Tanzanian Maasai struggle against eviction from their ancestral lands
In recent days, members of the Maasai community in Tanzania have been targeted with live ammunition and tear gas, according to lawyers, activists and human rights groups, as forces security forces are trying to evict them to make way for a luxury game reserve with alleged links to Emirati royals.
At least 30 Maasai were injured by security forces as they protested against government plans to demarcate 1,500 km2 of land as a game reserve, according to local activists. The recategorization of the area as a game reserve, rather than a game controlled area, means a ban on grazing and human settlements in the area, experts say.
The battle is the latest in a series of disputes over land use in Tanzania, home to around 400,000 Maasai herders. Government and big game hunting companies have long clashed with indigenous groups, activists say, in a country that before the Covid pandemic drew more than a million tourists a year to attractions such as the Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Serengeti.
A total of nearly 150,000 Maasai face displacement from Loliondo and Ngorongoro regions, the UN said on Wednesday. “We are deeply alarmed by reports of the use of live ammunition and tear gas by Tanzanian security forces,” added a UN human rights panel.
The African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also this week strongly condemned the “forced uprooting” of the Maasai and urged the government to “ensure” that the implementation of the conservation area be done “in full collaboration and participation”. affected communities”.
Unverified footage shared with the Financial Times by activists and human rights groups shows Maasai people dressed in red and purple shawls with injuries to their legs, backs and heads. Some have fled to neighboring Kenya, activists say.
“The government is cracking down on the people, the community, grabbing the ancestral lands of the Maasai, the lands belonging to the villages,” said a Maasai scholar in Tanzania who studies land and wildlife issues and who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. .
For the government, the move comes as it seeks to bolster revenue from tourism, its “largest source of foreign exchange, the second largest contributor to gross domestic product and the third largest contributor to employment” in the West African country. the East, according to a 2019 World Bank report.
“We derive revenue from the reserve by attracting tourists. This allows us to build our roads, our health system and to buy medicines. It also helped us in our budget,” said Gerson Msigwa, spokesman for the Tanzanian government. “We haven’t seen any injured people in our hospitals. No one was killed at Loliondo. People are spreading incitements, which we will not allow as a government.
But human rights organizations have warned against “fortress” conservation, which closes off access to land for communities rooted there. “The government is carrying out a Maasai resettlement plan in many areas. But all this to make way for exclusive hunting activities,” said Joseph Moses Oleshangay, a Maasai human rights lawyer from Loliondo.
He added that the government’s decision “flagrantly violates” a 2018 East African Court of Justice injunction prohibiting the Tanzanian government from evicting and the police from harassing or intimidating Maasai people. of the area after earlier clashes also related to land use.
The Loliondo hunting concession belongs to OBD, a company which Tanzanian lawyers, human rights activists and environmentalists say is linked to the Emirati royal family. “It’s not a safari business for everyone, it has operations for the royal family,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, the environmental think tank.
“It looks like an open attack on the Maasai from Loliondo to Ngorongoro. It is about the conservation of fortresses and safari tourism, in this case, for the elites, the royal family, with the cost being paid by those who have ancestral rights to this land,” she added.
A UN report from 2019, describes OBC as “a luxury game hunting company based in the United Arab Emirates”. He obtained a hunting license in Tanzania in 1992 “allowing the royal family of the United Arab Emirates to organize private hunting trips” and “denied the Maasai people access to land and water for their livestock. , and relied on the Tanzanian armed forces and police to forcibly evict Maasai communities.”
The Emirati government did not respond to requests for comment. Without commenting on alleged links with the Emirates, the OBC said “there is no eviction in Loliondo” which is a “protected area of reserve land”. He said all protected areas belong to the government.
“Due to the growing population in the area and the effect of climate change, the government has decided to decommission the area and has given 2,500 square kilometers to the community and the remaining 1,500 square kilometers are set aside due to the fact that the area is crucial” for wildlife and ecosystem protection, the OBC added. “There is no shortage of land in Tanzania. . . relocation is therefore possible.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the UN body clarified this year that it had never “requested the relocation of the Maasai people”.
Msigwa refuse that police had attacked or expelled Maasai, but that one policeman had been killed with an arrow to the head. The government has built houses for the displaced Maasai, he said.
“There are no evictions, there is nothing, everything is going well, the government is continuing with normal operations,” John Mongella, the commissioner of the Arusha region, told the Financial Times.
Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr in Dubai