I. Introduction & Background

Page Contents

This page will highlight a few areas for analysis.

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Introduction & How to Use This Guide


These country-specific guides were developed using two general guides we created in the past: Women's Land Tenure Framework for Analysis: Land Rights and Women's Land Tenure Framework for Analysis: Inheritance. These country specific guides do not seek to answer every question found in the other two guides; not all of the questions apply to every country. The general guides are intended to raise all possible issues. The country-specific guides use those guides as frameworks for understanding the main issues related to women’s land rights in a specific country context.

The country-specific guides not only serve as an example of how one can use the general frameworks for analysis, but they also analyze the women’s land rights situation in the particular country. Note that when it comes to analyzing customary law, we have selected one customary system for deeper analysis; however, this does not mean that all customary systems within this country operate the same way.

How to Use This Guide

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The footnotes throughout this guide are all hyperlinked to full-text laws, articles or other citation information. When you hover over a footnote, the citation information will pop up in a bubble. When you click on the footnote, you will be taken to the full-text of the item the footnote is referencing.


Brief summary: land rights history in Tanzania/Tanganyika

Land rights in Tanzania have been forged through the country’s many historical transitions. In the pre-colonial era, approximately 120 tribes determined land tenure arrangements for their members.[1] Lands were generally held communally, with chiefs, headmen and elders holding rights to the land in trust for the greater community.[2]

Under the German colonial era, from 1884 to 1916, all land was declared crown land, vested in the Empire, except for parcels that could be documented and claimed in ownership by chiefs, private individuals, and native communities. This process proved possible—in most instances—only for commercial settler farmers, and approximately 1,300,000 acres of the country’s most fertile lands were alienated to foreigners during German rule.[3]

When Britain assumed trust powers over Tanzania following World War I, it declared all land public, vested under the governor’s control for the use and benefit of native people. International law forbade the alienation of native land without prior consent of relevant authorities. The British government recognized rights of occupancy, which could be either granted (statutory) or deemed (title, use or occupancy deemed to belong to a native community using it in a legal manner and in accord with native laws and customs). In practice, granted rights were much stronger than deemed rights, and over 44 years approximately 3.5 million acres of land were alienated from native communities to British settlers.[4]

In the 1960s, President Julius Nyerere instituted a legal system based on African socialism, guided by the concept of ujamaa or “unity”.[5] Under this system, radical tenure for all land in the country was vested in the government (president) on behalf of the people.[6] Customary land rights continued to exist alongside statutory systems,[7] but customary land rights were transferred from chiefs, headmen and elders to elected village councils.[8] The government encouraged collective cultivation. Some, including women, gained improved access to and security in landholdings.[9]  However, by the 1990s, land tenure insecurity and prevalent land disputes necessitated a new approach to land and natural resources.[10]

In 1991, President Mwinyi established the Commission of Inquiry on Land Matters.[11] This Commission conducted widespread inquiry into perspectives on land reform, including extensive community-level meetings.[12] The Commission’s Report (known as the ‘Shivji’ Report), published in 1993, laid the foundation for reforms embodied in the National Land Policy of 1995, and codified in the Land Act and Village Land Act of 1999, which established the country’s core legislative framework for land tenure.[13] (And see the Land Regulations issued in 2001, pursuant to the Land Act, providing necessary guidelines and forms for implementing the Act.) Due in large part to the successful advocacy of women’s groups in Tanzania, the National Land Policy and land laws of 1999 contain generally strong safeguards for women’s land rights.

Principles of Land Governance in Tanzania, as embodied in the National Land Policy or 1995 (Section 2) and the Land Act of 1999 (Section 3):

(1)   To recognize that all land in Tanzania is public land vested in the President as trustee on behalf of all citizens;

(2)   To ensure that existing rights in land and recognized long standing occupation or use of land are clarified and secured by the law;

(3)   To facilitate an equitable distribution of and access to land by all citizens;

(4)   To regulate the amount of land that any one person or corporate body may occupy or use;

(5)   To ensure that land is used productively and that any such use complies with the principles of sustainable development;

(6)   To pay full, fair and prompt compensation to any person whose right of occupancy or long standing occupation or customary use of land is revoked or interfered with to their detriment by the State or is acquired;

(7)   To provide for an efficient, effective, economical or transparent system of land adjudication;

(8)   To enable all citizens to participate in decision making on matters connected with their occupation or use of land;

(9)   To facilitate and regulate the operation of a market in land so as to ensure that rural and urban small holders and pastoralists are not disadvantaged;

(10)  To set out rules of land law accessibly and in a manner which can be readily understood by all citizens;

(11)  To establish an independent expeditious and just system for the adjudication of land disputes which will hear and determine cases without undue delay;

(12)  To encourage the dissemination of information about land administration of information about land administration and land law through programmes of public and adult education using all forms of media;

(13)  The right of every adult woman to acquire, hold, use deal in land shall to the same extent and subject to the same restrictions be treated as a right of any adult man.[14]

Land reforms in present-day Tanzania

The majority of the people in Tanzania today rely on land for their livelihood. Seventy-five percent of Tanzanians live in rural areas, and most are engaged in the agricultural sector. Despite strong economic growth in recent years, poverty in rural areas – where 85% of the country’s poor people reside – remains widespread and acute.[15]  At the same time, investment in land has increased. While the influx of capital supports the development of large-scale commercial enterprises, increasing demand for land could threaten the land tenure security of rural communities.[16] In coming years, the direction of land tenure will profoundly impact the wellbeing of the country’s rural people. 

While both men and women farm in Tanzania, time-use studies, economic data, census information and studies of the roles of men and women in the agricultural cycle consistently show that women are more active in agriculture than men. Men are largely responsible for cash crop farming and income-generating activities, while women take charge of food crops, help with cash crops, and provide the bulk of unpaid labor for household production. Men frequently migrate for off-farm employment, leaving women to tend cash crops alone. Even so, men nearly always control income from cash crops, even if they have been absent. Overall, men make production and labor allocation decisions, while farming fewer hours than women.[17]

Tanzania has an ambitious agenda for land and natural resource policy and legal reform. Since 1999, it has been transitioning to a legal framework that integrates aspects of customary tenure, supports the rights of women, recognizes private property rights, permits individualized control of resources in farming areas, and enables communal management of rangeland, forests and wildlife. At the same time, the new legal framework promotes private investments in land and natural resources, and foreign and domestic interest in acquiring land for large-scale investment has increased.[18]

Legal reforms and the protection of women’s rights

Despite positive developments, the agenda of policy and legal reform is not yet complete. Some allege that the current legal framework fails to effectively provide the foundation for an effective land governance system.[19]  While the legal framework generally upholds women’s rights to land, in rural areas patriarchal practices predominate whereby men are de facto heads of households and have greater rights to land than women.[20] The law is still weak in regard to women’s inheritance rights to land, and inheritance practices discriminate severely against women.[21]  And, while investment in land stemming from the reforms has supported the development of commercial enterprises, the country’s experience with large-scale land deals has been mixed, and small-hold farmers have often lost out.[22]

The willingness of the courts to honor and enforce the legal framework will have profound impact on the wellbeing of Tanzania’s rural population, and a profound impact on women.


The author would like to thank Nasieku Kisambu, Juma Masisi, Ailey Hughes and Renee Giovarelli for reviewing and providing valuable comments and insights for this practice guide, and Erin McIntire and Sami Pearlman for their research assistance.