By Chris Lang
Maasai Indigenous people living in Loliondo Division of Ngorongoro District in Tanzania continue to be threatened with evictions. Since 1992, the government has issued permits on an area of 4,000 square kilometres of land to a hunting tourism company called Otterlo Business Corporation. The company is owned by Dubai Royals.
Neither the Tanzanian government, nor Otterlo Business Corporation, has ever sought the free, prior and informed consent of the Maasai about the hunting on their land. The government is once again threatening to evict the Maasai from an area of 1,500 square kilometres of land. This land provides important grazing land for the Maasai’s livestock during the dry season.
Last week, Al Jazeera’s The Stream asked, “Why are Tanzania’s Maasai being forced off their ancestral land?”
The discussion featured Joseph Moses Oleshangay, a human rights lawyer from Ngorongoro and Erick Kabendera, a Tanzanian investigative journalist based in London. Edward Porokwa, of the Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organization’s Forum (Pingo’s Forum) should have taken part but technical problems prevented him from doing so.
“Land is a source of knowledge, a source of life, a source of identity”
The programme features a recorded contribution from Samwel Nangiria, a Maasai organiser:
“What is happening in Ngorongoro and Loliondo today is not new. It is a continuation of colonial processes of evicting us, taking our land for business, for money, for tourism. We have taken care of all these lands, for so long and we are still taking care of it. Because by taking care it means it provides everything we need. And land to us is not something that can stand alone. Land is a source of knowledge, a source of life, a source of identity.”
The programme starts with Al Jazeera’s presenter Femi Oke asking Erick Kabendera what the government is planning for the Maasai.
“The main issue here is that the Maasai people are protesting against government’s new move to evict them from their Indigenous land,” Kabendera replies. “The government argues that the area is overpopulated and the Maasai are affecting the wildlife in the area, he explains.
“This is not a new conflict. The dispute has been on-going since 1992, and the government has commissioned several investigations, parliamentary committees have been formed a couple of time to investigate the matter and provide solutions. But none of the committees that have been formed in the past have been able to come up with a tangible solution. And none of the solutions that have been presented by different stakeholders have been worked on by the government.”
Later on in the discussion, Oke asks whether there have been any solutions so far.
“The solutions have been quite vague,” Kabendera replies, “and in most cases the Maasai people have not been part of the solution. It’s for the government basically to sit in Parliament and in close door and coming up with solutions and taking it to the Maasai, and this has been the reason why this dispute is not coming to an end.”
Evicted from the Serengeti
Oleshangay talks about the area in which the Maasai live. “Briefly, for anyone who has never been to Ngorongoro,” he says, “it is one of the still very beautiful places in the world.”
“It is almost like the Serengeti, which is not inhabited by anyone. There are huge numbers of wildlife . . . more than in any other place in Tanzania. So much has to be attributed to the work of the Maasai both in the Serengeti, now in Ngorongoro. I want to put this into perspective. Actually, since the 1980s, the government has been complaining that the number of people and the livestock has reached the level of irreversible damage to the ecosystem. But the facts on the grounds show the reverse of this.”
Al Jazeera asked the Tanzanian government about the proposed evictions, but didn’t get any official response. “Which is a shame, because it would be really nice to understand exactly how they are thinking about this,” Oke says.
In 2018, in a report titled “Losing the Serengeti”, the Oakland Institute produced a map illustrating the two areas involved:
Kabendera explains that in 1959 the colonial government evicted the Maasai people from the Serengeti National Park to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. He adds that the government is planning to move the Maasai well away from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Oleshangay further clarifies what the government is proposing:
“The proposal by the government is a total resettlement out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Which is a population of almost 94,000 people. And again, they are also forcing out another 70,000 people from Loliondo. They are taking them some 600 kilometres away from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The Otterlo Business Corporation
Oke says, “I have to add, that another reason that the government want the land is for elite tourism and hunting.” She doesn’t mention the company involved, Otterlo Business Corporation. The company was created by Brigadier Mohammed Abdulrahim Al Ali, then-deputy minister of defence of the United Arab Emirates, specifically for the hunting rights in Loliondo.
In a recorded contribution, Yannick Ndoinyo, the Executive Director of Traditional Ecosystems Survival Tanzania, talks about the company occupying the Maasai’s land:
“The company belonging to the royal family of Dubai has been given land completely contrary to the wishes or to the interests of the local communities, and the government and the company do not want to speak to the people about that, the use or the presence of the company in the villages. And it is wrong because the villagers are entitled, they have a title due to their land and they have been occupying their land before independence to the present day.”
“There was a lot of money at stake,” Oke continues, “which is one of the reasons that the government want to move the Maasai. She asks Oleshangay how negotiations are going between the Maasai and the government. “Can the Maasai negotiate about land that actually belongs to them, or can the government just move them anyway?” she asks.
Oleshangay replies as follows:
“The issue here is very straight, very clear. It is not conservation. It is not wildlife protection. And this is the result. In 2017, the government commissioned a team to study the multiple landuse process in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. And one of the recommendations by the committee, which of course was not inclusive in any way and not representing the Maasai interests, recommended that once the Maasai are relocated out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area then the land would be changed the status to a Game Controlled Area, to allow trophy hunting.
And now, there is a land formerly known as a Game Controlled Area with 4,000 square kilometres. Now the government wants to annex 1,500 square kilometres for the Dubai ruler who has been hunting there since 1992.
Al Jazeera’s Oke interrupts Oleshangay to ask about the money. “There must be so much money involved in this to move your own people, evict your own people, knowing that their own heritage, but how much money are we talking about? Erick, help me out here.”
Kabendera replies that he did a story about six years ago. “We’re talking about millions of dollars and a lot of political business interests by their local partners by the local business elite. So it’s a lot of money, a significant amount of money . . .”
Oke interrupts again. “Is it six million? Six million for the lives of 70,000 Maasai and their livelihoods.” Kabendera nods.
Later on in the discussion, Oke brings up the issue of money again. Kabendera says that,
“In the 1990s a journalist in Tanzania was investigating the wealth involved in the deal involving the royal family, died in mysterious circumstances. And all the evidence suggested that it was because he was investigating the story and he stumbled onto things that the public was not supposed to know.”
Kabendera is talking about the investigative journalist Stan Katabalo, editor of the Mfanyakazi newspaper, who received death threats while he was investigating the allocation of the Loliondo hunting block. Katabalo died in September 1993.
“In my own analysis, and I’ve acquired evidence of this . . . the royal hunting company, the royal family, has given over US$5 million in the past 20 years to informal networks to keep their presence there. And I think that’s where the problem is starting from. Efforts to have the contract terminated have consistently failed. Which basically shows that they are investing massive resources to keep the contract going.
“But I think the sad part is that when I visited, about seven years ago, local people were complaining that when the royal family visits, they are removed even from the small patches of land where they have been pushed, to allow the royal family to do their hunting activities and basically enjoy themselves. I think the public and the international community needs to come together and help the government as well as the Indigenous People retain their rights.”
Avaaz: “Stop the Maasai evictions”
Oke brings in Sarah Morrison, campaign director with Avaaz, which has set up a petition to stop the Maasai evictions:
“More than three million people, all across the world, are standing with the Maasai in the Ngorongoro District and calling on Tanzania’s president Samia Suluhu Hassan to oppose any attempt to evict them from their ancestral lands or require them to relocate for foreign hunters. We know international solidarity and global support can help and can have impact. Back in 2013, when our global community first stood with the Maasai of northern Tanzania, we launched our global campaign. Shortly afterwards, the president at the time promised publicly the Tanzanian government would never evict the Maasai from their ancestral lands. And so millions of people are calling on President Hassan to be a champion for her people and to oppose any attempt to change their land rights against their will.”
Oke then talks about resolving the situation and asks “Is the president the way to go? How are negotiations going?”
Kabendera replies that,
“It’s time for the president to show some leadership because she gave a very generic idea to say that we would like the Maasai people to be treated like human beings. But I think that is not enough for her to say that she wants the Maasai people to be treated right.
“Because if you look in the political elite, going back the last 60 years, there has been a notion among the politicians that the Maasai people do not have rights. The Maasai people are backward people who can be moved any time to anywhere. I think one of the solutions is that the mentality of the political elite needs to change to understand that the Maasai people have equal rights like the rest of us, I think that’s very important. They have to avoid the top down approach to resolving this problem. Each solution that government needs to come up with, the Maasai people have to be part of it and consent to it.”
The role of UNESCO
Since 2010, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been a cultural property on the World Heritage List.
Oke asked about UNESCO’s role. “Exactly,” Oleshangay replies.
“Many of the problems we are talking here we are discussing here are attributable to the recommendations by UNESCO. And of course it is the interests of the government taking some facts from UNESCO, that UNESCO is recommending. Since 2009, systematically the UNESCO has been recommending for a resettlement of what they say a voluntary one. But what is actually voluntary?
“The policies of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, by the Tanzanian government in the last 40 years, has made Maasai of Ngorongoro the poorest community in Tanzania compared to other Maasai who are outside the area. But UNESCO, a UN entity which is constituted to protect human rights, has never recommended core protection of the Maasai rights as a community. The government has not been consulting them throughout the process.”
Oke asks Oleshangay whether he thinks the Maasai will win this latest eviction bid. “I think we will win,” he replies.
“This is not about conservation, it is about big money. To the Maasai, relocating them is not only like denying them the right to property, it is threatening their life. To them, and actually to us, land is life. It is no more, no less.”
“Of course, under Tanzanian law the Maasai rights are protected and in two forms. One, in Ngorongoro Conservation Area the law did not extinguish the customary rights of the Maasai prior to independence. And again in Loliondo, actually as we are speaking now, Loliondo is not a Game Controlled Area. The former Loliondo Game Controlled Area died 2009 when the current Wildlife Conservation Act came into operation.
“And that’s why the government has been working so hard for the last 11 years to annex 1,500 square kilometres, but it has not been gazetted to date. And the former Prime Minister Pinda has said very precisely that this is the village land under the Maasai customary rights, it is not a conservation area.”