On 11 May 2018, Conservation Watch wrote a post based on a report by the Oakland Institute, “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever”. The report documents in detail the human rights abuses faced by the Maasai in the Ngorongoro and Loliondo regions of Tanzania.
In recent years, hundreds of Maasai homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people evicted from their land in the name of conservation and safari tourism.
The government’s response: “Fake report!”
Tanzanian government officials responded to the Oakland Institute’s report by denying the problem. Meanwhile, the harassment and intimidation of the Maasai continues.
Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Hamisi Kigwangalla, put out a press release stating that the findings of the Oakland Institute’s report were untrue, and that the government was in any case working to resolve the disputes described in the report.
The press release asked Tanzanians and the international community to ignore all misleading reports aimed at criticising the government and creating conflict.
Kigwangalla then turned to Twitter:
On 6 June 2018, the Oakland Institute sent an open letter to President John Magufuli regarding the responses and the ongoing intimidation on the ground. The letter is available here and is well worth reading.
In the letter, the Oakland Institute firmly rejects Kigwangalla’s accusations:
Our report is based on extensive field research conducted by Oakland Institute researchers and a rigorous examination of primary and secondary source documents. This included reviewing 800 pages of Thomson Safaris’ internal documents. The documents demonstrate the veracity of the allegations that local communities have made against Tanzania Conservation Ltd, which is owned by the same couple that own Thomson Safaris, regarding denied access to vital grazing areas and watering holes and intimidation and violence from the local police, who are sometimes called in by the safari company. In addition, many of the violations in our report have been documented on by international human rights experts such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Juan Méndez, former members of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries Patricia Arias and Anton Katz, and numerous international NGOs.
Creating a climate of fear and intimidation
The Oakland Institute notes that, “Smear articles have falsely accused several local individuals and organizations as being involved in the production of our report.”
The Oakland Institute points out that in fact, the report was researched and written independently by the Oakland Institute. No support, assistance, or funding came from any Tanzanian-based NGOs or individuals.
On 7 June 2018, the East African Court of Justice will hear a case brought by four Maasai villages: Ololosokwan, Kirtalo, Oloirien, and Arash. The case is against the Tanzanian government because of its role in the violent evictions that took place in August 2017.
Before the hearing, the government and police have harassed, intimidated, and arrested the plaintiffs. On 31 May 2018, lawyers representing the Maasai villagers wrote an urgent letter to the East African Court of Justice. The letter asks for support to stop the repression of the Maasai.
Last week, 24 Maasai community members, including three village chairmen, were ordered to go to the Loliondo Police Station, where they were detained.
The Oakland Institute reports that they face the following charges:
- instituting a case against the central government without permission;
- holding a community meeting without permission from the government;
- contributing financial resources to pay the lawyers without government approval; and,
- unfounded and false allegations that these individuals were involved in the production of the Oakland Institute report.
They have been released, but must report to the local police chief every Friday, including on 8 June 2018.
The hearing at the East African Court of Justice will take place in Arusha on Thursday, 7 June 2018. Since Arusha is more than 400 kilometres from Loliondo, the police are, in effect, preventing the 24 people they arrested from attending the court hearing.
In a press release, the Oakland Institute states that,
Given the government’s efforts to derail the legal case, the Maasai villagers are calling for international attention to their situation in the hope that it will force the government to cease its abuses and allow the legal case to move forward. “We are seeking support and assistance from the international community because our government is the pioneer of these violations and cannot even listen to us or respect the court,” said one community member from the impacted villages.