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Ecotourism is Being Used to Displace One of East Africa's Long-standing Indigenous People

May 15, 2018

Abdi Latif Dahir

Government officials and foreign companies in Tanzania are using ecotourism and conservation laws to displace indigenous Maasai people, evicting them and denying them access to watering holes and vital grazing for their livestock.

A study from the US-based think tank Oakland Institute noted that tens of thousands of Maasai were left homeless in the past year after their homes in the Ngorongoro Crater sightseeing area were burnt to preserve the region’s ecosystem and attract more tourists. The report, based on field research and interviews with local community members, showed that villagers faced increasing violence, arrest, and death even as foreign investors and enterprises sought to profit off their stewardship.

The allegations of wrongdoings focused on two firms: Tanzania Conservation Limited, which is owned by the US-based Thomson Safaris, and Ortello Business Corporation, a luxury hunting company based in the United Arab Emirates with a close connection to the royal family. The two companies allegedly colluded with the government to intimidate the Maasai, beating them, confiscating their property, and at times shooting at them. The two companies have left behind a climate of fear so much so that young herders flee when they see vehicles approach thinking it might be the authorities or investors coming for them, the Oakland Institute report said.