Tanzania has ended a 25-year-old hunting tourism deal with a United Arab Emirates company called Otterlo Business Corporation. The deal, set up in 1992, was reported to be in exchange for millions of dollars to Tanzania’s armed forces.
Under the deal, Otterlo Business Corporation gained exclusive hunting rights over an area of 400,000 hectares to the east of Serengeti National Park in Loliondo and Sale divisions of Ngorongoro District.
The Maasai communities who have lived for generations on the land were not consulted before the hunting rights were handed over to a foreign company.
In 2009, more than 200 Maasai homes were burned during a series of evictions. Maasai villagers were left “homeless and without food, clothing, land, water, medical and other basic social needs”, according to a report by the then-UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya.
In August 2017, more evictions took place. Maasai homes were burned and their livestock confiscated. At the end of August, the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) put out a short report about the evictions.
IWGIA urged that the evictions be stopped and recommended that those evicted should be compensated.
A stop to the evictions
On 7 October 2017, in a cabinet reshuffle, Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, dropped Jummane Maghembe, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism. One possible reason was Maghembe’s failure to resolve the land disputes in Loliondo.
Then, at the end of October 2017, Hamisi Kigwangalla, Tanzania’s new Minister for Natural Resources, halted the eviction operations against the Maasai. He ordered that all cattle impounded during the eviction operations should be returned to their owners.
Xinhua reports Kigwangalla as saying that,
“This dispute will not be resolved by guns neither will it be ended by war of words except through a dialogue. I am therefore directing all authorities to immediately call off the exercise.”
Kigwangalla also issued a warning about 6,000 cattle that had been brought from Narok in Kenya, looking for grazing land. And he gave a seven-day ultimatum that 200 tractors should be returned to their country of origin. The tractors were allegedly being used to till land, including around water sources, according to The Daily News.
Susanna Norlund, who has monitored the situation in Loliondo for seven years on her blog “View from the Termite Mound” describes this as a “strange letter” from Kigwangalla, that sounds like, “the typical distraction used by friends of the ‘investor’.”
Cattle migrations into Serengeti National Park
The issue is further complicated by reports of cattle and sheep mass migrations from Loliondo and Ngorongoro district into the Serengeti National Park.
The Daily News reported in early November that livestock herders living in villagers near to Serengeti, who previously drove large herds of cattle into Serengeti at night, are now doing so in broad daylight.
One livestock herder explained that livestock herders were taking their animals into Serengeti, “Because there is drought everywhere and our livestock have been dying.”
Investigations into OBC and the role of Tanzanian government officials
Kigwangalla ordered the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) to arrest and investigate the executive director of the Otterlo Business Corporation, Isaac Mollel. Kigwangalla accuses Mollel of trying to bribe him, and his predecessors.
It doesn’t stop there. Kigwangalla is calling for the PCCB to investigate previous Ministers of Natural Resources and has suspended the Director of Wildlife, Alexander Songorwa.
The EastAfrican reports that Songorwa is accused of “creating a syndicate of government officials in the ministry who have been compromised”.
The Citizen reports Kigwangalla as saying that,
“The director [Songorwa] has been attacking the government by leaking its sensitive information to the media with a view to fueling the Loliondo dispute at a time when the ministry is striving hard to solve it.”
The Citizen reports that Kigwangalla accuses Songorwa of being linked to the illegal issuance of hunting plots.
Kigwangalla told The EastAfrican that OBC will never be awarded another hunting licence.
The EastAfrican reports that,
Government records seen by The EastAfrican show that the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party received financial donations amounting to thousands of dollars from the royal family.
In 1994, according to the records seen by The EastAfrican, CCM received US$32,000 in donations from OBC. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism received more than US$2 million.