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UNESCO and Tanzanian Government's Plan Threatens the Continued Survival of the Maasai

October 10, 2019
Entrance to a new boma built by the displaced Maasai. Credit: The Oakland Institute

Entrance to a new boma built by the displaced Maasai. Credit: The Oakland Institute.


October 10, 2019

Media Contact:
Anuradha Mittal
[email protected]

Proposal for Dividing the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Must Be Stopped

Oakland, CA — In a shocking move, the Tanzanian government, at the behest of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and international conservation organizations, has announced a plan to divide the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) into four distinctive zones — further marginalizing land rights of the Indigenous communities. The Management and Resettlement plan, scheduled to unfold over the next seven years, is the latest chapter in the country’s history stained with forced evictions of the Maasai from their ancestral lands — crucial to their very survival. The new plan threatens approximately 90,000 livelihoods with the creation of new restricted areas within the NCA, where the Maasai are denied access for housing, livestock grazing, and crop cultivation.

In March 2019, a joint monitoring mission report from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) called on the Tanzanian government to “complete the Multiple Land Use Model review exercise and share the results 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.” In response, the Tanzanian government produced the Four Zone Management and Resettlement Plan.

If carried through, this latest plan will further entrench decades of injustice perpetrated against the Maasai. Over the past century, Maasai’s rights to their ancestral lands have been continuously eroded — first by colonial forces and then by the Tanzanian land laws, under pressure from the international conservation groups and foreign safari companies — all in the name of conservation and failed promises of tourism.

In light of this impending calamity, the Oakland Institute calls on the Tanzanian government to stop further displacement and evictions of the Maasai villagers from their homes and land at the directive of UNESCO and conservation groups. Additionally, given its stated mandate to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences, and Culture, this stance against the Indigenous Peoples violates UNESCO’s purpose.

“UNESCO and the government of Tanzania’s plan is detrimental not only to the Maasai but also for the conservation of wildlife. Dividing the ecosystem doesn’t provide a long-term solution. It is a repeat of the myopic actions of the British colonial government, and our challenges have continued.”

A Maasai leader, name witheld for security reasons, October 9, 2019.

Proposed Four Zone Management and Resettlement Plan

The new Management and Resettlement Plan is supposedly an effort by the Tanzanian government to “balance natural and cultural resources conservation, community development, and tourism development.” The proposed plan will create four zones — conservation core zone, conservation sub-zone, settlement and development zone, and finally the transition zone.

The plan first expands the size of the NCA from 8,100km2 to 12,083km2 by including areas from Loliondo Game Controlled Area (GCA), already contested in the East African Court of Justice, and Lake Natron GCA. With its expansion, the new NCA reduces significantly the land available to the Maasai for pastoralism, settlements, and farming crucial to their livelihoods. This is particularly devastating given the severe food insecurity that the Maasai already face as a result of existing restrictions.

The new plan restricts all human settlement and development to 2,140 km2 — just 18 percent of the total area. Human activity is strictly prohibited within the “core conservation zone, while the second “conservation sub-zone” permits hunting related tourism. Transition zones allow for some livelihood activities, however, building of homes is denied in response to UNESCO findings that cite the “visual impact” of houses and settlements within the NCA as a “huge concern.”

“The land cited for development despite its size, does not have a single water stream and is not suitable for pastoralism. If this plan is to prevail, cows will perish in the NCA before 2038 and it will mark the end of the Maasai community in the famous world heritage site.”

A Maasai elder, name withheld for security reasons, October 9, 2019.

In a recent newspaper article, Dr. Freddy Manongi, the Chief Conservator of Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), provided the logic behind this devastating scheme. “There is a need to redistribute land as part of a strategy to overcome these challenges, and even if these communities are to be evacuated for a small compensation, our country is still large. There is enough land outside the reserve,” he explained. Turning a blind eye to decades of injustice perpetrated against the Maasai, Dr. Manongi rationalized government’s brutal action by saying, “I know it will not be an easy task, the noise will be great, but we will educate the public and especially the Indigenous communities of this Ngorongoro Valley region to know the benefits and that benefits of conservation are for all Tanzanians.”

Disguised as a strategy to balance competing land use issues, the plan is visibly influenced by the financial incentives. The government report itself notes, “maintaining the status quo or leaving the NCA to Indigenous pastoralists the government would lose 50 percent of expected revenue by 2038.”

What cannot be ignored is the egregious role of UNESCO in the new plan. In the stakeholder consultation for the MLUM review report, the UNESCO Commission called for the total abandonment of the multiple land use model, and advocated for the removal of all people to create a Nature Reserve — while keeping the Bomas intact for “cultural tourism.” Additionally, UNESCO notes that “relocation of Maasai will not be a new event in Tanzania.” This position from a UN agency whose mandate is “building peace in the minds of men and women,” demonstrates not only its blatant disregard for the historical wrongs inflicted upon the Maasai, but also for the internationally recognized rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Continued Marginalization of the Indigenous

“If we can break the ground to lower a body, why can’t we break it for cultivation?”

Nainokanoka village resident, September 27th, 2018.

The Tanzanian government’s proposed plan builds on the history of continued dispossession of the Maasai in the country. Over the past century, numerous land laws — passed first by the British colonial government and then by the Tanzanian government, often with the support and backing of international conservation groups — have forced the Maasai onto smaller and smaller plots of land, stifling their livelihoods and threatening their very existence.

In the late 1950s, the Maasai agreed to relocate from Serengeti National Park to the newly created NCA in exchange for development of better water resources, participation in the governing of the conservation area, and more. Despite promises, the Maasai representation on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) did not last long. Instead, a series of laws passed over the years have stripped the Maasai of their rights to cultivate crops and graze livestock, denied their right to their cultural heritage — their very means to subsistence and survival.

In recent years, the Tanzanian government has carried out violent evictions of the Maasai — burning Bomas, destroying food, seizing cattle, and forcibly displacing tens of thousands from their village lands, all in the name of “preserving the ecosystems for tourism.”

Restrictions on livelihood activities like home gardens have had a devastating impact on the Maasai. As documented in the 2018 report, Losing the Serengeti, food insecurity, malnutrition, and dependence on inadequate food aid ravage the Maasai communities. The Indigenous communities consulted during the MLUM review voiced their desire to be allowed to grow food and build decent housing, while leaving the rest of the land for conservation and tourism, which yet once again has fallen on the deaf ears of the Tanzanian government.

Time and time again the Maasai have been forcibly evicted and relocated. Through the hardship they have remained strong and committed to defend their rights. The international community must support their struggle in resisting further displacement at the hands of UNESCO and the Tanzanian government. The colonization of Indigenous land in the name of conservation must end.