in Tanzania

How Maasai women are fighting against a United Arab Emirates corporate landgrab in Tanzania

In 1992, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, then Tanzania’s president, agreed a deal with Brigadier Mohamed Abdul Rahim Al Ali, deputy minister of defense of the United Arab Emirates. But this wasn’t only a military deal.

Reportedly in exchange for millions of dollars to Tanzania’s armed forces, Mohamed Abdul Rahim Al Ali’s hunting tourism company Otterlo Business Corporation got exclusive hunting rights on an area of 400,000 hectares in Loliondo and Sale divisions of Ngorongoro District. The land is to the east of the Serengeti National Park.

UPDATE – 13 November 2015: Shortly after I posted this article, Susanna Nordlund sent this tweet:

I asked for details and she wrote a comment, below. I’ve corrected the post to incorporate her comments. (The original version is archived here.)

In his book “The Landgrabbers”, Fred Pearce writes:

Allegations soon surfaced of hunting by the brigadier’s guests outside the six-month season, of bush burning to drive the animals towards their hunters, of marksmen going out at night with spotlights to shoot leopards from vehicles using AK-47s, and even of lions being captured and taken from a private airstrip to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates.


Today, when visitors enter Otterlo Business Corporation’s area, they receive a message on their mobile phones saying, “Welcome to the United Arab Emirates.”

Maasai communities were not even consulted

Maasai communities have lived for generations on this land. They were not consulted about the plans to hand over hunting rights on their land to a foreign company. The Maasai have to keep out of the way of Otterlo Business Corporation’s elite guests. Tanzania’s paramilitary Field Force Unit makes sure they do.

In 2009, the Field Force Unit and Otterlo Business Corporation’s security staff evicted several Maasai villages and kicked out their cattle. James Anaya, then-UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, produced a report about the evictions in 2010.

More than 200 homes were burned down, Anaya wrote. Three thousand people were left homeless. Fields and food stores were destroyed. One woman was repeatedly raped by a police officer. Four pregnant women suffered miscarriages. At least three children were still missing when Anaya visited the area. “7-year old Nashipai Gume disappeared in the chaos and has never been found,” Susanna Nordlund writes.

The Tanzanian government did not respond to Anaya’s report.

Otterlo Business Corporation’s plans

In 2010-2011, Otterlo Business Corporation funded a non-participatory district land use plan, that would have turned 150,000 hectares of dry season grazing land next to the Serengeti National Park into a protected area – not protected from hunting, of course.

The proposed plan would have resulted in the eviction of 30,000 Maasai, and would have affected tens of thousands more who graze their livestock on the land in the dry season.

In February 2011, the District Council rejected this plan.

In 2013, Khamis Kagasheki, then-Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, described the Maasai as “landless”. Kagasheki said the government would take over the 150,000 hectares of land and would “probably” transfer the rest of the 400,000 hectares of land to the Maasai, to be managed as a wildlife management area.

In a speech on 23 September 2013, prime minister Mizengo Pinda said that the land belonged to the Maasai.

This land grab is the setting for LifeMosaic’s video “Women Champions of Buffalo River”, the latest in the series Territories of Life.

LifeMosaic focusses on the Maasai women’s struggle to get their rights recognised, how they managed to gain the attention of Tanzania’s prime minister and the attention of the world, the strategies they used, and the difficulties they faced:

Kijolo Kakeya, chairperson of the Women Champions explains the struggle:

Government talks about laws and policy, but we, Maasai, talk about territory and life. So we are striving for collective rights. For rights that go beyond the present generation. The Maasai would like the government to respect our traditional land management, but the government is mainly concerned with making profit and does not have long term sustainable thinking.

The company negotiated with village leaders who were men. They paid money to them. When Otterlo Business Corporation asked the Maasai to sign an agreement for compensation, they refused. But the district authority agreed on behalf of the Maasai. “We started a women’s movement to get the company out of this land,” Kijolo Kakeya says.

At first the Maasai men were opposed to the protests, but have since joined the struggle to secure their territories.

Kootu Tome describes the strategy of getting women involved in the struggle:

An important strategy is to mobilise the women. Women must believe they have a role to protect their lands, because before women didn’t know that. Now we are very confident of our abilities in leadership roles.
And there was a culture of fear to speak out. Women couldn’t challenge men’s decisions, even decisions that would affect the whole community. That affect everyone, including women. Women wouldn’t stand for it in front of men. So we do a lot of awareness raising to empower women to be able to stand forward in their communities.

The women hired a lawyer. They used legal means as well as mass protests and demonstrations. The fact that thousands of Maasai women were protesting attracted international media attention.

The Maasai’s struggle for their land continues. LifeMosaic’s video ends with this note:


LifeMosaic’s website includes a resources page, with links to the following reports related to this video:


Leave a Reply

  1. There are some errors in this post.

    The extrajudicial evictions in the drought year 2009 were not because of Wildlife Conservation Act 2009 that did not come into effect until 2010. The reason was that OBC complained about too many people and cattle. The Wildlife Conservation Act did not turn Loliondo GCA into a protected area, since it should in that case have been declared so within a year after the act came into operation. All land in Loliondo is village land according to Village Land Act No. 5 of 1999, and land laws take precedence over wildlife laws in matters of land. The people who were evicted from OBC’s core hunting area next to Serengeti National Park eventually returned. OBC do not own any land. They only have the hunting block (permit to hunt).A 7-year old girl, Nashipai Gume, was lost in the evictions, and has not been found, and some 60,000 cattle were pushed into an extreme drought area.

    In 2010/2011 a non-participatory district land use plan – totally funded by OBC – proposed turning 1,500 km2 of dry season grazing land next to Serengeti National Park into the new kind of Game Controlled Area that is a protected area (not protected from hunting). This was strongly rejected by the District Council in February 2011. OBC’s hunting block is some 4,000 km2 – the whole of Loliondo division of Ngorongoro district, district capital included, and part of Sale division, but OBC mostly hunt in the 1,500 km2 next to the national park.

    In 2013 (not 2012) did the then Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, make threatening statements telling bizarre lies that the Maasai were “landless” and would be “given” the remaining land – that already was theirs – while the government would “keep” the 1,500 km2. This was not about “expanding” OBC’s land since OBC did not have any land. It was another attempt at grabbing the core hunting area of 1,500 km2, after the land use plan trick failed. After many meetings and several protest delegations to Dar es Salaam and Dodoma did the PM in a speech on 23 September 2013 declare that the land belonged to the Maasai, and that they could continue their lives in peace, but this has still not been put in writing.

    The “new” (also “ex” now after the elections) Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism did in 2014 hold closed meetings with Loliondo councillors allegedly threatening them about the land, and trying to buy them off, but there was no public statement from the government.
    Parts of the press and some organisations wrote wildly inaccurate articles.

    The best known women’s protests were the walks to Loliondo town, and handing in of CCM cards in April 2010, demanding that a parliamentary committee report about the 2009 evictions should be tabled in parliament. Not much came out of this. And, in April 2013 when thousands of women camped out and managed to have the CCM deputy secretary general visit them and express support, which was an important part of stopping the 2013 1,500 km2 grab attempt.

    I have a blog about OBC and another land grabbing “investor” in Loliondo, and am constantly seeking information.

    Thanks for writing about Loliondo.

  2. Thank you, Chris. This is much better.

    Though Pearce’s description is highly sensationalist, and does maybe describe what happened in the early 90s. The whole hunting industry is corrupt and OBC is probably not following all regulations, but there’s no evidence that Loliondo would be worse than other hunting blocks.

    Many more people than those living in the 1,500 km2 would be affected if it were declared a “protected area”, since they depend on it for seasonal grazing, and the land grab would also affect people further away by knock-on effect. The extrajudicial evictions in 2009, the rejected land use plan in 2010-2011, and Kagasheki’s threats and lies in 2013 were all attempts at emptying the 1,500 km2, OBC’s core hunting area, of people and cattle. Last year the focus was on trying to bribe local leaders, which only works as far as that some will call others “Kenyans” and praise OBC in media, but not even those people would agree to anything about the 1,500 km2.

    I have no idea how or if things will change with the new government. It does at least seem like Magufuli has not incited against pastoralists, which is what Kikwete did already in his inauguration speech in 2005. Ngorongoro has a better MP now. The old one spoke up against the evictions in 2009, but had by 2013 been totally corrupted.