Tanzania forest project runs into trouble

SQUABBLES: The project is aimed to promote good governance and improved accountability in the forestry sector in Tanzania, REDD is the source of the entire dispute and we are not ready to give our land to Kisongwe come what may,” he vowed.

KILOSA, MOROGORO -  Reducing emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) that is being implemented in Kisongwe village, Kilosa district boundary (over 500km from Dar es Salaam) has caused dispute with their neighbouring village of Rudewa-Batini, after the former claimed to have invaded the latter’s location in a bid to expand  its project. 
The dispute is said to have started some 10 years ago, but became more serious after the REDD project prospered in Kisongwe.
The project is aimed to promote good governance and improved accountability in the forestry sector in Tanzania. The initiative is a partnership between the Community Forest Conservation Network of Tanzania, known as MJUMITA and the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.
Speaking to a team of experts and journalists who visited the two villages under MJUMITA Rudewa - Batini Village Executive Officer (VEO) Juma Mfaume Mdangu said they were surprised when they saw Kisongwe villagers surveying a portion of land at the boarder claiming it was theirs only for the purpose of expanding their REDD project.
“They requested our people to vacate the area and that it was part of their village as they had been given by the Division Secretary (of whom he didn’t mention his name),” he told the team.
He said the Rudewa-Batini residents refused after noticing that even the people from Kisongwe didn’t know the exact boundary between their village and Rudewa-Batini village.
“We are aware that their boundary is located at Msele Mountain. There is a signboard there pasted in a tree indicating where our village ends and theirs commences,” he said.
The VEO said they advised them (Kisongwe) leaders to provide maps that indicate the boundary and /or come with elders who will help identify the old boundaries of the two villages, but all in vain.
“We reported the matter to the Division Secretary but he told us blankly that what he had decided was final,” he said.
Adding “We are aware that all this is because we think these leaders have stake in the REDD project. REDD is the source of the entire dispute and we are not ready to give our land to Kisongwe come what may,” he vowed.
 Rudewa –Batini councilor Subira Joseph Mwanamsisi claimed that they were not involved when the district government was surveying land for Kisongwe’s project to improve forest governance and local livelihoods.
“It was only done on one side while we are neighbours. We have our village map and we have the elders who know well our boundaries and we are aware that Kizunguti River is part of our land,” he said.
He emphasized that Kisongwe border is located at Msele Mountain, though the Division secretary dictates that the boundary must be at the river. “We are not ready for that,” he said.
The Rudewa-Batini village Chairman Omary Mohammed Maboga noted that they refused to follow the government directive for allowing their boundary to be deterred forcibly. “All administration matters, including all elections, census etc are done within our location why today our people and land be shifted to Kisongwe,”? he queried.
He pointed an accusing finger and threw all the blames to the district authorities for allowing the REDD project at the expense Rudewa-Batini residents while benefiting only Kisongwe residents.
Speaking to Kisongwe forests committee and village leadership, MJUMITA Eastern Zone Coordinator, for Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and Coast region Fatma Kitine said the boundary dispute between the two villages had lasted long and greatly hampered the forestry projects.
 “These problems concern forest conservation hence Kisongwe village leaders have done their best but in vain. They have held meetings, met district leaders and their neighbours but nothing has been achieved,” she said.
The Coordinator said the solution has failed because leaders from Rudewa-Batini have refused to collaborate and they continue living inside Kilungula forest reserve thinking they had the right to do so.
Thomas Chiduo a Kisongwe elder and former village chairman said although the dispute started in 1998/1999, things became worse in 2012 when the REDD project started bearing fruits. “When the project became a success, Rudewa residents invaded the forest reserve claiming it was theirs and that is when they started cultivating, cutting down trees, harvesting timber and carrying out other activities,” he explained.
He said worse was when the Rudewa-Batini residents decided to pull out beacons located as boundaries between Kisongwe and Rudewa - Batini villages.
The Kilosa District Forest Officer Sebastian Malisa said the dispute was a serious one that needed the support of top district officials and advised both parties to send the matter to the district commissioner for further action.
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