PLIGHT OF INDIGENOUS TANZANIAN MAASAI

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Thousands of indigenous Tanzanian Maasai people  met brutal police repression when they demonstrated against being expelled from their land, exhibiting how ineffective and inhumane the conservationist movement can be. The Maasai people are an ethnic group living in Kenya and northern Tanzania.

 

Tanzanian Maasai clash with police Tanzanian Maasai clash with police over controversial evictions. Image The Guardian

 

Local activists say anywhere between 700 and 2,000 people including women and children  fled the government crackdown in the Loliondo region of northern Tanzania in June, with at least 28 people reported to have sustained serious injuries during a demonstration against the demarcation of 1,500 sq km of land where 70,000 Maasai pastoralists live.

IMPUNITY OVER THE RULE OF LAW

On January 21,  2022 the Tanzanian government began demarcating 1500 sq km of disputed land in Loliondo, resuming previous contentious plans to make way for elite tourism and trophy hunting. Plans are underway to evict tens of thousands of local Maasai residents to create a “protected” area in Loliondo, with police preparing to use force on those who resist. Over one thousand community members  gathered to protest at the place of demarcation on January 21, 2022, announcing that they will not leave the area until the demarcation process stops.

On January 22 the police vacated the area following increasing pressure from the protesters who destroyed the drums erected by local authorities to indicate the demarcation line. The plans have resumed despite being halted in 2013 by the former administration as a result of great international pressure and the 2018 East African Court of Justice’s court injunction in favor of the community. The Tanzania Government seems to be determined to evict thousands of indigenous Maasai residents to create space for trophy hunting and elite tourism. This is typical impunity synonymous with most African governments.

As part of the revived plan, the Ortello Business Company, a hunting firm owned by the United Arab Emirates’ Royal Family which already operates in the area, is being given exclusive rights to hunt in the 1500 sq km of disputed land. The duration of this deal is unknown but going by the way Tanzania is determined to proceed with it, it may be long term and renewable. Indigenous Tanzania Maasai say they have nowhere else to go and that wherever they are being driven to will not be adequate.

At the same time the Tanzanian government is preparing to implement the new multiple land use  (MLUM) and resettlement plan in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The NCA plan, proposes to divide the Ngorongoro Conservation Area into four zones with at least 82% of the Area now legally accessible for pastoralism will be designated as conservation Area and the remaining 18% as a multiple Land Use for Human and Wildlife. On this option, the government proposes for resettlement of more than 70,000 pastoral community members largely  indigenous Tanzanian Maasai.

 

 

Trophy hun Trophy hunting is a favorite sport of the elite and Tanzania seems to be salivating for the money. Image Rungwa Game Safaris

 

 

CONSERVATION TURNED MISCHIEF

 

On the alternative option, the government recommends for a total resettlement of all persons now legally residing in the NCAA with the option of turning it into a Game Control Area to license trophy hunting activities.

The options would greatly reduce the area with access to Maasai Pastoralists for livestock grazing and other livelihoods and would force all NCA residents out of the NCA. This would significantly affect the life of more than 90,000 NCA indigenous, mostly Maasai. As it stands, indigenous Tanzanian Maasai face the possibility of looming extinction as a community.

In total the local residents that will be affected by the evictions and by the restricted access to these areas are around 167,000 (97,000 living wholly within NCA and 70,000 in and around Loliondo).

As the government prepares to implement plans in both NCA and Loliondo, communities from both areas have been working relentlessly to respond and negotiate with relative parties, to continue driving forward ongoing and new litigation efforts and build a collective community-led strategy to support everyone affected and resist any eviction plan.

As a result of this process the local community, village chairpersons and traditional leaders in Ngorongoro District have put together these demands for the Tanzanian government on the current human and land rights issues:

 

LOLIONDO

  1. The government should desist from threatening, intimidating or relocating communities pending the determination of the East African Court of Justice. The East African Court of Justice has ordered for maintenance of the status quo.
  2. The government, the Arusha Regional Commissioner and the District Commissioner should publicly announce the suspension of installation of the beacon in the 1500sq km

 

NGORONGORO

  1. The Tanzania Government and International agencies involved in informing the new MLUM in NCA, such as UNESCO and IUCN, should desist from executing and supporting in any way the current new MLUM, the General Management Plan and related law review proposals that will inevitably result in serious  human right violations
  2. The government should abandon its secret relocation plans part of the new MLUM in NCA that have caused sustained fear among the local community and will inevitably lead to the erosion of the community’s livelihood and cultural identity
  3. The government should transparently address the claim that the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) has recently provided salt licks for livestock contaminated by toxic substances that have already caused the death of Maasai livestock. In this regard, the government should then take appropriate legal measures against anyone responsible for this dead
  4. The government should be pursuant to the law that establishes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority acting giving equal weight and importance to the three founding legal objectives: safeguard and develop the interests of the Maasai Pastoral Community, Conservation and Tourism.
  5. Given the historical records and the emerged misunderstanding between the Maasai community in one hand and the government/NCAA, UNESCO and IUCN on the other, there is a timely need to re-address claimed historical injustices against the community, including the large-scale dispossession of Maasai land, displacement of Maasai people and the eradication of their indigenous knowledge in the management of the area.
  6. The government to restore all suspended development projects including schools, heath services, water projects in NCA with no conditions.

The community demands for an Independent  Commission of inquiry to address the current and historical human rights injustices in the NCA and the involvement and role of Tanzania Government, UNESCO and IUCN in those violations.

 

Kenyan Maasai in solidarity with Tanzanian maasai Kenyan Maasai community exhibited solidarity in support of Tanzanian counterparts. Image AfricaNews

For both the Ngorongoro conservation area and  Loliondo, the government should promote an independent study about the social, economic and environmental impacts  of the existing model of coexistence between the local ecosystem and local communities before any eviction. The study should come up with best long term strategies for both the government and local communities and be carried out by an independent team of environmental as well as human and land rights consultants.

It is highly believed that Tanzania is riding under the guise of conservation so as to reap big from the elite Emirates royal family activities in the region much to the detriment of indigenous Tanzanian Maasai people. The UN has  called on the Tanzanian government to stop the planned evictions, given that it appears “impossible to guarantee that the relocation of the Maasai from the area will not amount to forced evictions and arbitrary displacement under international law”.

The Maasai pastoralists have shared land and resources of the savannah with its famed wildlife—zebras, elephants and wildebeests—and living for generations in areas which are now tourism hotspots. Loliondo is one of the homes of the Maasai community, which is spread across southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Maasais of Loliondo were first relocated from the newly-established Serengeti National Park by British colonial authorities in 1959. At the time, the government promised that the well-being of the people living in the area would take precedence over the preservation of wildlife in the savannah.

It seems like history is about to repeat itself as the plight of indigenous Tanzanian Maasai people raises disturbing concerns of a community that has personally impacted positively in promoting tourism through its unique traditions and culture. It will be interesting to see which route UNESCO which is an arm of the UN will follow , bearing in mind that the UN at some point has hinted about a breach of international law in the planned evictions.

 

Some segments of this article credited to Ylenia Gostoli

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