Sungusungu – The Sukuma and Nyamwezi Justice Enforcers

Sungu Sungu – The Sukuma and Nyamwezi Justice Enforcers

Sungusungu also referred to as Sungu Sungu or Busalaman are Tanzanian judicial authorities originally founded in 1981 by the Sukuma and Nyamwezi tribes to protect livestock and other property from theft. These syndicates function at the community level and enforce various laws. The group was founded in 1989 on behalf of the Tanzanian government. In some areas, they ultimately had more influence than the Tanzanian police. Human rights activists have condemned the groups for their vigilante activities of killing people without trial. In neighboring Kenya, the name Sungusungu refers to a certain militia organization that has been outlawed since 2007.

Sungusungu Tanzania

The Sungu Sungu was formed in 1981 by the Sukuma and Nyamwezi communities to deal with cattle rustling. Although initially developed as a network that focuses on alerting other communities whenever thefts occurred, they quickly grew into legal entities that listened to allegations of wrongdoing, imposed penalties, and punished those found guilty.

Their name is often taken as a reference to the Swahili word Sungu Sungu which is a name for a local species of army ants. Human Rights Watch says the term was originally used to refer to a watchdog group founded as a solution to deal with cattle thefts in western Tanzania which were rampant in the 1980s; more recently, the term has been used to describe any militant neighborhoods groups.

These groups were outside the federal system until the reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s acknowledged and legitimized their existence and further empowered them to arrest and prosecute lawbreakers. They are sometimes contracted to enforce the law on behalf of the government. In 2001, the Sungu Sungu were used to deport 3,000 Ugandans living in Tanzania.

In the recent past, they have been accused of violating human rights. The Sungu Sungu group was accused by Maasai herdsmen of Kilosa region of inciting violence between the Maasai and farmers in the region in 2000. The violence allegedly caused the deaths of at least 30 people. They are accused of killing criminals without trial and killing people accused of witchcraft.

Maasai warriors
Maasai warriors


In Kenya, Sungu Sungu is one of the security or militia organizations that started in the 1990s and was outlawed by the government in 2007. Similar to Tanzanian groups, Sungu Sungu was founded in the late 1990s to protect communities from cattle rustling. In the early 2000s, they were charged with several crimes relating to violence. In 2006, they were accused of intimidating and killing witnesses in a case of an arrest and illegal torture of Peter Makori who was a journalist.

The Sungu Sungu was outlawed along with 17 other militia groups on March 1, 2007. Since then, the groups have repeatedly been accused of resuming violent acts. In 2010, they were accused of a series of murders in Nyamira district. In 2016, senior police officers in the country reaffirmed their efforts to prevent Sungu Sungu from being re-established.

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