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URGENT ALERT: Tanzanian Government Resorts to Cattle Seizures to Further Restrict Livelihoods of Maasai Pastoralists

January 24, 2023
Maasai herders with their cattle

Maasai herders with their cattle © The Oakland Institute


January 24, 2023; 6:00 AM PT

Media Contact: [email protected], +1 510-469-5228

Oakland, CA — On December 1, 2022, we exposed how the Tanzanian government has made harsh cuts in vital public services, including health services and imposed strict livelihood restrictions, to force the Maasai out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). Resettlement plans for the NCA residents are critically flawed and communities continue to courageously speak out against forced evictions. On January 16, 2023, The Guardian echoed this struggle in an article, “‘It’s becoming a war zone’: Tanzania’s Maasai speak out on ‘forced’ removals,” that captured the harsh situation on the ground.

Today, we are sharing a concerning update as the government of Tanzania is further escalating the pressure on the Maasai by seizing their cattle. Once captured, the cattle are auctioned off and exported from the area, unless the owners manage to get it back by paying a ransom to the authorities.

Livestock is central to the Maasai culture and livelihoods. Losing cattle is therefore catastrophic for them. With this new tactic, the government’s goal is clearly to drive them away from their ancestral lands. This is happening in Loliondo — in and adjacent to the “Pololeti Game Reserve” — which was created during the government’s violent demarcation exercise in June 2022 and dedicated for trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Otterlo Business Company (OBC). These seizures are now increasingly being practiced near other “protected” areas of the country. This update provides additional evidence of the Tanzanian government’s brutal campaign against the pastoralists.

In November and December 2022 alone, several massive seizures were carried out, including:

Loliondo, Ngorongoro District

  • November 26, 2022 — 60 cows of Sarkay Tiiyee from Malambo were seized at a water point, outside the illegally demarcated “Pololeti Game Reserve” area.

  • November 27, 2022 — Also in Malambo, 167 goats belonging to Kimani Taretoy Tiiyee were seized. The rangers demanded TSh 60,000 per goat and slaughtered 27 of them.

  • December 14, 2022 — An estimated 1,772 cattle belonging to the pastoralists of Ngorongoro District were sold at a public auction by court order on the grounds that they had no owners and were unclaimed property. The cattle owners were reportedly threatened with trespassing and robbery if they tried to reclaim their cattle.

  • December 17, 2022 — 600 sheep belonging to Malee Risando Lekitony were seized next to his boma. He had to pay TSh 2 million to get his sheep back.

  • December 19, 2022 — Over 300 cows belonging to four families were seized at Oloosek, Ololosokwan — an area within the newly created “Pololeti Game Reserve” in Loliondo. The demand to release the cattle was TSh 100,000 per head — a very high amount for the pastoralists. Given the fear of losing their cattle, the fine was eventually paid and cattle returned.

  • December 22, 2022 — Approximately 400 cows from Arash, belonging to herders from Sangok and Losekenja were seized in the “Pololeti Game Reserve.” On Christmas Eve, the livestock owners tried to inquire about the procedure to get the cattle back and found that all the cows had been sold.

Note: In June 2022, following the violent government demarcation exercise in Loliondo, we previously reported that an elderly man, Mbirias Oleng'iyo, went missing. In the latest update, Mr. Oleng'iyo has still not been found and his family continues to search for him. It is alleged that he was arrested by the police.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

  • Continued drought and restrictions on grazing areas cattle can access within the NCA have caused the deaths of hundreds of cattle, driving pastoralists further into poverty.

Tarangire National Park

  • December 17-24, 2022 — an estimated 3,083 cattle belonging to herders living in Simanjiro District in Manyara Region were seized for allegedly entering Tarangire National Park and sold at an auction. A media story on the event is available here. Sources on the ground report the cattle were not in the park when they were seized.

Ruaha National Park

The government’s use of cattle seizures to force pastoralists into poverty and drive them from their lands as seen in Loliondo is now being repeated in areas surrounding and within the Ruaha National Park. For instance:

  • November 22, 2022 — Ruaha National Park conservation rangers seized 172 cattle in Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, belonging to Kideka Dabda. Even though Mr. Dabda showed up and the Mbarali District Court issued an injunction stating that the cattle should not be auctioned off, the cattle were still sold.

  • Just a few days later on November 25, 2022, the Minister of Lands, Dr. Angelina Mabula, at a public rally in Ubaruku in the Mbarali District, announced that villagers in 48 villages and townships in the district “encroaching” the Ruaha National Park must leave the park immediately.

  • December 2, 2022 — 93 cattle from Madundasi Village (located south of Ruaha National Park) were auctioned off with the permission of the Mbarali District Court.

Due to the ongoing violation of human rights, Tanzania CSOs released a statement on December 20, 2022, condemning the cattle seizures. Local CSOs are calling for an immediate end to “military exercises carried out by the conservation rangers to unjustly arrest the herders and confiscate their livestock because those actions perpetuate poverty and cause suffering for innocent citizens.” CSOs are asking for the government to compensate the pastoralists “whose livestock have been auctioned fraudulently, as the livestock is the primary support for the economy and the family's food security.”