Oxfam’s Chukua Hatua (“Take Action”) project in Tanzania is working to support rural villagers to demand their basic rights as citizens. Villagers like Maimuna Said, who is organising an ongoing community campaign to lobby for over $100,000 in payments that their village was promised but has not received:
One day last year, an advert appeared on the notice board of Mwime village in northwest Tanzania. It called for a village representative to join a new Board of Trustees for managing funds to be provided to the village by Barrick Gold Corporation, a multinational company which operates gold mines in the region on land that was traditionally part of Mwime.
Back in 2007 the company and the village agreed that Barrick would pay 60 million Tanzanian shillings (about $38,000) to the village annually for the next five years – after which both parties would review and agree on a new amount. The payments were supposed to begin in 2009, paid through a Board of Trustees. But the village received nothing. “The leadership weakness is the main reason why the payment was not made all these years. Our former leaders were not serious, however we were not pushing much. You know, here everything starts from the leaders,” says Dadi Mashirimo, a local villager.
Villagers in Mwime were expecting their leaders to lead the process and ensure the payments. It’s a normal practice in many parts of Tanzania – people do not demand what they are entitled to. The old political structure means leaders are left to make all the decisions, even for matters that affect everyone.
But women like Maimuna Said are challenging the old order. When the advert appeared in January 2011, she had some immediate concerns.
“It specified those eligible to be on the Board of Trustees. It stated that the candidate should have a level of secondary education and be not more than 60 years old. Why these criteria? Those who are capable but do not have the qualifications would not be able to take part. I know several people in our village who are good, but not qualified. (Our representatives) were supposed to be set by the village assembly,” explains Mainuna.
In February 2011 the Board was finally formed with six members – two from Barrick mine, two from the district government, and two from the village. But the village representatives were appointed in secret, and the community realised they had had no say in the process.
They were worried that – with a secretive and unappointed board – the money would yet again fail to come.
Mainuna could not accept this.
“I rushed to the Village Executive Officer and asked him when the next village assembly will be held. The answer was in two days time. I had no time to meet with my colleagues about this, so I decided to text them through my phone – informing them about the meeting and what we should do about the issue of Board selection.”
Mainuna asked three other villagers to raise questions at the meeting about the process of the Board’s appointment. Other villagers soon followed suit, demanding that the issue be brought formally to the next village assembly and refusing to accept the proposal of having representatives who were not selected by the people. The meeting ended with the community denouncing the new Board of Trustees.
This was a big step for the rural people of Mwime. A few years ago people were afraid to ask and challenge the leaders.
“Ignorance is the killing machine,” exclaims Mainuna. “I used to be afraid to ask, because I was not so sure what I will say or what people will be thinking of me.”
So what has changed? One initiative has been Oxfam’s “Farmer animators” project, which helps equip people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to demand their rights, and the strategy to achieve their goals. Mainuna was one of several local women to take part: “The animation has been of great help and makes things work for me, as well as giving me confidence to ask.”
During the training, animators were assigned to visit to the District Council and ask for information such as the local government’s income and expenditure reports and see where the village’s money goes. For some of them this was the first time to be in those offices and talk to their officials. They found the executives to be very cooperative and open to sharing information – the visits, meetings and the response they got helped them overcome their fears of asking questions and demanding their rights.
Maimuna’s strategy of mobilising the community to ask questions at the meeting worked well. She noted that an attending councillor, Ntabo Majabi, was clearly taking the matter seriously. Maimuna – with no authority and power in decision making organs herself – pushed the councillor to take action after the meeting.
Majabi explains: “She (Maimuna) was really pushing hard so that I take action, and I realised that not only were we (the community) not participating in the process, but even the names of our representatives on the Board were already approved without our knowledge. I felt that something was going on here, I had to do something.”
James Lembeli is the MP for Kahama Urban constituency. He normally pays a visit to his voters to feed back on parliament sessions and to listen if they have anything that they would like him to assist with. While he met Mwime villagers in September 2011, Majabi and the villagers raised their concerns about the Board of Trustees.
Lembeli decided to investigate and gather more information from the district and the mine. The next month he managed to influence a Parliamentary committee to pay a visit to Buzwagi gold mine to meet with both parties and resolve the matter.
Barrick said they had no objections to the villagers’ concerns, and insisted that they were ready to deposit the money. They said they did not want to use a Board which had not been approved by the villagers since they wanted to make sure the money is in safe hands.
The visiting Parliamentary committee contributed 310,000 Tanzanian shillings for the village to open a bank account where the money could be deposited. New representatives were selected by the villagers to oversee the process, instead of the secretly appointed Board.
With the bank account now set up, the villagers are meeting with Barrick officials to push for the payments – now totalling 180 million Tanzanian shillings (about $114,000) – to finally be made.
Maimuna has shown that rural women should not be stereotyped as voiceless and unable to defend their rights and entitlements. She and her fellow “animators” have proven that they can strategise, plan and organise – with a little assistance. With a better understanding of how to influence powerful figures, and with active leaders such as Councillor Majabi and MP Lembeli who work closely with their voters, real change can be brought to rural lives.
The farmer animation approach has been successful in changing the level and capacity of thinking, debating, and willingness to take action in animators like Maimuna Said and 200 others in Shinyanga district. The aspiration is that the animators will help and encourage other villagers to take action, so that there are many more Maimunas in rural Tanzania.
We’ll continue to check back with Maimuna and the village of Mwime to see what happens, whether the money materialises, and how it gets spent.