement to “deregister” him, meaning, evidently, to evict him from the community where he had been born 40 years before.
While being evicted from ones home village might seem like a small matter to some, to a farmer in Tanzania, this could be a disastrous development, though doubtless better than being murdered in the middle of the night. In any case, Mr. Mohammed had his chance at the hearing to present his side of the story.
He told Ms. Manyanya that he was the victim of the village leaders, who had mobilized public opinion against him which led to him being rejected. He said that he had been questioning the village leaders about suspicious matters that they had handled improperly. He alleged, for example, that the leaders had spent money from the Tanzania Social Action Fund improperly.
He also said he had told the village leaders that pastoralists had brought large herds of cattle into the village without following proper procedures. He also told Ms. Manyanya that he had been arguing for a land management plan for the village that would allocate different areas for livestock, farming, and forest reserves, but the leaders had not taken any action yet on his proposals.
As with all such local disputes, for outsiders interested in the maintenance of peaceful societies the interest in the story is in the ways the people handle their conflict. Mr. Mohammed did not deny the allegations against him—that he has taken a high handed approach to dealing with his neighbors, who, for whatever reasons, don’t care to try and keep their cattle off his farm land.
Willis (1981) makes it clear that there have traditionally been divisions in Fipa society between herders and farmers, and the story last week implies that the hostilities reported in a 2009 news story about cattlemen/farmer tensions persist. At least the violence that was reported in 2009 has not occurred this time.
Of more interest is the fact that the villagers at Milepa tried to ostracize the perceived troublemaker in a peaceful fashion—by taking away his right to live in the village. But their authority to do that must not be clear because, the news report indicates, the village leaders then appealed to the Regional Commissioner for her help. She evidently views such local disputes seriously enough that she took the time to visit the village personally to hear all sides of the issue.
This is conflict resolution at its finest. It is hard to imagine an elected official at a comparable level in America, say Paul LePage, the Governor of the State of Maine, driving out to Kingfield, a small, rural community, because the residents are upset with a local crank who is trying to stop them from driving their snowmobiles through his yard—then confiscating and destroying the machines whenever possible. Would Governor LePage bring members of his cabinet to listen to the complaining?
Unfortunately, the news report from Tanzania does not indicate how Ms. Manyanya decided the matter, or even if she made a decision. Perhaps she felt it was best to allow tempers to cool, and promised to propose a solution at a later point. Hopefully, the newspaper will publish an update on the story.