Planned Eviction of the Maasai Sparks Global Outrage
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September 9, 2021, 6:00 AM PT
Oakland, CA — On September 8, 2021, on behalf of 94,000 people from around the world, the Oakland Institute and Rainforest Rescue delivered a petition to UNESCO and the Tanzanian government, amplifying community demand for an end to the planned evictions of Indigenous Maasai pastoralists from their ancestral lands in the name of conservation.
In a recent report, The Looming Threat of Eviction: The Continued Displacement of the Maasai Under the Guise of Conservation in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Oakland Institute uncovered how at the behest of international conservation agencies, the Tanzanian government has advanced a new multiple land use and resettlement plan that threatens the continued survival of the Maasai in the land they have sustainably stewarded for generations.
Following a joint monitoring mission report from UNESCO, IUCN and ICOMOS, Tanzania’s government advanced a land use model and resettlement plan that would evict over 80,000 people from the NCA and trample the rights of those remaining by further restricting areas the Maasai can access to graze their cattle, cultivate crops, and settle.
Out of the 80,000 mostly Maasai pastoralists to be relocated, the plan states that 40,000 “immigrants” will be identified and moved back to their “place of origin” by the end of 2021. The identification of these households has started in several villages, but residents who have lived in the NCA for generations, are reportedly on the list. Additionally, the plan estimates that over 40,000 “destitute and very poor pastoralists” will be “interested” to move out voluntarily to specified areas but overlooks how current restrictions around land use and grazing have limited access to pasture and subsequent destitution, leaving residents with little choice but to “volunteer.”
“Under the guise of conservation, the true intent behind the evictions and restrictions constraining tens of thousands of livelihoods is greed to expand tourism revenues, without concern of the impact of tourism on the environment within the World Heritage Site,” said Oakland Institute’s Executive Director, Anuradha Mittal. Tourism within the NCA has exploded in recent years – the number of annual tourists rose from 20,000 in 1979 to 644,155 in 2018 – making it one of the most intensively visited conservation areas in Africa. The proposed multiple land use plan explicitly mentions the financial stakes conceding that: “maintaining the status quo or leaving the NCA to Indigenous pastoralists the government would lose 50 percent of expected revenue by 2038.”
“The petition signatories call on the Tanzanian government and international conservation organizations to reorient their policies towards a more human-centered approach to protecting the land, so that the livelihoods of the people who have safeguarded this area for generations are at the center of conservation efforts,” said Marianne Klute, Chairwoman of Rainforest Rescue/Rettet den Regenwald.
Frustrated with the failure of the government and international conservation agencies to address their concerns, Indigenous residents have reiterated a list of demands in the petition that has gained massive support internationally. Chief among the demands are an immediate halt to the implementation of the plan and emergency steps to avert the hunger disaster by lifting current restrictions on subsistence cultivation and where livestock can graze and access water. The Maasai also call for the formation of an independent and participatory commission, comprised of experts in ecology and wildlife, human rights activists, and local residents, tasked to recommend a plan that ensures the area’s ecology, wildlife, and pastoral livelihoods.
If the UNESCO World Heritage Center cannot compel the Tanzanian government to implement the aforementioned recommendations, the petition calls for Ngorongoro to be delisted as a World Heritage Site until the government can ensure the rights of Indigenous residents are respected and fulfilled.
“International organizations’ top-down support for the evictions of Maasai communities is rooted in an outdated colonial mindset that views Indigenous Peoples as obstacles to environmental protection. The ongoing violations of their fundamental rights can only be addressed by shifting the power structure to create a new system that prioritizes the interests of those that depend most on the land, and is guided by Indigenous knowledge in protecting the planet’s most irreplaceable ecosystems,” concluded Mittal and Klute.
The petition remains open for further signatures until the Tanzanian government changes its plans: