"Tutapata utulivu lini?"(When will things quiet down? When will we be settled?)
— Mariam Juma, a 50 year-old woman, who was once dragged out of her home in the middle of the night, kicked, and tortured with water by EcoEnergy/Bagamoyo District militia for making charcoal in her homestead.
There are many moments of joy and fascination that accompany ethnographic fieldwork--the myriad social interactions you get to observe, and the type of connections you build with people through, what Clifford Geertz once described as, "deep hanging out." At the same time, there are many moments of frustration and dismay. Bearing witness to everyday injustice is perhaps the most compelling yet heartbreaking part of my work--and also one that sometimes makes me feel powerless in my position as a researcher.
Today, I want to share a piece about the type of violence I have been witnessing in the planned sugarcane project site here in Bagamoyo. For those who are unfamiliar with my research: I am basically trying to understand the kinds of contradictions that arise when a high-profile agricultural and rural development project doesn’t go as planned, or when it is delayed for nearly a decade. I am looking at how this prolonged, uncertain period between project design and implementation—which I am calling a state of ‘liminality’—is changing peoples’ claims to/relationships with the land, fragmenting the governance of the project, and altering people’s everyday life on the land.
I’ve been holding back posting this piece—as well as many others that are currently in draft form—for a long time, because I felt uneasy sharing something in the midst of an investigation, in the midst of confusion. But I am posting this particular piece, because in some ways, writing and sharing it helps me understand the chaos and confusion unfurling around me, and also helps me see what it is that I am missing, or failing to understand.
At the end of May, the Prime Minister of Tanzania announced that the long-delayed sugarcane project in Bagamoyo will be shelved after about a decade of arrested development. The rationale for this decision was supposedly based on environmental concerns, specifically the conservation of wildlife (and relatedly, water) in the adjacent (or rather overlapping) Saadani National Park. This reasoning is of course fraught with politics...a story for another time!
Since my return to the field in the last quarter of 2015, I’ve heard countless complaints from the local people about various kinds of disturbance/chaos (fujo) created by the wagambo (sg, mgambo). The wagambo are members of the paramilitary reserve force, or military-trained civilian militia, who are answerable to the police. They were deployed in the sugarcane project site in early 2014 by EcoEnergy, in cooperation with the district government.
From what I learned from an EcoEnergy employee, the stationing of the wagambo was essential to comply with one of the terms and conditions specified in the certificate of title: to take all measures necessary to protect the land. In other words, to make the occupation and use of the land exclusive to EcoEnergy. The wagambo were employed as well as a number of site closure workers between mid 2014 and mid 2015 to demarcate the boundaries of the project site, to block off passages for charcoal trucks, and to encourage people to move out of the project site—including both old and new residents, and itinerant charcoal producers.
From what people have reported to me, the wagambo violence increased when the site closure workers left the area; the workers left (presumably because of the financial constraints the company faced), but the security forces remained. Even after the Prime Minister’s recent announcement, there are no signs of the wagambo leaving the area.
Common types of violence reported include: verbal threats, intimidation, pilfering of people’s tools and farming implements, and physical beatings when farmers try to clear and/or expand their farms; plant permanent crops; build and repair their houses; put up temporary sheds on their farms; and make charcoal for household use and/or for sale. Not all wagambo bother people to the same extent, and they don’t go patrolling on a regular basis. But if you are unlucky and caught doing any of those things above by unscrupulous wagambo, you are threatened, and at worst, "beaten to near death," people say.
Local people who have been beaten by the wagambo seldom report their cases to the police, because they think that the police force and the wagambo are one and the same; birds of a feather flock together. They also believe that if they go to the police station, new charges will be fabricated against them by corrupt law enforcement authorities. But on a more basic level, many simply do not have the financial means to travel to and from town. Furthermore, in order for victims of assault to be treated, they must first report to the police and get what’s popularly known as a PF3 form: a medical examination report. Without this form, they cannot receive any medical assistance from government hospitals and dispensaries; they are forced to seek expensive treatment at private hospitals (see a related article in The Citizen). In short, people often remain with no evidence of wagambo violence—no police reports, no hospital records, so no bad deed done.
On Friday, 18 March 2016, I interviewed a 45-year old male farmer, Amos Maico, in one of the communities situated in the northwestern part of EcoEnergy project site. He had been severely beaten by the wagambo two days before my visit. Amos passed away on Tuesday, 24 May 2016.
Many stories can be written about how and why he died, because there is no police report or medical record that attests that Amos had been beaten by the wagambo. I have been unable to meet personally with Amos’ doctors, but according to what they told his family, he suffered from liver and spleen malfunction, and is assumed to have died from liver cancer. It is unclear to me if there was ever a thorough post-mortem autopsy. Amos’ family and fellow community members are adamant that he died because of the wagambo beatings; he was a healthy man, but his condition deteriorated rapidly after the assault. I haven’t been able to get a statement from EcoEnergy, but what I heard secondhand from other villagers is that the company denied any association with the death of Amos. I asked the Ward Councilor who is responsible for facilitating the relationship between the villagers and the district. His answer was: "What can we do? There is no evidence!"
I want to share an excerpt from my interview notes/transcriptions with Amos. The past few months, I have been agonizing over his death to the extent I dreamt about him. I have mulled over the cost he paid for trying to carry on his life and livelihood; the pain and suffering he must have gone through in his final days; the freakish nature of his death; and the seemingly unjust nature of it all. I reached out to legal aid offices, but in vain. The best I can do for Amos at the moment is to remember him, and to share his story as told by him. And I hope whoever is reading this will be able to see his experience as he lived it.
Friday, 18 March 2016.
Amos Maico, a lean middle-aged man, staggered towards me and sunk heavily onto the mat. He was wearing a light blue t-shirt and worn out jeans. We shook hands and exchanged greetings. He sat crouching across from me. His right eye seemed to have been bruised. I asked him to recount his story.
"Whenever I try to explain about it [the beating], I am overwhelmed by grief. I used to have another shed, that one over there [points to a torn down shed across the valley], but the wagambo destroyed it. After seeing that they destroyed that one, I decided to build another one because that is my farm over there. You need to build a shed during the farming season to fend off monkeys and for shade. The monkeys are not afraid of the rains; they come rain or no rain.
The day before yesterday (Wed, 16 March), I was supposed to shift over there to start preparing my farm. The wagambo saw me and they asked: who gave you the permission to build? So they told me to leave my farm and to come here [centre of the community, near the ten-cell leader’s house]. There were 5 wagambo. When I got there, they told me to sit down, facing the sun. It was around 3pm, the sun was still very strong. They forced me to lie down facing the sun. I refused to lie like that, because I thought they could destroy me. That’s when they started beating me around this part here [rubs his right ribcage down towards the abdomen]. They started beating me hard around the ribs. I don’t think I am okay inside here [cringes with pain]. I am marginally better with the painkillers my ten-cell leader gave me... It’s my first time being beaten. I had never been beaten in my life. Now, because of the pain, I cannot even work. My family depends on me… If the wagambo had not bothered me, I would have already started preparing the farm. That is my farm there. I don’t know why they are stopping us from farming. They are stopping us from expanding our farms, but our families are growing, so what can we do?"
I ask if he reported his case to the police, but the ten-cell leader interrupts: "The police has a lot of power. They are more powerful. Whenever you go to the police, new and unknown cases are fabricated against you, and you may serve time in jail for no reason. Sometime in February, some people from [this community] raided the wagambo camp over there, because they have had enough. To date, the wagambo have taken away people’s tools, destroyed people’s houses, uprooted people’s crops, and burnt people’s charcoal furnaces. The wagambo captured a few guys who raided their camp and put them in jail. Recently, when the wagambo saw Amos putting up his shed, they claimed that he, too, was an accomplice to the crime. Amos didn’t do anything wrong, and didn’t contribute to that raid in February, but he was scared to go to the police; he feared retaliation.”
Amos: "The police procedures and the government are no help to us. I remember there was another guy that was beaten. He went to the police, but nothing happened. I felt so bad, but what can I do? I was forcibly beaten. The wagambo and the police act like they are the owners of the country. What can you do? Even when the elected leaders—they come here and tell you ‘oh we are working on this and that’, but they have never come back and tell us what exactly they have done. For instance, the ward councillor came recently but nothing happened. We are only important to them during campaigns and elections; they needed us when they needed votes, but not now. We have been eaten by them."
I interview most households more than once, and I had planned to visit Amos again in June. I will never be able to see him again.
When I interviewed one of the witnesses of Amos' beating in June, I discovered that one of EcoEnergy's employees—who the local people refer to as "boss of mgambo"—was also present at the event. It is said that the employee even grabbed a baton and hit Amos in the knees, saying how he should stop whatever he is doing on the land and "take it easy."