Tanzania: Government says Masaai eviction is to save its tourism sector

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam
Posted on Tuesday, 30 August 2022 12:07

Jonathan Mpute ole Pasha, national coordinator of the Maa Unity Agenda group, is surrounded by tear gas thrown by police to break up a small demonstration of Maasai rights activists outside the Tanzanian high commission in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Friday, June 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The decision of the Tanzanian government to evacuate the Maasai community from their ancestor land in Ngorongoro and Loliondo has received little attention by international media. Locally, many have criticised the government's approach. The process has caused fighting between the Maasai and security officials and in June, the government confirmed one police officer was killed in the fighting.

Since the clashes in June, several Maasai have been arrested and charged with murder at the Arusha Magistrate Court, while several others have been injured at the hands of government forces – accusations denied by the state.

“I am not leaving this historical land to me and my ancestors. I will fight until the end,” one Maasai pastoralist tells The Africa Report from Ngorongoro, on conditions of anonymity, fearing government reprisal.

On 12 June 2022, authorities in Tanzania started relocating the Maasai community from Ngorongoro to Msomera village in Handeni where the government has built houses for them. The government insists the process is voluntary and the priority is to preserve the ecology of the Ngorongoro and Loliondo areas for tourism activities.

Until August, more than 500 families had already been relocated to Msomera in Tanga Region.

Maasai in Ngorongoro and Loliondo conservation areas

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands, and forests. Established in 1959 as a multiple land use area with wildlife, coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practising traditional livestock grazing, it also includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest caldera.

The property is prized for its biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife in the area, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back some 3.6 million years.

Saving tourism

The government says it is taking this step to protect the Ngorongoro area because the increase in the Maasai population and agriculture activities endanger the tourism sector.

The government wants to protect these areas and with the increase of population it is becoming difficult, which is why we […] urge the Maasai to relocate to a safe place in Msomera

According to 2021/2022 data from the tourism ministry, 347,328 tourists visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, thereby helping the country get TSh73.8bn ($31.6m).

Meanwhile, the government says it is providing the relocated Maasai with enough social services.

“The government wants to protect these areas and with the increase of population, it is becoming difficult, which is why we […] urge the Maasai to relocate to a safe place in Msomera. No one was forced to leave. Please help our people to understand that,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told parliament in April this year.

Several high-ranking government officials, including Tourism Minister Pindi Chana, Police Chief Camillus Wambura and the prime minister, have visited Ngorongoro and Loliondo and urged citizens to respect government directives to leave the area.

“We want to digitise this place and it’s important to minimise the number of people living in Ngorongoro and Loliondo. This is an important area for the economy of Tanzania and we are obliged to protect it at any cost,” said Chana.

However, Maasai activists in Arusha say the Maasai are paying the price for government efforts to privatise the Ngorongoro and Loliondo areas.

“[The] Maasai have been here for almost five to six decades and the government has been grabbing our land for many years. Why is the government using excessive force to remove us from our land? All because of Arabs who want to invest in this area?” says Lemokani Mkisa, a Maasai activist based in Arusha.

Who is welcome?

Reports from several unidentified government sources indicate that the Tanzanian government has welcomed foreign investors, including the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), a safari company set up by a UAE official close to the Dubai royal family, to commercialise tourism activities in Ngorongoro. The claims, however, have been denied by senior government officials.

Another activist, Ndikosai Lingayen, says he witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by security organs.

“Why is the government using security forces in this process? We are seeing a total violation of human rights in Ngorongoro and Loliondo. People are being beaten, the authorit[ies] [are] taking the properties of the Maasai, such as cows and goats, as a means of convincing them to agree to be relocated,” he says.

Tanzania’s law

Tanzania’s Village Land Act of 1999 requires consultation procedures with the Village Council and Village Assemblies in cases where evictions are deemed necessary. The Village Land Act also requires whole, fair, and prompt compensation.

In 2018, the East African Court of Justice issued an injunction prohibiting the government of Tanzania from evicting the Maasai from the area. The court injunction was issued after the government’s effort to try to remove the Maasai from their areas.

Meanwhile, from the case of The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights decision in Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group (on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council) versus Kenya, it states that the members should be consulted and their consent sought after and obtained before any action is taken.

UN chimes-in

Article 10 of the UN Declaration Charter says: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible with the option to return.”

On 16 June, while meeting with Tanzania’s minister of legal and constitutional affairs Damas Ndumbaro in Geneva, UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet expressed concerns over the process of evicting the Maasai.

“I believe, there must be a legal framework and observation of rule of law and international law, ” said the former Chilean president.

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