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:
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.
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 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:
- Realizing Indigenous Women’s Rights: A Handbook on the CEDAW, Tebtebba, the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network & Forest Peoples Programme, 2013.
- Toolkit on the Inter-American human rights system for indigenous women Pt.1, Forest Peoples Programme, 2015.
- Toolkit on the Inter-American human rights system for indigenous women Pt.2, Forest Peoples Programme, 2015.
- Indigenous Women of the Americas: guidelines to confront situations of multiple discrimination, The Council of Indigenous Organizations of Jujuy, The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia – Council of Women, Family and Generation, The Mixe People’s Services, Lawyers for Justice and Human Rights, and Quebec Native Women, 2014.
- HerStory of Empowerment, Leadership and Justice, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, 2014.