Sunday, 13 May 2012


Water lilies in Ihefu
In an earlier post ('Diani Beach: a forgotten land grab?') I wrote about land alienation on the Kenya coast, and mentioned in passing the East African case of land (and water) grabbing that has exercised me most, the expansion of Ruaha National Park and expulsion of livestock keepers and others from their homes in Usangu, in Mbarali District. My paper on this case, 'The not-so-Great Ruaha and hidden histories of an environmental panic in Tanzania', has just been published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, as part of a collection on the 'Politics of Rain' edited by Michael Sheridan. It's taken a long time to get this into print -- I drafted the article in 2008, using data gathered in the course of investigative research undertaken the previous year and compiled in a consultancy report (Walsh 2008). During the process of (more than one) submission and revision I was able to update some of the information contained in the paper, but the basic narrative remains the same, and has not been changed by anything I've learned since. In lieu of a longer post on subsequent developments, here's a taster of the paper:

Cattle in Ihefu (before the evictions)
The abstract...

Water is one of the world's most contested resources, and Africa's river basins are no exception. In December 1993 the Great Ruaha River upstream of Tanzania's Mtera Dam stopped flowing for the first time in living memory. This became a matter of national concern in 1995 when electricity shortages and rationing in Dar es Salaam were blamed by the national power supply company (TANESCO) on the continuing drying-up of the Great Ruaha. Since then different institutions and interest groups have sought to explain the river's increasing seasonality, focusing on resource use in and around its immediate source, the Usangu wetland, and laying the blame on different groups of resource users. In 1998 the core of the wetland (Ihefu) was gazetted as part of a new game reserve, and fishermen and livestock keepers were forcibly removed. Increasing government concern over power shortages culminated in the mass expulsion in 2006–07 of livestock keepers and their cattle from Usangu and Mbarali District, large parts of which were to be incorporated in an expanded Ruaha National Park. This was the largest eviction of its kind in recent Tanzanian history, widely condemned by NGOs and in the national and international media. This article examines in detail the development of the environmental panic and events which led to this eviction, highlighting the behind-the-scenes role played by actors and interests in the public and private sectors in fostering the panic and its controversial outcome.

Fishing in Ihefu (before the evictions)
...and the introductory paragraph:

In his speech at the official opening of parliament on 30th December 2005, Tanzania’s newly elected president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, sketched out his government’s agenda for ‘environmental conservation’ and singled out particular problems for attention. One of these was the worrying situation in one of Tanzania’s most important sub-catchments:
"A few areas need special and urgent measures to protect the environment because the situation has deteriorated to an extent that it affects other sectors. One such area is the Ruaha River Basin, which connects almost all major river systems in the country. We have watched as the situation at the Mtera Dam deteriorated. The Great Ruaha River is no longer great—it is almost dry in some parts. The Government at all levels should now intervene and be ready to be held to account for this situation. This damage must be stopped, and reversed."
In response to this and subsequent exhortations Kikwete’s government did indeed take “special and urgent measures” to protect the Great Ruaha. These actions focused on the immediate origin of the river: the wetlands of Usangu in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region. In May 2006 hundreds of cattle herders and their animals were evicted – not for the first time – from Usangu Game Reserve and the permanent Ihefu swamp. In June it was announced that this protected area would be upgraded to become part of an expanded Ruaha National Park, and between November 2006 and January 2007 large numbers of livestock keepers, most of them Sukuma agropastoralists, were forced to leave Mbarali District together with their herds. According to one (probably exaggerated) estimate, more than 300,000 cattle were driven out of the district, around two-thirds of them to Lindi and Coast Regions in the east of the country. This drastic eviction was roundly condemned by pro-pastoralist and civil society organisations in Tanzania, who pointed out that not only were livestock and their keepers in Usangu being blamed for environmental crimes that they had not committed, but also that the process of eviction had involved a number of human rights violations. In April 2007 the government established a special Commission of Enquiry to investigate these allegations, and its completed report was submitted to the president in early June 2007. Despite questions in the Tanzanian parliament, neither the report nor its findings have yet been made public (as of November 2010).

Needless to say, this is still the case, and at a recent meeting in Iringa President Kikwete defiantly declared that he would not allow evicted livestock keepers to return to the protected wetland because of its economic importance to the nation ('Ihefu wetlands out of bounds', Daily News, 23 March 2012).


Anonymous 2012. Ihefu wetlands out of bounds. Daily News (online edition), Friday 23 March 2012.

Walsh, Martin 2008. Pastoralism and Policy Processes in Tanzania: Mbarali Case Study. Report to the Tanzania National Resource Forum (TNRF), Arusha.

Walsh, Martin 2012. The not-so-Great-Ruaha and hidden histories of an environmental panic in TanzaniaJournal of Eastern African Studies 6 (2): 303-335. [A limited number of eprints are available here.]


  1. Margaret Dunham14 May 2012 at 11:39

    Great work, Martin, very interesting.
    Farther from the coast in Tanzania, in the Singida region, people are probably going to be in a dire situation when mining companies come in for the gold in Sekenke. I have no way of going to see what is happening. Five years ago, I noted teams of Chinese and Japanese working on building roads. Quite a few mixed children along those roads.
    Do you have any more articles on water? It is a subject I am currently investigating, I would be happy for any leads.
    All the best,

  2. Thanks, Margaret, great to hear from you.

    I've not been following developments in the mining sector closely, but know that a number of good researchers have been working on this subject.

    For lots about water, and especially water governance, I recommend Bradford University's Splash site at And there are more links on this page:

  3. Here's a blogger that sees the 2006 evictions as a "win, win".

  4. Thanks Susanna, this isn't surprising given the source. Likewise a contributor to the latest issue of Tanzanian Affairs describes Kikwete's recent snub to evictees as "good news" ( The author is a tour operator.

  5. I find it confusing, even if the writer were unaware of that the evicted people can still be described as IDPs, and I can’t see how it adds up with the water levels described at

  6. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Yours is a very atmospheric blog, btw. It’s like in the 80s finding a dusty old book from the 50s, or a brochure from the 60s about something vitally important. It didn’t happen often enough and I don’t think I’d survived without the advent of the internet that’s like everyday switching on the tv and finding a one-hour interview with the writer from the 50s who has written a new book, or in the local paper discovering a new weekly column from the premises of the 60s brochure. Though sometimes Taylor and Francis ask me to pay more than for a big fat book to read 32 pages.

  7. I should have said drop me a line if you'd like a free copy of the paper. (I never pay those charges.)

  8. Mr Martin Walsh,
    Wish to join the many Africans in East Africa who have read your publications on the people, environment and its people. I come from Makete an area occupied by Kinga tribe. Dr George Park's publications on the Kinga I found on the net are very inspiring and resourceful. We are very greatful to him for having laboured to reserach for so long ( 1950-2002). If you have his contact enmail could you please share so that I just send a word of thanks to him. Rayben Sanga, Dressalaam, Tanzania

    1. Thanks -- unfortunately I don't have a current contact for George Park...