By Chris Lang
Maasai pastoralists have lived in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area bordering the Serengeti National Park for generations. But their livelihoods and homes are threatened in the name of conservation. A new report by the Oakland Institute documents how, on 16 April 2021, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority issued eviction notices to 45 people and ordered more than 100 building to be destroyed.
The buildings included homes, schools, religious centres, medical dispensaries, and administration offices. The owners and occupants were given 30 days to comply.
The notice identified more than 150 “immigrants” in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a first step to evicting them in future.
Four days later, after widespread outrage by the people living in the area, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority suspended the eviction and demolition orders “until further notice”.
Indigenous Peoples Rights International organised a petition address to Tanzania’s president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, to stop the eviction of the Maasai. On 12 May 2021, IPRI sent the petition which was signed by 124 organisations and 229 individuals from 51 countries.
Fortress conservation with the support of international conservation agencies
The threat of eviction remains. The Tanzanian government has prepared a multiple land use model (MLUM) with a resettlement plan. The plan, if it went ahead, would create four zones in the Conservation Area, one of which would be for “settlement and development”. But there are no streams in that zone and the land is not suitable for pastoralism.
The Tanzanian government’s plan is driven by international conservation agencies. In March 2019, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, IUCN, and the International Council on Monuments and Sites visited the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The mission report states that,
The NCAA urgently needs to implement stringent policies to control population growth and its subsequent impact on the OUV [outstanding universal value] including its integrity. The absence of this poses serious danger on the natural habitat of the property.
And the mission report recommends that the government should complete the MLUM review exercise “and share the with World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies to advise on the most appropriate land use model, including in the matter of settling local communities in protected areas.”
The plan would increase the area of the comservation area from 8,100 km2 to 12,083 km2. The vast majority of people living in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area – tens of thousands of people – would be evicted. The Oakland Institute writes that the plan threatens “the very survival of the Maasai pastoralists who have stewarded the land for generations”.
Violence, eviction, starvation, and disease
In 2018, the Oakland Institute put out a report titled, “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai land that was to run forever”, written by Anuradha Mittal and Elizabeth Fraser.
In a press release, Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute says,
“For centuries, the Maasai have been the stewards of the land in East Africa’s Great Rift Valley and their lifestyle, livelihoods, and culture are dependent on the thriving surrounding ecosystems. This kind of long-term care and conservation should be rewarded and lauded. Instead, the Maasai are fighting for their lives — facing violence, eviction, starvation, and disease.”
“The government is systematically starving us”
From 25 March to 3 April 2021, the Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organization’s Forum carried out a fact finding mission in Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The report includes a series of quotations from girls and women living in Ngorongoro. “The government is systematically starving us,” a woman from Oloirobi Village says.
An Alaililai Village resident says,
“We, Ngorongoro residents, do not have food. We are permanently starving because of bad policies. Driven by hunger and poverty women and youths are leaving Ngorongoro because hunger is no longer bearable. In distant lands women and children are victimized by criminals. Some women have died of hunger. It is genocide against Ngorongoro pastoralists.”
And a resident of Misigiyo Village says,
“[W]e are told that Ngorongoro is a World Heritage Site. That is fine; absolutely we have no quarrel with that. Tourists flock into Ngorongoro in hundreds of thousands every year. And every tourist is attached to dollars. The money is accrued from our ancestral land. Why are we not given a share of the income accrued from tourism business in our land?”
Tourism has boomed in recent years in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. IUCN describes it as “one of the most intensively visited conservation areas in Africa”. Tourist accommodation includes six lodges, 12 permanent tented camps, and 48 campsites.
More than 73,000 vehicles entered the Ngorongoro Crater in 2018. At the height of the tourist season as many as 350 tourist vehicles enter the crater every day.
The MLUM and resettlement plan makes no specific restrictions on tourism.
Fortress conservation and the 30×30 target
This situation illustrates the threat posed by plans of world leaders and conservation organizations to turn 30 percent of the Earth into Protected Areas by 2030 — more than doubling the extent of areas designated for conservation. Indigenous groups have rightly warned that this model of “fortress conservation” would constitute “the biggest landgrab in history.”