Tanzania’s Maasai evicted in the name of conservation and luxury safari tourism

A new report by the Oakland Institute describes how hundreds of Maasai homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people evicted from their land in the name of conservation in northern Tanzania.

Maasai communities are paying the cost of the Tanzanian government putting foreign safari companies ahead of indigenous peoples’ rights.

The Oakland Institute’s report, “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai land that was to run forever”, is written by Anuradha Mittal and Elizabeth Fraser.

Since the mid-20th century the Maasai have been pushed off their traditional land, including the Serengeti National Park.

The Maasai were relocated in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. But they have also faced a series of evictions from these regions. Laws aimed at conservation have restricted their rights to graze cattle and cultivate land for subsistence.

The result is widespread hunger for Maasai communities.

Oakland Institute’s report focusses on the impact of two companies: US-based Thomson Safaris; and United Arab Emirates-based Otterlo Business Corporation.

Thomson Safaris

Tanzania Conservation Limited is owned by Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson, the couple that owns Thomson Safaris. In 2006, Tanzania Conservation Limited paid US$1.2 million to Tanzania Breweries Ltd for a 96-year lease to 5,105 hectares.

Tanzania Conservation Limited has denied the Maasai access to grazing areas and watering holes. The Maasai face intimidation and violence from police, called in by Tanzania Conservation Limited. Since 2006, the Maasai have been forced to remove their cattle and bomas from the land. (A boma is a thorn-bush enclosure for cattle with a series of small huts for the Maasai.)

Three Maasai villages, Mondorosi, Sukenya, and Soitsambu, argue that when the District Council sold the land to Tanzania Breweries in 1984 to grow barley, it did so without the local communities’ consent. In 1990, Tanzania Breweries Ltd abandoned the land. The Maasai villagers argue that they are the owners of the land, through adverse possession.

In July 2013, the three villages filed a lawsuit in the High Court of Tanzania against Tanzania Breweries Limited, Tanzania Conservation Limited, the Ngorongoro District Council, the Commissioner for Lands, and the Attorney General.

In October 2015, the Court ruled against the Maasai. In January 2017, they appealed. The case is pending.

In his testimony, Shangwe Isata Ndekere of Sukenya village said that,

“The bomas that were built on the land were burnt down . . . as a result of this, people were physically hurt, beaten by the police, and prosecuted.”

Thomson Safaris denies all allegations against Tanzania Conservation Limited’s operations. Thomson Safaris told the Associated Press that the “awful allegations of abuse are simply untrue”.

One of the Mondorosi villagers told the Oakland Institute,

From the top of the hills and between the plains . . . all this land belonged to Mondorosi village but has been now taken over by Thomson Safaris and Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL) without our consent. It all started nearly ten years ago when they started chasing us away from our lands. Some villagers were even shot at.

The lands that Thomson [Safaris] took over are the grazing lands of our people. We live in fear, surrounded by spies including our neighboring villages. They get bribes from the investors as well as the jobs. No one from our village is hired at Thomson’s. But we believe in God. This land belongs to us, and some day it will be returned to us.

Otterlo Business Corporation

In 1992, the Tanzanian government gave the Otterlo Business Corporation a hunting license for 400,00 hectares. The United Arab Emerates’ royal family are among the vistors conducting private hunting trips on the land.

Tanzanian government forces working with Otterlo security guards have violently evicted several Maasai communities, burning their homes and belongings, and displacing their livestock.

In July 2009, Otterlo security guards and Tanzania’s paramilitary Field Force Unit burned down 200 bomas. More than 3,000 people were left homeless.

In 2010, James Anaya then-UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples produced a report about the evictions. Anaya wrote that,

“The circumstances surrounding the evictions indicate that the evictions were in fact part of a larger Government policy favoring the interests of private enterprises engaged in conservation tourism and wildlife hunting, principally the Ortello Business Corporation, over the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly the Maasai pastoralists.”

Further violent evictions have taken place since 2009, most recently in August 2017. One of the Maasai villagers told the Oakland Institute

“They threaten to burn our homes. They say it is their land. We are tired of living in fear on our own land.”

In November 2017, Hamisi Kigwangalla, Tanzania’s newly appointed Natural Resources Minister, ended Otterlo Business Corporation’s hunting concession.

But the Guardian reports local people in Tanzania as saying that, “Otterlo continues to operate safari tours in Loliondo to the detriment of villagers”.

The Oakland Institute report notes that the reality facing the Maasai in Northern Tanzania is all too familiar to indigenous communities around the world.

In too many places, national governments, private corporations, and large conservation groups collude in the name of conservation, not just to force indigenous groups off their land – but to force them out of existence.

This colonization of indigenous land in the name of conservation must end.


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