Finding a Home on Ancestral Land: Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

Published: 1/Jan/2010
Source: UNHCR

For millions of refugees across the world home is a distant memory. It is a place they have had to flee to escape violence and persecution. Most dream of going home, others hope for resettlement and some are able to integrate in their host countries. A small number of so-called Somali Bantus who fled their country in the nineties found a new home in their ancestors’ land, Tanzania. Chogo refugee settlement in Tanzania’s coastal region of Tanga is host to some 3,000 Somali refugees from Bantu origin and newly-naturalized who are living and working alongside the local communities. Most of these refugees and new Tanzanian citizens can trace their origins back to the Zigua tribe in this area of the country, which their ancestors left almost two centuries ago.

In the late 1830s slave traders took advantage of a prolonged drought in East Africa to falsely offer coastal tribes labor opportunities in foreign lands. In the hope of staving off starvation many accepted, including members of the Zigua tribe in northeast Tanzania, only to be sold as slaves when they arrived to their destinations. One of the places they were brought to was the Benadir coast of Somalia where, once sold, they worked in plantations producing sorghum, maize and sesame seeds for export throughout the Indian Ocean. Later on, escaped and ex-slaves established thriving farmer settlements on the fertile land along the lower Jubba river in southern Somalia.

During colonial times these Bantu communities in Somalia had to endure expropriations and forced labour enforced by both the Italian and British administrations. Until in the 1970s and 1980s their worst fears got realized: the Somali state dispossessed one Bantu village after another of valuable riverine land. Excluded from the traditional Somali clan protection network – that mainly catered for pastoralist groups – the Bantu farmers fell into increasing marginalization.

In the early nineties civil war broke out and Siad Barre’s regime was overthrown, pushing many Somalis, including Bantus, to flee their country. Tens of thousands of them risked their lives and travelled all the way down to the Kenyan harbour of Mombasa on overcrowded and rickety dhows. A small group of refugees of Bantu origin made their way even further south, to Tanga in northeast Tanzania, reversing the path their ancestors had taken.

Upon their arrival, the Government of Tanzania hosted the Somali refugees in Mkuyu camp, where they received assistance from UNHCR and partners. In 2003, more than a decade later, these refugees were transferred to the newly-constructed settlement of Chogo, in a move towards naturalizing those who wished to stay. Since 2005 Chogo’s 3,000 inhabitants – new citizens and refugees awaiting citizenship alike – have been selfsufficient while the local authorities took over the responsibility of UNHCR in providing public services such as education, health and water.

Through the following pictures, UNHCR wants to recognize the strength and resolve of these refugees who finally found a home and were able to start a new life on their ancestors’ land thanks to the generosity of the people and Government of Tanzania.

Download report: Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Themes: Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Tanzania
Year: 2010