Tanzanian Government's Sustained Campaign Against the Maasai in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
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July 27, 2022, 12:00 PM PT
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Following the violence that erupted around the demarcation of 1,500 km2 of land in Loliondo, thousands of Maasai remain displaced in Kenya, suffering from hunger and facing high medical costs.
With the government turning this land into a game reserve, approximately 70,000 people have lost access to their dry-season grazing land critical to the health of their livestock and livelihoods.
Recent field visit to Msomera village — a relocation site prepared for NCA residents — reveals government promises have failed to materialize as improved water, grazing land, education and health services remain insufficient.
Oakland, CA — Over 2,000 Maasai — primarily women and children — displaced by the violence with which the demarcation of land was carried out in Loliondo, remain in Kenya, suffering from hunger and living in fear. Approximately 70,000 people have lost access to dry-season grazing land critical to the health of their livestock and their livelihoods according to research conducted by the Institute’s partners. In addition to the 31 people who were shot and sustained injuries requiring expensive medical treatment, 107 people needed care after the violence.
“A pervasive climate of fear remains among the displaced whose lives have been completely upended,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director at the Oakland Institute.
Violence erupted on June 8, 2022 after the Tanzanian government initiated the demarcation of 1,500 km2 of land it intends to turn into a game reserve for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Otterlo Business Company. Earlier in July, the Oakland Institute revealed that despite widespread international condemnation, the Tanzanian government continues to blatantly ignore domestic and international law, trampling on the rights and lives of the Indigenous residents in Loliondo.
The land that was demarcated and renamed the “Pololeti Game Controlled Area” is legally registered to 15 villages of Loliondo and Sale divisions in Ngorongoro district. Game officials seized hundreds of cattle in July and 50 livestock were reportedly shot to death by the rangers for grazing in this area around Ormanie and Kirtalo villages. Confiscated livestock was also auctioned off quickly, giving the Maasai inadequate time to reclaim it.*
Over the past few weeks, dozens of Maasai have been arrested and released on bail on the false charges of being “illegal immigrants.” In July, the family of the 80-year old Maasai elder who was shot during the violence and remains missing started a court case in Arusha. The family of a man killed by a police vehicle in Malambo is also considering filing a similar case against the government. 27 people — including 10 ward councilors — have been detained for several weeks after being charged for the murder of one policeman, reportedly killed by an arrow during demarcation. Their case will be heard on July 28, 2022.
NCA Relocation Sites Remain Critically Flawed
On July 22, 2022, Dr. Christopher Timbuka, Deputy Conservation Commissioner of the NCA, said that 757 households (4,344 people) had registered to move from the NCA to Msomera village in Handeni district. Dr. Timbuka explicitly stated that the strategy of relocating NCA residents is geared towards the realization of the government’s goal of attracting 1.2 million tourists annually to Tanzania and an income of Sh260 billion [~US$111.5 million] by 2025 from the sector. He reiterated that those who relocate would benefit from owning land and houses in addition to accessing water, education, and health services in Msomera.
As the Tanzanian government continues to move forward with preparation of resettlement sites for so-called “volunteers” from the NCA, new field research to Msomera village in Handeni district raises serious concerns around the government promises. As previously exposed in the Oakland Institute report: Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there are several issues with the resettlement process, adequacy of the selected sites, and major discrepancies between government promises and the actual situation on the ground. Follow up field research conducted in July 2022 exposed little progress has been made by the government — as questions remain if Msomera will be able to provide adequate water, electricity, education, and health services to the resettled.
Currently, approximately 100 homes constructed earlier this year are occupied by former NCA residents. Grazing land, however, is very limited, as is the number of cattle allowed. “Government’s promise that Maasai can bring their herds of cattle to graze freely has already been broken as only 2-5 cows are permitted per family. This confirms fears that the government is moving the Maasai away from their traditional pastoral livelihoods which they have practiced for centuries. Given the critical role cattle play in the livelihoods, nutrition, and culture of the Maasai, the damage this will do cannot be understated,” added Mittal.
Despite these constraints, 300-400 more houses are currently under construction in the area. The old primary school and dispensary have been painted but promises of expanded facilities remain unfulfilled. It is unclear how the Handeni relocation site will support the high number of Maasai the government expects to “voluntarily” leave the NCA. Government’s claims that Maasai are volunteering en masse for resettlement are false. Plans to deprive Maasai of basic services within the NCA and transferring funds away from the area are a blatant attempt to drive the Maasai from their ancestral land.
In April 2022, 11,000 Maasai community members from the NCA sent a letter to the government and its main donors, clearly stressing their demand to remain in the NCA. “This is not the first time that we are fighting to secure our rights and protect the lives of our people — we need a permanent solution and we need it now. We will not leave; Not Now, Not Ever!”
In a June 15, 2022 press release, nine UN Special Rapporteurs called on the Tanzanian government to “immediately halt plans for relocation of the people living in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and begin consultations with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples, including direct contact with the Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, to jointly define current challenges to environmental conservation and best avenues to resolve them, while maintaining a human rights-based approach to conservation.” This call followed earlier communications sent to the government and UNESCO World Heritage Committee advisory bodies.
In mid-July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited Tanzania and met with Damas Ndumbaro, Minister of Constitution and Legal Affairs, to discuss the human rights abuses in Loliondo and planned evictions from the NCA. Given the blatant lies propagated by the government, its continued disregard for the land rights and lives of the Maasai for safari tourism enriching the elites, the Oakland Institute reaffirms calls for the High Commissioner, other UN human rights experts, and donor countries to meet with the impacted communities to accurately assess the situation on the ground. Continuation of colonial conservation at the expense of the lives and future of the Maasai is no longer possible.
* The auction in the attached video took place in nearby Siha district where Maasai make up the majority of the population. So far, livestock belonging to Maasai from Loliondo have been seized and held by the government or reclaimed by Maasai for high prices.