The practice of royal gifts comprising pieces of land to visiting (or otherwise deserving) friends is a very old one, being an expression of love and affection between two states, chiefdoms or empires, hoping that the gifts will strengthen the ties between giver and receiver. Sometimes the gifts are a simple case of bribery with a view to securing a difficult deal.
In the olden days it used to be pieces of territory that would be given away to some royal person meriting special attention.
In one case in Hispanic America back in the 19th century, the story is told, one ruler showed a desktop size of his country’s map and told his guest to place his palm over the map, and all the area covered by the big royal palm became the property of the visitor. On the land, mind you, not the map on the desktop.
Imperialist diplomatic haggling also got cartographers busy with modifications to transfer sovereignty (or suzerainty) from one to the other of the scramblers, in the African context, for example, and today the Kilimanjaro belongs to Tanzania as a consequence of one of those deals.
But, in present days, it is almost unheard of that a country has handed over part of its territory to another country, mainly because the powers of the would-be benefactors have been severely curtailed by their peoples, who are bound to ask embarrassing questions. Even then, stories have made the rounds of pieces of real estate being given away in dubious circumstances. (I remember in the 1990s some parliamentarians, in the one-party system in place then, raised voices against what was reported as state attempts to sell Mbudya, Bongoyo and Sinda, islands off the coast of Dar es Salaam).
Modern states do such things which, though sometimes questionable, can go unnoticed by a not-so-alert populace. For instance, they can sign agreements for leasing large tracts of land for agricultural production, promising to feed the people in the surrounding areas and earning foreign exchange from the exportation of the foodstuff thus produced.
They can also grant sweetheart mining concessions allowing foreign companies to externalise humongous amounts of mineral wealth for a song. Or they can give away pieces of wooded land to logging companies which then export billions of cubic metres of lumber, causing catastrophic deforestation on biblical scales.
All these are eye-catching and they can raise a hue and cry among residents, who will object to some of their elites gaining illicit economic advantages at the expense of their countries’ sustainable development efforts.
In the past these protests have forced governments in many African countries (and elsewhere in the world) to abandon these corrupt schemes from which a few bureaucrats and greedy politicians have been reaping lucrative payoffs.
The wildlife area has been gaining notoriety in the last few decades, with allegations that unscrupulous officials are surreptitiously exporting wild animals to foreign countries in a commerce in which the country gains little, if anything, but the corrupt officials and their sponsors pocket hefty kickbacks.
I remember a few years ago such a racket was unearthed when a local newspaper carried stories of hundreds of animals being flown out of the Kilimanjaro airport to Middle Eastern countries — always the same — without proper formalities being followed and with minimum transparency. The chattering classes were regaling each other with tales of those giraffes either kneeling or having to bend their necks to make the flight!
After the hullaballoo that ensued, the government announced that it had placed a ban on these exports, and for a time all was calm on that front. But then recently, a government agency dealing with wildlife announced that the ban had been lifted and that it was kosher to export animals once again.
Almost immediately, the line minister came out and vehemently informed us all that he was the docket minister in that area — which we thought we knew — and that the ban on wildlife exports was still in force, which left us astounded.
Is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, or is it about individuals pursuing limited personal interests so intensely that they couldn’t care less what their colleagues in the same industry are worried about? Or is it simply a case of government structures so badly fragmented that there is minimum coordination and control in an area known to be a notorious magnet for corruption?
The media has been largely left out of this, except when it comes to reporting what the big boys and girls are fighting over. There is hardly a media outlet that has done any investigative story about what has been happening in this area. Of course, in the Magufuli era, the media was so effectively neutered that government officials had carte blanche to do anything they pleased without fear of censure, except if what they did displeased Magufuli personally. We are still in that mould.
We may soon learn what has caused the ministry and its agency to fail to read from the same page on such a straightforward matter.
But the least that can be said is that it is worrisome for those who hope to have a government which talks straight instead of one that speaks with a forked tongue.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]