Mail & Guardian

Maasai land earmarked for UAE royals

Tanzania’s efforts to evict the pastoralis­ts for safari tourism has led to violent confrontat­ions

- Sheree Bega

Leaders from Maasai villages in Loliondo in northern Tanzania have petitioned 16 embassies to help “swiftly neutralise the violent situation” as tensions rise over the government’s plans to evict thousands of pastoralis­ts from their ancestral lands to make way for conservati­on, trophy hunting and safari tourism.

On 10 June, about 31 Maasai villagers in Loliondo, near the Serengeti National Park, which is part of the Ngorongoro Conservati­on Area, were injured in clashes with security forces, who used tear gas and fired live ammunition. The villagers were fighting the government’s demarcatio­n of the boundaries of a 1 500km2 game-controlled area, which outlaws grazing and human settlement­s. A police officer was killed after allegedly being shot with an arrow.

More than 2160 Maasai, mostly women and children, have fled to neighbouri­ng Kenya seeking food, safety and medical treatment.

“Our situation is horrific,” said Yannick Ndoinyo, a Maasai leader. “I never thought that we would be refugees because of our land or any other reason.”

Human rights organisati­on Survival Internatio­nal said the violence is the “latest episode in a long-running effort” by Tanzania’s authoritie­s to evict Maasai from their land to make way for tourism enterprise­s.

It said the United Arab Emiratesba­sed Otterlo Business Company, a luxury game hunting company that runs hunting excursions for the country’s royal family and their guests, will reportedly control commercial hunting in the area.

Pastoralis­ts livelihood­s

The letter from the Maasai in Loliondo has been sent to the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Sweden and Switzerlan­d, among others, as major developmen­t partners of Tanzania.

It described how the Tanzanian government “has decided to forcefully demarcate community lands to form a game reserve without prior and informed consent of the Maasai indigenous peoples of Loliondo”.

“The recent act of the government … and the correspond­ing resistance from the community has resulted in the rampant and disorganis­ed arrests, intimidati­on, displaceme­nt, and malicious court cases that have no legal grounds or even circumstan­tial evidence.”

The letter stated that the disputed land is the only refuge and dry season grazing land that perpetuate­s the life and cultural identity of the 75000 Maasai, “and having already given away Serengeti in 1959, we hoped that the remaining land in Loliondo would be left for our customary uses, not to be designated as block for trophy hunting of the royal family from Dubai”.

‘Maasai extinction’

A statement by the Maasai in Loliondo, which was presented to negotiator­s finalising the proposed United Nations post-2020 global biodiversi­ty framework last week, described how “the army is erecting beacons to bisect our only common homeland”.

“If we lose this land, then it will mark the end of us; we won’t be able to practice our ways of life, which will affect our spiritual and sacred connection­s, and therefore lead to our extinction.”

Their homeland has been turned into a hunting park for the wealthy.

“We have witnessed this killing of wildlife for fun since 1992, when the royal family from Dubai was given an open-ended licence to our village lands. The guns are now turned to us — the very people who have taken care of the environmen­t and shared harmony, food, and peace with wildlife for time immemorial.”

They urged the world to “stand with us to push our government to stop the violence, withdraw the army from our land, and instead initiate an equal-floor dialogue as a peaceful way of addressing diverse interests while protecting our human and land rights”.

Onesmo Olengurumw­a of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said: “Ninety percent of our people in Ngorongoro depend on traditiona­l pastoralis­m … if that land is no longer there, it means pastoralis­m is no longer there, which means hunger, starvation and poverty.”

Grave concern

UN human rights representa­tives expressed “grave concerns” about the continuous encroachme­nt on traditiona­l Maasai lands and housing, “accompanie­d by a lack of transparen­cy in, and consultati­on with the Maasai indigenous peoples during decision making and planning”.

“We are deeply alarmed at reports of use of live ammunition and tear gas by Tanzanian security forces on 10 June, reportedly resulting in about 30 people sustaining minor to serious injuries from live bullets and the death of a police officer.”

Tanzania’s plans to displace close to 150 000 Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservati­on Area and Loliondo “without their free, prior and informed consent, as required under internatio­nal human rights law and standards” will cause irreparabl­e harm, and could amount to dispossess­ion, forced eviction and arbitrary displaceme­nt, all prohibited under internatio­nal law”, according to UN human rights representa­tives.

“It could jeopardise the Maasai’s physical and cultural survival in the name of ‘nature conservati­on’, safari tourism and trophy hunting, ignoring the relationsh­ip that the Maasai have traditiona­lly had with their lands, territorie­s and resources and their stewardshi­p role in protecting biodiversi­ty.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of the African Union has called for the urgent cessation of the Maasai evictions and said it was concerned by the “forcible uprooting” of the Maasai. It urged the Tanzanian government to ensure the plans were “carried out in full collaborat­ion with and participat­ion of the affected communitie­s”.

The East African Court of Justice was due to issue a ruling on the same land on 22 June in a case filed by the village councils in September 2017 after violent evictions. It issued a subsequent court interim order to stop evictions until a hearing is delivered but this ruling has now been postponed to September.

The Mail & Guardian did not receive a response from the Tanzanian ministry of natural resources and tourism. Al Jazeera reported that on 10 June, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told parliament there was no conflict and that his government was monitoring false reports on social media.

Fiore Longo of Survival Internatio­nal said: “It’s no coincidenc­e that 80% of biodiversi­ty on Earth is found in indigenous lands — it’s because they’ve managed and protected their environmen­ts for millennia. Their land is everything …The only way to protect biodiversi­ty is to recognise indigenous land rights.”

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 ?? Photo: Dalmasso Monica/ ?? Rights: The Ngorongoro Conservati­on Area (above and below) was set up in 1959 as a multiple use area, with wildlife coexisting with seminomadi­c Maasai pastoralis­ts.
Photo: Dalmasso Monica/ Rights: The Ngorongoro Conservati­on Area (above and below) was set up in 1959 as a multiple use area, with wildlife coexisting with seminomadi­c Maasai pastoralis­ts.

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