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Tanzania, Siding With UAE Firm, Plans To Evict Maasai From Ancestral Lands

February 18, 2022

by Laurel Sutherland

  • In northern Tanzania, more than 70,000 Indigenous Maasai residents are once again facing eviction from ancestral lands as the government reveals plans to lease the land to a UAE-based company to create a wildlife corridor for trophy hunting and elite tourism.

  • Maasai leaders have filed an appeal at a regional court, seeking a halt to all plans for the area and calling the renewed attempt to seize the land a blatant violation of an injunction that barred the government from evicting Maasai communities in a case that involved violent evictions.

  • According to sources, the regional commissioner of the region told Maasai leaders that the leasing of the land is in the national interest to increase the country’s tourism revenue and was a tough decision for the government to make.

  • Evicted residents from Loliondo will be relocated to the neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), where they will join another 80,000 evicted Maasai to share a strip of land designated for humans and wildlife.

In 2018, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) granted an injunction prohibiting the Tanzanian government from evicting Maasai communities from 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of ancestral, legally registered land in the Loliondo division of Ngorongoro, northern Tanzania.

Today, 70,000 Maasai pastoralists are once again at risk of eviction after the government disclosed a plan to lease the same parcel of land to the Otterlo (sometimes spelled Ortello) Business Corporation (OBC), a company based in the United Arab Emirates, to create a wildlife corridor for trophy hunting and elite tourism.

OBC is a hunting firm said to be owned by the UAE royal family. According to the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank based in the U.S., OBC will control commercial hunting in the area. This is despite the company’s past involvement in several evictions of the Maasai people in the region and the killing of thousands of rare animals in the area, including lions and leopards.

Maasai residents protesting after Arusha’s Regional Commissioner John Mongella revealed plans to lease 1,500 square kilometers of ancestral land to United Arab Emirate (UAE) based Ortello Business Company. Image courtesy of Oakland Institute.

The decision to lease the land to OBC was made known to Maasai leaders on Jan. 11, 2022, by John Mongella, the regional commissioner for the Arusha region, according to a statement by the Oakland Institute.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, quoted Mongella as telling Maasai leaders that the government planned to remove them from their land at some point this year, even if this decision will be painful to many.

A Maasai leader who spoke to Mongabay on the condition of anonymity said that Mongella continuously stressed that leasing the land is in the “national interest” and should therefore also be of priority to the Maasai people.

Renewed attempts to seize land

Approximately 15 villages within the proposed area would be impacted by the decision. The strip of land that is legally registered in the Loliondo division of Ngorongoro district is vital for Maasai pastoralists, who have sustainably stewarded the area for generations, according to the Oakland Institute.

Mittal said the creation of the wildlife corridor and the displacement of the communities would exacerbate hunger and poverty, given that pastoral livelihoods depend on the region’s grazing areas and water sources. The strip of land is part of the 4,000-km2 (1,544-mi2) Loliondo Game Controlled Area that became a multipurpose area for hunting, conservation and pastoralism.

Mittal said the Maasai have developed a symbiotic relationship that has allowed local ecology, domesticated livestock, and people to coexist in a resource-scarce environment.