'Lust for tourist dollars': Why the Maasai in Tanzania are being forcibly removed from their land

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  • Injured Maasai people seeking medical treatment in Tanzania are fearful of arrest.
  • Tanzania's government is once again trying to relocate the Maasai, despite a 2018 court ruling allowing them to remain on their ancestral land.
  • Rights activists say forcing the Maasai off their ancestral land would result in a violation of their indigenous rights.

In a move that rights activists say is a violation of the Maasai people's indigenous rights, Tanzania is forcibly removing groups of Maasai from their ancestral land in Loliondo, a part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Activists say the move comes at a time when the Maasai in Tanzania are also suffering from the negative impacts of climate change.

The government is making way for the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based company, which will control commercial hunting in the area.

On 7 June, a paramilitary group of about 700 armed police, park rangers, and soldiers arrived in Loliondo to set up for a weekend raid on the communities.

Noting the suspicious activities from the state machinery, the Maasai organised community meetings in the Ololosokwan, Kirtalo, Piyaya, and Malambo villages to deliberate what should be done.

"Their arrival [security forces] immediately instigated social unrest and public panic mostly because for a while now, there had been rumours that the government would deploy a military unit to demarcate the 1 500 km2 land," said Joseph Moses Oleshangay, from the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Tanzania who has been working on securing the Maasai's ancestral land.

The relocation of the Maasai means that more than 70 000 people will lose their livelihoods in what Tundu Antiphas Lissu a losing presidential candidate in 2020 calls a, "... lust for tourist dollars", by the government.

ALSO READ | Tanzania policeman killed in protest over wildlife protection area

More meetings were held by the communities seeking an immediate solution. But as they held the second round of meetings, on 9 June, the police allegedly gate-crashed the meetings and announced their intentions for the area.

They also asked the village leadership to follow them to their makeshift camps, but they declined, setting the stage for a violent showdown.

With battle lines drawn, the Maasai men uprooted barricades set up by the security forces and slept there to guard the land until daybreak.

When the day broke, soldiers returned to find huge gatherings of men and women and they started shooting; teargas followed by live bullets injuring at least 30 people. One police officer was killed during the skirmishes, the government said.

Oleshangay said:

Those injured cannot seek medical attention in Tanzania because a police report is required and that means they have to answer for the death of a policeman and resisting the government's push. So people are crossing into neighbouring Kenya to seek medical treatment. It's a very bad situation.

A report seen by News24 shows that most of the injured had broken legs, head injuries, and bullet wounds.

Age-old relocation fight

"This is a third attempt to evict the Maasai. In 2009 and 2017 the government attacked the Maasai in Loliondo through an illegal military operation. Arson, mass beatings, raping, torture, and other heinous crimes were widely reported in those years," reads the report by Pan African Living Cultures Alliance - a Tanzanian NGO.

The latest offense by the government ignores that the relocation matter was before the courts with the East African Court of Justice set to give another ruling on the matter later this month.

It also ignores that the community wrote to the Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa on 25 May explaining how the relocation could affect their livelihoods.

In his response, Majaliwa had initially promised that their opinions and recommendations outlined in their reports would be considered and town hall meetings would go ahead.

The Maasai managed to stay on in their land in 2018 after the same court granted an injunction prohibiting the Tanzanian government from evicting Maasai communities because the land was legally registered as tribal land.

Indigenous rights

If the Maasai give up their land, they will make way for tourism because their grazing land would be turned into a game reserve. Therefore, human settlements and grazing would be outlawed as the semi-pastoralists are evicted.

This would violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind because they have suffered from historic injustices such as colonisation, and dispossession of their lands, territories, and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, their right to development by their needs and interests.

According to Oleshangay, "... by attacking pastoralism, you are attacking the Maasai culture and spirituality".

The only permanent water source in northern Tanzania is in Loliondo so moving the Maasai from there will affect their agriculture and livestock further pushing them into food insecurity.


The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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