Mwanza and Sukumaland

Mwanza and Sukumaland

Mwanza and Sukumaland
Mwanza and Sukumaland

Mwanza is located on the shores of Lake Victoria in the northwest corner of Tanzania. It is the second-largest city in the country with an approximate pop- ulation of 411,900 (Mwanza Municipal Council 1997). With an annual growth rate around 11 percent (8 percent of which is through migration), it has been one of the fastest-growing cities in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s (Lugalla 1995).

From a historical standpoint, it is ironic that Mwanza has become a city of such size and importance. For over a century, colonial and independent authorities have been preoccupied with the region’s rural areas, an area generally known as Suku- maland. There are a number of reasons for this: the Sukuma people are the largest tribal group in Tanzania and have historically identified themselves as agricultural- ists, the region has more rural inhabitants than any other administrative area in the country, and conditions are ideal for growing cotton (Madulu 1998). A political morality espousing the virtues of rural life underpinned efforts by the German and British colonial governments to transform the region into a vast cash-cropping zone based solely on the production and export of cotton (Iliffe 1979). When Tanzania became independent in 1961, rural ideology became the bedrock of Julius Nyerere’s policy of Ujamaa, a socialist-inspired program that attempted to absorb the Sukuma into a national network of village production units, communal work patterns, and pan-African cultural values (Hyden 1980).

While the many schemes to retain, manipulate, and expand the rural workforce in Sukumaland absorbed the Sukuma into the cash economy, they were simultane- ously limited by a host of local historical and ecological factors (Greble 1971). These problems were compounded by Nyerere’s Ujamaa program and the government’s inability to manage widespread apathy if not outright hostility toward its policies in Sukumaland, which undermined support for the program, fed corruption, and resulted in disappointingly low levels of output (Hyden 1980). By the time Nyerere stepped down from office in 1985, the national economy was approaching near collapse, while in Sukumaland a long history of forced expansion and failed devel- opment schemes led to chronic problems involving land fragmentation and tenure

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in rural areas that, in turn, fed a massive influx of migrants to Mwanza (Lugalla 1995).

Against this backdrop, Tanzania became one of a succession of African countries in the mid 1980s to accept development loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (Havnevik 1993). As part of these loans, the government was compelled to adopt a series of structural adjustment policies, a stringent set of neoliberal conditions defined by producer price reforms, removal of subsidies, liberalization of internal and external trade, new foreign exchange regimes usually including severe devaluations, the introduction of cost sharing for state-supplied services, privatization, placing curbs on consumption patterns, and political reform and accountability.

Meanwhile, the first AIDS case was discovered in Tanzania in 1983; the nation now has one of the world’s worst epidemics with an adult (aged 15–49) HIV preva- lence rate of 8.8 percent (UNAIDS–WHO 2004). Epidemiological studies conducted throughout the 1990s have demonstrated high prevalence rates for both Mwanza and Sukumaland (Borgdorff et al. 1995; Todd et al. 1997). More recently, HIV sen- tinel surveillance of antenatal clinics in Mwanza between 2001 and 2003 showed that 15–19 percent of pregnant women were HIV+ (UNAIDS–WHO 2004).

Juma’s story unfolds against this historical backdrop of political and economic disappointment in Sukumaland. The liberalization of Tanzania’s economy, the adoption of structural adjustment policies, and the onset of AIDS are the most recent chapters.


“The Shamba Just Rotted Away Beneath My Feet”: The Political Economy of Rural–Urban Migration in Contemporary Sukumaland

Juma spent the first six years of his life on his family’s rural shamba—or farm—in Shinyanga District, one of two administrative districts that make up Sukumaland. In 1996 (when Juma was four), the shamba included approximately two hectares of land that Juma’s father inherited from his father in accordance with the customary patrilineal land-tenure practices of the Sukuma. Like most smallholder farmers in the region, Juma’s father cultivated cotton and devoted a smaller patch of land to subsistence foods, including maize and sweet potatoes. At this point in time, there was not enough money or land to keep livestock. Household members included Juma’s parents, grandparents, and two younger sisters. Juma also had two older brothers, both of whom worked for a large diamond mine in a neighboring district. They had not returned home for almost two years.

With only two hectares of land and no livestock, Juma’s household was part of the lower income bracket. Moreover, there were strong indications that the shamba was coming under increasing stress. The cotton harvest had yielded steadily decreasing returns over the previous five years, a situation that locals attributed to deteriorating soil quality and the inability of farmers—including Juma’s father—to pay for fertilizer or keep portions of land fallow to recover from constant use. In fact, Juma’s father had sold three hectares of his land in 1993 to make ends meet and to pay off the balance of a loan he owed to a private cotton trader. The trader charged

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a very high interest rate on the loan, which he provided under the condition that Juma’s father sell his crop to him at a substantially lower price than market value. According to neighbors, this transaction with the trader—who by all accounts had a somewhat shady and manipulative reputation—had left Juma’s father in greater debt than before.

In September 1996, Juma’s uncle, aunt, and their three young children came to live with them, which caused an already vulnerable household to come under even greater stress. The circumstances surrounding their move—the Bulyanhulu Gold Mine incident—are noteworthy for the particularly egregious nature of what occurred there in the name of powerful corporate and state-sponsored interests. While the Bulyanhulu Gold Mine has a controversial and complex history, it is worth providing a brief summary of these events.

In 1994, and in large part because of SAP-induced changes to Tanzania’s min- ing policy, a Canadian gold corporation purchased the Bulyanhulu Gold Mine in the Bulyanhulu area of Shinyanga District. Almost immediately, the corporation began legal proceedings to evict the residents who lived and worked in the area. Despite a ruling by the High Court of Tanzania against the Canadian company, the government of Tanzania, under intense international pressure, ordered paramilitary security forces to move against the communities and commence the evictions in Au- gust 1996. According to some estimates, upward of 200,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes and communities (Lawyers Environmental Action Team [LEAT] 2003). The incident has since drawn international attention from dozens of legal, environmental, human rights, and social justice groups throughout the world who have highlighted a long list of legal violations and human rights abuses, including the murder of more than 50 individuals. Today, the mine has become one of the world’s largest, richest, and most modern gold mines, in part because of financing provided by a consortium of commercial banks from around the world and insurance guarantees totaling over $345 million from the World Bank and the Canadian government (LEAT 2003).

Juma’s uncle lived in one of eight Bulyanhulu communities that were razed to the ground as part of the forced removals. Having no where else to go, he turned to Juma’s father, who was obligated to help his only brother and his family. As a result, household membership almost doubled in size, increasing from seven members to 12. It was obvious that the shamba could not support this increase, and in December 1996 Juma’s father and uncle were forced to leave the shamba to seek off-farm employment. Both men found work in the same diamond mine as Juma’s two older brothers.

Over the next year, Juma’s father returned home once to help with the harvest. While it was apparent that he was physically very ill during this visit, he returned to the diamond mine to resume work after only two weeks. In February 1998, Juma’s uncle returned from the diamond mine with the news that his father had passed away.

Juma’s mother believed that she should inherit the family shamba, but his uncle contested her claim, which led to a significant rift in the household. His uncle’s argument proved to be the stronger one, however, because it was reinforced by the traditional patrilineal inheritance practices of the Sukuma. Juma’s grandparents also pressured his mother to follow the traditional custom of widow inheritance

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and marry his uncle. She flatly refused to do this, and the rift within the household grew significantly. In the midst of their dispute, Juma’s uncle made it known that his brother had died of AIDS and accused Juma’s mother of infecting him with the virus. According to Juma’s mother, there were also accusations of witchcraft against her within the community:

People are just foolish and believe what they want to believe. They were talking behind my back, accusing me of being a witch, pointing at me, and spreading all kinds of gossip. But all of this was just a plan by my brother-in-law and his wife to kick me off the shamba because they knew there was not enough land to support all of us. Even if I agreed to marry [my brother-in-law] he would not have taken me as his second wife because it was not possible to support us, and [his first wife] would not have allowed it anyway. It was good for him to say I was a witch and that I gave my husband AIDS. I lost everything in this way . . . the shamba just rotted away beneath my feet. [Juma’s mother, November 1998]

After two weeks of accusations, arguments, and increasingly violent altercations, Juma’s mother began to seriously fear for her safety. During the first week of March 1998, she woke Juma and his two sisters late one night, and together they fled the shamba. She had made the decision that they were going to begin a new life in Mwanza.

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