2009-06-08 07:36:00 Irate mob sets fire to MP's property By Mussa Juma, Arusha THE CITIZEN Riotous villagers invaded an estate owned by Vunjo Member of Parliament Aloyce Kimaro in Arusha, setting at least 15 houses on fire and destroying crops over a bitter land dispute on Saturday. The machete-wielding Singisi villagers in Arumeru District rampaged through the MP�s Madira Estate protesting the sale of the attractive property to the ruling party CCM legislator. Police used tear gas and tried to scare away the protesters by shooting in the air, but the rowdy villagers were not moved. The Arusha-Moshi highway was temporarily closed in the morning on Sunday as heavily armed policemen tried in vain to disperse the villagers. One of the protestors said they had been angered by the Government's decision to sell the 50-acre estate to the MP when most of the villagers were landless. "We will not allow this to happen, how can they sell all this land to one person? Is it because he is an MP?" he queried. Another villager, Mr John Akyo, said the estate, previously owned by European investors, should have been partitioned and distributed to the villagers. "This is our land too, and we have the right to fight for it to the end. We can't allow someone to occupy it like this simply because he is an MP," he said. Arumeru district commissioner Mercy Silla, who visited the estate Sunday morning, could not hide her shock at the extent of the destruction. But even in her presence, some of the villagers continued to vandalise property on the estate demanding to know why they had not been given the land to build a school. The DC struggled to stop the protestors, who included women and children wielding machetes, small knives, iron bars, clubs and other rudiment weapons. By yesterday evening the situation was still tense in the area as the furious villagers continued destroying property while others looted iron-roofing sheets and timber from damaged houses. Most land conflicts in Tanzania, especially in the coastal regions, pit villagers against foreign investors seeking land for bio-fuel crops. Lobbyists have often raised concern over the increasing land disputes urging the Government to revise its land policy to curb unrest in rural areas. Land disputes in areas such as Kagera, Mwanza, Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions have often been described as a symptom of the broader implications of governmental policies. Several local NGOs are attempting to influence policy, through parliament and other levels in the governance spheres, in a sense favorable to the interests of villagers. But talking to The Citizen yesterday, Mr Kimaro said he was a Tanzanian who also had a right to the land he had earmarked for a tourist hotel. "I wonder why owning 50 acres of land has become such a big issue. I believe this is politically motivated, there is more to this than meets the eye," he said. "This whole invasion issue is shocking and unfortunate because the villagers are attacking me yet there are other investors nearby who own thousands of acres," he said on Saturday just before the skirmishes. Arusha regional police commander Matei Basilio said yesterday more than 15 people had been arrested in connection with the destruction and looting of property in the chaos. But a local ward councillor, Mr Petro Kiungani, criticised the police for not acting on earlier warnings to prevent the incident. "I told the Officer Commanding District that there were clandestine meetings being held by the villagers, in which they were planning to invade the estate, but they (police) took no action," he said. Mr Kiungani said the village had approached them with complaints after learning of the sale of the property to the MP. Another village leader, identified as Mr Desaulo Akyoo, said the police knew about the threats well before the villagers descended on the estate. "We told them (the police) as soon as we received information that the villagers were going to invade the estate and destroy property," he said. The incident occurred as Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was in Arusha for the �Walk the World� event, organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) to mobilise funds to buy food for school children. Violent land disputes and forceful evictions of pastoralists have also become commonplace in the once calm district of Kilosa in Morogoro. Since last January, clashes between pastoralists and peasants have left six people dead, a large amount of properties and houses destroyed and led to the displacement of more than 2,000 persons. The land question is central to the ongoing disputes in this area, but for some reason these events go unnoticed in the country, the most peaceful in Eastern Africa.