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Conflict over Land Resources in Kilosa, Tanzania

Kilosa, a district of the Morogoro region in Eastern Tanzania, has a history of resource-related conflicts surrounding land and forest tenure and management. These conflicts stem from a mix of environmental, social, economic and political factors that have aggravated resource-related tensions between pastoralists and farmers in the region. Moving forward, the district of Kilosa will need more conflict-sensitive and sustainable initiatives in order to sufficiently handle forest and land resources while avoiding the exacerbation of existing tensions.

Conceptual Model

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeFragility and Conflict RisksIntermediary MechanismsMore frequent/intense extreme weather events reduce available natural resources.Changes in land use reduce available/usable natural resources.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources reduces available resources and ecosystem services.Reduced availability of/access to natural resources leads to distributive conflicts between societal groups.An increase in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts.More Frequent / Intense Extreme Weather EventsGrowing, scarcity of essential natural resources.Natural Resource ScarcityA, change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use ChangeReduced availability of essential natural resources, such as land and water.Change in Access / Availability of Natural ResourcesNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal Groups

Conflict history

At approximately 5 a.m. on 8 December 2000, pastoral Maasai warriors attacked the Rudewa Mbuyuni village in the Kilosa district of Tanzania, killing 38 villagers and wounding even more (Benjaminsen et al., 2009). Kilosa, one of six districts in the Morogoro region of Eastern Tanzania, has, in the past, experienced resource-related tensions and numerous conflicts between pastoralists and farmers (Mutabazi et al., 2014; Dyngeland & Eriksson, 2011). The  causes of the violence, can be traced to a mix of environmental, social, economic and political changes in the years leading up to the event (Kisoza, 2007).

Growing land scarcity

Across Tanzania, both farmers and pastoralists rely on land and forest resources (Kisoza, 2007). In recent years, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as drought and flooding, which contribute to soil erosion, limiting the amount of usable land for grazing and farming (Paavola, 2004).

Conservation projects, such as the Mikumi National Park that covers 23% of Kilosa, have also limited land resources that are crucial to the livelihoods of both pastoralists and farmers (Benjaminsen et al., 2009). Increased development of agriculture also led to the marginalisation of pastoralists (Kisoza, 2007).

Political marginalisation of pastoralists

Historically, pastoralists were considered unsustainable and environmentally destructive by government authorities, often blamed for environmental degradation such as desertification. Consequently, national policies have reflected these ideas (Benjaminsen et al., 2009). The view of pastoralism as unsustainable has been reinforced by the pressure that a growing urban population places on government to maintain food self-sufficiency; therefore, government policies and economic reforms have encouraged agricultural expansion and intensification, often at the expense of subsistence agropastoralism and small scale farming. The December 2000 conflict in the Rudewa Mbuyuni village was the result of a dispute over wetland area between farmers and pastoralists (Benjaminsen et al., 2009).

The ‘Kilosa Killings’ and distrust of government

Another compounding factor in pastoralist versus farmer conflict is distrust in local government institutions. The issue of corruption in local government, police and judiciary bodies as well as the unwillingness of these bodies to prevent future conflict has created public distrust in governance. Since governmental institutions have historically neglected to alleviate tensions and solve conflict, pastoralist and farmers have resorted to solving the problems themselves, often escalating into violence, as seen in the Rudwea Mbuyuni village (Benjaminsen et al., 2009).

Conflict resolution

The immediate after-effects of the killings in Kilosa were the termination of the Kilosa District Commission and the demotion and transfer of the Police Commander of Kilosa District . There were also a number of Maasai arrested and some were held in prison for up to a year without trial (Benjaminsen et al., 2009).

Furthermore, while the Prime Minister’s Office set up a commission to investigate the conflict, one of its main recommendations was to encourage pastoralists to stop their nomadic life. This, is consistent with the anti-pastoralist rhetoric and reflects a policy agenda that favours farmers over pastoralists, a sentiment contributing to the political marginalisation driving the original conflict (Benjaminsen et al., 2009).


A 2009 report by Benjaminsen et al. gives a list of recommendations for how to reduce the level of conflict in Kilosa. First, it encourages the establishment of an inter-village institution that would allow farmers and pastoralists to peacefully negotiate the use of the flood plain, a process that could be based off of previous transboundary resource management , such as participatory forest management (PFM), which aims to deal with increasing land scarcity while preserving important forest resources ( Ibrahim, 2016).

The second recommendation for alleviating conflict is to make pastoral resources more productive by recognising pastoralism as a valid activity, using different methods of combatting encroachment on pasture, controlling tse-tse and ticks, constructing dams to maintain water resources for livestock, and reinstating inexpensive veterinary services . However,  while this kind of  support is important, general pastoral policies in Tanzania must also be changed to better consider and include pastoralists (Benjaminsen et al., 2009).

Resilience and Peace Building


Social inclusion & empowerment

Greater recognition of pastoralism as a valid agro-ecological activity, using different methods of combatting encroachment on pasture and a better incorporation of pastoralists into policy making could reduce tensions between groups over land use. This could reduce violence and grievances against the state and sedentary communities.


Promoting peaceful relations

Allowing farmers and pastoralists to peacefully negotiate the use of the flood plain, could engender a process of negotiation and reciprocal agreements. This could draw from previous transboundary resource management schemes, such as participatory forest management (PFM), which aims to deal with changing land uses while developing sustainable arrangements between conflicting land uses. This could mitigate conflict.


Improving infrastructure & services

Controlling tse-tse and ticks, constructing dams to maintain water resources for livestock, and reinstating inexpensive veterinary services could reduce problems faced by pastoralists. This could help promote pastoral systems by increasing resilience to resource shocks brought by climate change.


Improving actionable information

Filling knowledge gaps to better respond to the need for information on the effects of both environmental change and environmental/development policies on local livelihoods and specifically a better understanding pastoralist concerns,could aid diplomacy between pastoralists the state and other land users. A better understanding of concerns could lead to political solutions to problems surrounding conflicting land uses and identify potential for mutual benefits.