The Kilosa Killings: Political Ecology of a Farmer–Herder Conflict in Tanzania


  • Tor A. Benjaminsen,

    1. is a geographer and a Professor of Development Studies at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PO Box 5003, 1432 Ås, Norway; e-mail: His research focus is on political ecology, land tenure, environmental change and conflicts in various African countries.
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  • Faustin P. Maganga,

    1. is a Senior Lecturer with the Institute of Resource Assessment, University of Dar es Salaam, PO Box 35097, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; e-mail: He was educated in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Denmark, and has published mostly on natural resource management and resource use conflicts.
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  • Jumanne Moshi Abdallah

    1. is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Forest Economics, Sokoine University of Agriculture, PO Box 3011, Morogoro, Tanzania; e-mail: His areas of interest include resource economics, resource policy, legislations and land use economics, and conflict analysis.
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  • The authors would like to thank the Norwegian Embassy in Dar es Salaam for funding this research through the PANTIL Programme, which is carried out by the Sokoine University of Agriculture in co-operation with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. We are also grateful to all the people in Kilosa who shared their stories with us and to Espen Sjaastad and three referees who gave us very valuable comments.


Farmer–herder conflicts in Africa are often presented as being driven by ‘environmental scarcity’. Political ecologists, however, argue that these conflicts should be analysed within a broader historical and policy context. This article presents a case study of a local conflict in the Kilosa District in Tanzania that tragically culminated in the killing of thirty-eight farmers on 8 December 2000. To understand the conflict, the authors argue that it is necessary to study the history of villagization and land use in the District, as well as national land tenure and pastoral policies. Attempts at agricultural modernization have fostered an anti-pastoral environment in Tanzania. The government aim is to confine livestock keeping to ‘pastoral villages’, but these villages lack sufficient pastures and water supplies, leading herders to search for such resources elsewhere. Pastoral access to wetlands is decreasing due to expansion of cultivated areas and the promotion of agriculture. The main tool that pastoralists still possess to counteract this trend is their ability to bribe officials. But corruption further undermines people's trust in authorities and in the willingness of these authorities to prevent conflicts. This leads actors to try to solve problems through other means, notably violence.