Maa­sai herders driven off land to make way for lux­ury sa­faris, re­port says

Tourists on sa­fari in the Ngoron­goro crater, Tan­za­nia. T

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Enviroment - Photo: The Guardian

HE Tan­za­nian govern­ment is putting for­eign sa­fari com­pa­nies ahead of Maa­sai herd­ing com­mu­ni­ties as en­vi­ron­men­tal ten­sions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti na­tional park, ac­cord­ing to a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Hun­dreds of homes have been burned and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple driven from an­ces­tral land in Lo­liondo in the Ngoron­goro dis­trict in re­cent years to ben­e­fit high-end tourists and a Mid­dle East­ern royal fam­ily, says the re­port by the Cal­i­for­nia-based think­tank the Oakland In­sti­tute.

Al­though car­ried out in the name of con­ser­va­tion, these mea­sures en­able wealthy for­eign­ers to watch or hunt lions, ze­bra, wilde­beest, gi­raffes and other wildlife, while the au­thor­i­ties ex­clude lo­cal peo­ple and their cattle from wa­ter­ing holes and arable land, the in­sti­tute says.

The re­port, re­leased on Thurs­day high­lights the famine and fearcaused by bio­di­ver­sity loss, cli­mate change, inequal­ity and dis­crim­i­na­tion to­wards in­dige­nous groups.

Los­ing the Serengeti: The Maa­sai Land that was to Run For­ever uses pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished cor­re­spon­dence, official doc­u­ments, court tes­ti­monies and first-per­son tes­ti­mony to ex­am­ine the im­pact of two firms: Thom­son Sa­faris based in the United States, and Ot­terlo Busi­ness Cor­po­ra­tion based in the United Arab Emi­rates.

It says Thom­son’s sis­ter com­pany, Tan­za­nia Con­ser­va­tion Lim­ited, is in a court bat­tle with three Maa­sai vil­lages over the own­er­ship of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Lo­liondo which the com­pany uses for sa­faris.

One Maa­sai quoted in the re­port said Thom­son had built a camp in the mid­dle of their vil­lage, block­ing ac­cess. “Imag­ine, a stranger comes and con­structs a big build­ing in the cen­tre of your home,” reads the tes­ti­mony. “Our live­stock can­not go to the wa­ter­hole – there is no other route for the vil­lagers or their live­stock.”

The re­port says vil­lagers have been driven off, as­saulted or ar­rested by lo­cal po­lice, park rangers or se­cu­rity guards.

The re­stricted ac­cess to land has made the Maa­sai more vul­ner­a­ble to famine dur­ing drought years, the re­port says, not­ing ap­peals that lo­cals have made for the govern­ment to change poli­cies be­cause of grow­ing num­bers of mal­nour­ished chil­dren.

A Maa­sai vil­lager con­tacted by the Guardian said ac­cess re­mained blocked and that uni­formed agents had beaten, threat­ened or tied-up and driven off pas­toral­ists, as re­cently as De­cem­ber.

Thom­son strongly de­nies these ac­cu­sa­tions. It says Tan­za­nia Con­ser­va­tion Lim­ited em­ploys 100% Maa­sai staff, al­lows cattle on the prop­erty to ac­cess sea­sonal wa­ter, and works with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the govern­ment to con­serve the sa­van­nah, im­prove ac­cess to wa­ter and for­mu­late a sus­tain­able graz­ing pol­icy.

The com­pany blames past con­flicts on NGO ac­tivists who they say stirred up vil­lagers and led to staff be­ing as­saulted by young war­riors armed with clubs, spears, knives and poi­son ar­rows.

“These in­ter­ven­tions have been played out to at­tract at­ten­tion, pro­vide sto­ries, and to dis­rupt the work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween com­pany and com­mu­ni­ties on the ground,” Rick Thom­son, a di­rec­tor of Tan­za­ni­a­con­ser­va­tion, wrote in an email to the Guardian. “In these events the en­dan­gered staff have a pro­to­col of dis­en­gag­ing any way they can to avoid es­ca­la­tion, and re­port­ing to the au­thor­i­ties any sit­u­a­tion where any peo­ple and prop­erty, are phys­i­cally threat­ened. These sit­u­a­tions have been rare and no such events have oc­curred for the last four years.”

He said the com­pany was not con­nected to govern­ment evictions of il­le­gal res­i­dents in the na­tional park, which is re­served for wildlife.

The re­port also claims Maa­sai have been driven off land as a re­sult of govern­ment ties with Ot­terlo Busi­ness Cor­po­ra­tion, which or­gan­ises hunt­ing trips for the royal fam­ily of the United Arab Emi­rates and their guests who fly into a cus­tom-built land­ing strip in Lo­liondo.

Since Ot­terlo was first granted 400,000 hectares of land for hunt­ing, the govern­ment has mounted suc­ces­sive evic­tion op­er­a­tions.

The com­pany has warned the area needs greater eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion be­cause herds are in­creas­ing while wa­ter sources are dry­ing up due to cli­mate change.

De­spite past govern­ment prom­ises that the Maa­sai would never be evicted from their land, the re­port notes Serengeti na­tional park rangers burned 114 bo­mas (tra­di­tional homes) in 2015 and another 185 in Au­gust of last year. Along with other de­mo­li­tions, lo­cal me­dia re­port more than 20,000 Maa­sai were left home­less.

Maa­sai protests, an in­ter­na­tional out­cry and do­mes­tic al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion have forced a re­con­sid­er­a­tion of this pol­icy. In Novem­ber 2017, the tourism min­is­ter re­voked the hunt­ing li­cence of Ot­terlo, sus­pended the state di­rec­tor of wildlife, and or­dered in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the links be­tween for­eign firms and for­mer of­fi­cials.

But the au­thor­i­ties ap­pear di­vided. Lo­cals told the Guardian this week that Ot­terlo con­tin­ues to op­er­ate sa­fari tours in Lo­liondo to the detri­ment of vil­lagers.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the Maa­sai com­mu­ni­ties in a court claim over the land said the poli­cies of the govern­ment were tilted to­wards for­eign tour com­pa­nies.

“The evictions are not jus­ti­fied be­cause more and more land is be­ing taken away from the vil­lages with­out due process or com­pen­sa­tion even though they have le­gal ti­tles,” said lawyer Rashid S Rashid. “The poli­cies of the govern­ment are based mainly on the ar­gu­ments ad­vanced by Thom­son and Ot­terlo be­cause they have more po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence than the vil­lagers.”

The re­port’s au­thors say the prob­lem dates back to the era of Bri­tish rule. From then on­wards, Maa­sai have been steadily dis­pos­sessed of land on the Serengeti. They urge the govern­ment to take ur­gent ac­tion to al­le­vi­ate the risk of famine, es­tab­lish a new model of land ti­tling and an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into dis­putes over own­er­ship.

“With­out ac­cess to graz­ing lands and wa­ter­ing holes, and with­out the abil­ity to grow food for their com­mu­ni­ties, the Maa­sai are at risk of a new 21st-cen­tury pe­riod of emu­tai (erad­i­ca­tion),” said Anu­radha Mit­tal, the di­rec­tor of the Oakland In­sti­tute. “But it does not have to be this way. Un­like the emu­tai of the 19th cen­tury, the hard­ships and abuses cur­rently faced by the Maa­sai can be halted.” –The­guardian

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