Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Barabaig numbered an estimated 30,000 in the mid-1990s and have occupied the plains around Mount Hanang in north-central Tanzania for the last 150 years.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Tatoga pastoralists migrated southwards from the Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro highlands under pressure from the more powerful Maasai. Dispersal and separation led to the creation of sub-tribes, among them Barabaig.
Since 1969 Barabaig have been in dispute with the Tanzania Canada Wheat Project which has alienated more than 400,000 hectares of the best grazing land in Hanang district. The dispute has led to abuses against Barabaig, including assault, house burnings, shooting and confiscation of cattle, destruction of rights of way and a desecration of sacred sites, including the destruction of graves by ploughing.
Legal procedures for alienating the land to which Barabaig had customary rights were improperly applied. In the face of court applications raising these issues the government, in 1989, extinguished customary land rights in the areas under the occupancy of the para-statal National Agricultural and Food Corporation (NAFCO). The retroactive nature of this legislation violated basic principles of human rights law; it also enabled prosecutions to be brought against Barabaig for trespassing on land they considered their own. Since then a human rights commission and legal rulings have vindicated Barabaig claims, but compensation has been paltry.
In 2005 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a report of the Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities. The report found that Barabaig displacement has continued to various parts of Tanzania and Malawi, with other communities routinely objecting to their presence. Although NAFCO has abandoned the project that displaced the Barabaig in the first place, the land remains in the hands of the government, with talk of it being sold to willing buyers. Efforts by the NGO Ujamaa Community Resource Team helped to secure grazing land under communal title for Baranaig communities as well as other ethnic groups in northern Tanzania.
The Barabaig community, under continuing pressure from land loss and the resulting erosion of their traditional practices, now has to contend with the forces of assimilation and displacement. Against a backdrop of continued land encroachment, their traditional way of life is rapidly disappearing. Many, uprooted from their communal land, are now reportedly living on the fringes of towns and cities.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in