Land makes everyone insecure except the state and its cronies

Saturday February 19 2022

I grew up in a country with a weird land regime, where we have a mix of ownership types that guarantees maximum insecurity for everybody except the state and the state’s cronies. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


I do not believe people can own land. I believe that land conceives us into this life and receives us when we go. And that we forget that at our own peril.

So, how is your week? It’s a strange time, isn’t it, watching Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and an assortment of Nato heads of state back-and-forth about whether or not the 2022 invasion of the Ukraine is going to happen. The due date for this apocalyptic event was February 16. As of writing this, so far, so quiet.

I mean, US President Joe Biden has issued some hard words, warning of dire repercussions for Russia if it does go ahead with the planned invasion.

I don’t know what it says about me that all I could think of are: how nice of them to actually plan and publicly announce every step leading up to the potential annihilation of humanity as we know it. So considerate, so organised. Also, what is China up to right now? But mostly I am wondering: how much does Russia need the Ukraine, anyway? What’s this thing with land?

I grew up in a country with a weird land regime, where we have a mix of ownership types that guarantees maximum insecurity for everybody except the state and the state’s cronies. Pseudosocialism has its little joys. One of those little joys has been watching from afar what happens to people — Tanzanians — who have opted out of the full adoption of modernity and are keeping what we are told are traditional ways of life. Y’all know the poster children of this approach in East Africa: the Maasai.

Just a quick comment: If I see another billboard of a Maasai moran perched on his one leg making a call on his iPhone X I might have some strong words for our local telecoms. Time to retire that tired trope.


So y’all might have heard that there is a kerfuffle at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area because the Maasai who have had the use of the land for over 60 years are about to be cleared out. Which, of course, is not going to happen without resistance. I tried to listen in on various reports and debates about it and didn’t like the spider web of suspicious intents, strange information and lack of clarity.

To me it’s pretty simple: if you’re going to move people off the land they’ve lived on you better have a good reason for it. I know internal colonialism when I see it.

We have other groups of people, one of which is the Hadzabe about whom I made a passionate appeal years ago. My government was trying to make them sedentary and “civilise” them into our suspect education system and general formalities and I was very much against it. But why? Isn’t it better to be part of the modern globalised reality and taken out of touch with thousands of years of learned and practised knowledge of how to live intimately with nature? To enter the world of SMS conmen and fried chicken and copycat wedding receptions?

Nope. Turns out the problem is that I don’t believe in “land ownership” so much as land stewardship.

Oh, and also choice. What is the fundamental difference between us trying to save Ngorongoro from the Maasai, the Russian lust for the Ukraine, the logging companies killing off people in the Amazon and all that? As much as I love my country, I know it is a made-up land, a child of European imperial violence and the slave trade and so much more.

In the few pockets of “unmodern” humanity that remain, I am comforted, reminded that the world is older, wiser and bigger than our little lives need comprehend. How can that be threatening when it is beautiful and freeing?

And, also, apparently a dying thing. There has always been an ancient imperative to invade and conquer others — for land, the best resource of all, for animals and firewood and eSports scores and the finest Brazilian hair wigs. And bits of the former USSR, of the ancient Ngorongoro crater, of Hadzabe freedom to roam.

Apparently this is wired into us. Change is inevitable, and so much of societal change involves violence. A lot of it doesn’t, mind you, but most of it does. Why should this be any different? Is this what disinterest ends up looking like, or is it just one too many years of Covid-19 and funerals?

Well... As we wait to see the fate of the world, my sympathies lie with the Maasai of Ngorongoro. Sure, they might use 5G and stray a little from the idyllic traditional lifestyle assigned to them during colonial times but they’re still better than the plastic bottle throwers who plague our long bus rides through game parks, and the guys who kill animals for fun and try to convince us they are part of “conservation.”

And people who wear closed shoes in the tropics.

So, how is your week going? As a friend said, your bunker or mine? See you next week, maybe.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]