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Tanzania: Fate of over 66,000 Maasai hangs in the balance as government declares community land ‘Game Controlled Area’

9 April 2013

As the fate of over 66,000 Maasai families continues to hang in the balance over a government decision to declare village lands in Loliondo as a ‘Game Controlled Area’, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) urges the government of Tanzania to halt the decision.

MRG warns that if the government moves ahead with its plan to restrict access to 1,500 square kilometres of green land that borders the Serengeti national park, as the Tourism Minister recently announced, it risks harming the lives of thousands of Maasai living in Loliondo.

‘The proposed move will prevent the Maasai from accessing vital pastures and water in the area and risks causing destitution. This doesn’t sound like the lasting solution that the government has promised in the media,’ said Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania woke up to media headlines early last week when the Tourism Minister, Mr Khamis Kagasheki, told reporters that the government had decided to divide the land in Loliondo as a solution to end the over two-decade dispute pitting a hunting and safari company based in Dubai and local Maasai communities.

In the new arrangement, the Dubai-based hunting company called Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) which has been operating in the area for over two decades will be allocated 1,500 square kilometres, of the newly designated area, while the community, through a government-led programme, would divide among themselves 2,500 square kilometres. The giveaway effectively reduces community land by about 40 per cent.

According to Samwel Nangiria, the coordinator of a network of NGOs in Ngorongoro, Tanzania, the livelihood of the Maasai is under great threat in the new arrangement. ‘The majority of us live in Loliondo. If you declare our land, the source of our livelihood, a wildlife corridor, you are saying that wildlife is better than human beings’.

‘The area they are declaring a Game Controlled Area is our safety net against bad weather because it has good green pasture for animals during the wet season. The area they want to confine pastoralists to is mostly dry, even if they are sugarcoating it with promises of boreholes and animal water points. One wonders what the government’s actual intentions are.’

Already the local Maasai leadership has vowed to fight the land-giveaway bonanza. Leaders, including a member of parliament, have promised to resign their administrative posts to express dissatisfaction, as well as petition the Supreme Court to block the move.

The community has also threatened to sever ties with the Dubai investor.

Even in the face of the community’s defiance, the government remains adamant. The media (archive link) quoted the Tourism Minister saying the government would not bend to self-serving NGO interests nor yield to external pressure. Maasai community leaders insist that their traditional land use techniques are sustainable and a key reason why the area is so rich in wildlife.

MRG research has consistently shown that minorities and indigenous communities are often a soft target of government, individual and corporate land grabs because they live on communally-held land to which they hold customary title and which is therefore misconstrued as belonging to no one.

In the villages of Sukenya and Mondorosi, Ngorongoro District in northern Tanzania, for instance, MRG is supporting other Maasai communities which are bringing a legal case against US-based tourism operator, Thomson  Safaris, over a stretch of land known as “Sukenya Farm”.

Notes for editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide
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