Sungu Sungu (Tanzania)

Country: Tanzania
Details of Formation: The Sungusungu was created by the Sumuka and Nyamwezi ethnic groups in 1981 to protect the groups against cattle theft. According to news reports, the group first existed in the northwestern region of Tanzania. They were perceived as peasant revolt against established security organisations, because they felt the regular forces had been unable to effectively provide safety. After the government unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate the group, they embraced it in 1983 and declared it a village security organ recognised as people’s militia. Over time Sungu Sungu spread nationwide.
Details of Termination: From the mid-1990s, Sungu Sungu's power declined. With the introduction of multiparty elections, membership in Sungu Sungu was no longer mandatory and declined. Because Sungu Sungu's leadership was no longer under the protection of the ruling party, it faced prosecution. The brutality with which the group proceeded caused its popularity to decline. A 2004 news source states that Sungu Sungu members were not armed. There is no other evidence that the group was armed again after 2004. In recent years, community policing groups have sometimes been called Sungu Sungu.
Purpose: Before the group became a pro-government militia, the Sungu Sungu’s objective was to protect the lives and property of the villagers. They mainly dealt with cattle theft, but also targeted suspected witches and forced women who left their husbands to return. With their legalization, they were given some powers of arrest and developed into community police forces. Their purpose shifted towards detaining and trying criminals and they were used for law enforcement. The government directed them to maintain and monitor security, fight criminals, guard the country’s border and collect taxes.
Organisation: While the Sungu Sungu were initially a network, they quickly developed into formal organisations. In 1989, they were deputized by the Tanzanian government and became more influential than the Tanzanian Police Force in some regions. They had officially been outside the government system until reforms in the late 1980s and 1990s legalized their existence. News sources report that already before that date government authorities, such as the Minister for Home Affairs Ndugu Salimin Amour, recognized and appreciated the Sungu Sungu. In 1994, President Mwinyi called for a strengthening of the Sungu Sungu. Some local Sungu Sungu groups were then initiated by district administrations. Since 1983 Sungu Sungu was a village security organ. It was an integral part of the general security apparatus, but the police remained hostile to the group. The militia was formally accountable to the village government, with the villages electing its committees and commanders. Sungu Sungu replaced or complemented official village defence committees.
Weapons and Training: With the government only allowing the group to use its traditional weapons, its members were equipped with bows and arrows that were often poisoned or with short swords.
Size: A news source from 1983 reports that more than 6000 Sungusungu attended a rally.
Reason for Membership: Participation in the Sungu Sungu militia was in some communities made mandatory for all able-bodied male residents between the ages of 18 and 60. Due to shared cultural rules, members mainly came from the Sukuma and Nyamwezi ethnic groups, but individuals from other ethnic groups were also encouraged to join. Women were only rarely members. The groups were frequently led by male elders with expertise in divination, ex-soldiers, teachers, doctors, or other officers.
Treatment of Civilians: Sungu Sungu has been called out for human rights abuses, including killing people in the absence of trials. The group used brutal methods of investigation and punishment against suspected criminals. The accused who refused to confess were beaten, tortured, punished, and in many cases died. Sungu Sungu harassed civilians and conducted disappearances and public executions. The group forced women who had separated from their husbands to return to their marital homes.
Other Information: Sungu Sungu are also known as Sungusungu or Busalaman; their name is a reference to the Swahili word that refers to a local species of army ants. The name Sungusungu first refered to local vigilante groups but the term has increasingly been used to describe any neighbourhood militia. The group is independent from the Kenyan Sungusungu.
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Bukurura, Sufian Hemed. 1995. “Combating Crime among the Sukuma and Nyamwezi of West-Central Tanzania.” Crime, Law and Social Change 24 (3): 257–66.

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Fleisher, Michael L. 2000. “ Sungusungu : State-Sponsored Village Vigilante Groups Among the Kuria of Tanzania .” Africa 70 (2): 209–28.

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Heald, Suzette. 2006. “State, Law, and Vigilantism in Northern Tanzania.” African Affairs 105 (419): 265–83.

Paciotti, Brian, Craig Hadley, Christopher Holmes, and Monique Mulder. 2005. “Grass-Roots Justice in Tanzania: Cultural Evolution and Game Theory Help to Explain How a History of Cooperation Influences the Success of Social Organizations.” American Scientist 93 (1): 58–65.

Paciotti, Brian, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder. 2004. “Sungusungu: The Role of Preexisting and Evolving Social Institutions among Tanzanian Vigilante Organizations.” Human Organization 63 (1): 112–24.

Wikipedia. “Sungusungu”.