In September 2018, the East African Court of Justice awarded a major victory to four Maasai villages in northern Tanzania. The court granted an interim order preventing the government of Tanzania and its agents from evicting villagers from Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arashi in Ngorogoro District, Tanzania.
The Court ordered the government to stop evictions, to stop destroying villagers’ homesteads, and to stop confiscating villagers’ livestock.
The Court case follows a series of violent evictions of Maasai indigenous peoples who live in Loliondo and Sali divisions of Ngorogoro District, to the east of Serengeti National Park. The most recent evictions were in August 2017. Following these evictions, the four village councils took their case to the East African Court of Justice.
Decades of injustice
Since 1992, a United Arab Emirates company called Otterlo Business Corporation has been running hunting safaris on the Maasai’s territory. The Maasai were not consulted before their the government handed over hunting rights on their land.
Violent evictions took place in 2009, when more than 200 homes were burned down, and three thousand people were left homeless.
Since 2010, Otterlo Business Corporation has been lobbying to get an area of 150,000 hectares of land classified as a “protected area”. That would result in the eviction of 30,000 Maasai, and would affect tens of thousands more who graze their livestock on this land during the dry season.
In May 2018, the Oakland Insitute published a report about the Maasai’s struggle for their land. The report documents in detail how the Tanzanian government and foreign companies use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai.
Commenting on the Court’s ruling, the Oakland Institute writes,
The Court’s ruling grants an injunction that prohibits the Tanzanian government from evicting the Maasai communities from a vital 1,500 km2 parcel of land. Furthermore, it prohibits the destruction of Maasai homesteads and the confiscation of livestock on said land, and bans the office of the Inspector General of Police from harassing and intimidating the plaintiffs, pending the full determination of their case. The injunction remains in effect until a ruling on the full case concerning the August 2017 evictions can be heard.
In their ruling, the judges considered the government of Tanzania’s argument that the evictions were aimed at protecting the environment. “With utmost respect to well acknowledge environmental considerations,” the judges asked, “would the injustice to the flora and fauna, in the short term, be graver than the injustice to the social existence of communities of human beings?”
The judges ruled that,
We have carefully considered the totality of the circumstances of this case. We take the view that, in the short term, the important duty to avert environmental and other ecological concerns pales in the face of the social disruption and human suffering that would inevitably flow from the continued eviction of the Applicants’ residents.
In a statement, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, says that,
“It is now vital for both the East African Court and the international community to ensure that the Tanzanian government abides by this ruling and immediately halts the harassment, intimidation, and violence it has waged against the villages involved in this case as well as the broader Maasai community in Loliondo. It is time for the Tanzanian government to stop colluding with game parks and safari companies and finally recognize the land rights of its Maasai population as well as their longstanding role as environmental stewards of the land.”