Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever
July 21, 2018
The Oakland Institute
This report -- based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania's land laws -- is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them off their lands and creating a stifling map of confinement. The violent evictions began on August 10, 2017 and were set to last for two weeks. Maasai villages were destroyed to "preserve the ecosystems and attract more tourists."
Losing the Serengeti:
The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever
The Oakland Institute
Losing the Serengeti is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania's land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement.
The report specifically exposes the devastating impact of two foreign companies on the lives and livelihoods of the Maasai villagers in the Loliondo area of the Ngorongoro District -- Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL), a safari business operated by the owners of Boston-based high-end safari outfitter Thomson Safaris; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), which runs hunting excursions for the country's royal family and their guests.
According to local villagers, TCL has made their lives impossible by denying them access to water and land and cooperating with local police who have beaten and arrested the Maasai. Meanwhile, for 25 years, the OBC had an exclusive hunting license, during which time there were several violent evictions of the Maasai, many homes were burnt, and thousands of rare animals were killed. Although Tanzania's Ministry of Natural Resources cancelled OBC's license last year, the OBC remains active in the area, while the local villagers live in fear.
Read the full report online at this link.
Losing the Serengeti:
The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever
The Oakland Institute
In East Africa, the Great Rift Valley stretches lush and green for thousands of miles, threaded with streams, speckled with lakes, and home to some of the most diverse and abundant wildlife on the continent. For centuries it has also been home to the Maasai, semi-nomadic pastoralists who graze their cattle in the rhythm of the seasons, following the flush of grass, blending with the patterns established by the wild populations.
The Maasai were once as rich as the land that supported them. Maintaining its health had everything to do with their own prosperity. Such an intimate connection made them de facto stewards of the land, conservationists without title or designation.
As with agriculturists the world over, the Maasai have weathered disease and drought, but the most serious threats of the past 75 years have come in the form of conservation laws, and more recently, foreign investment. As areas have been deemed "protected" or transferred to new owners, the Maasai have been driven into smaller and smaller areas, creating a map of confinement that is as stifling and foreign to them as a zoo to a lion.
Starting in the mid-20th century, a series of land and wildlife laws aimed at conservation in Northern Tanzania pushed the Maasai off large tracts of their traditional land, including present-day Serengeti National Park. Initially, the Maasai were offered concessions -- for instance, to relocate to the neighboring region of Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
But for the past half-century, they have continued to face numerous evictions even from these regions, while additional laws have curtailed their rights to graze cattle and cultivate subsistence gardens, leading to widespread hunger. When the rules of government are superimposed over the rules of nature, nature does not yield, but those who rely upon it -- the indigenous -- are forced to adapt, which usually means surrendering a way of life.
More recently, with ecotourism becoming the fastest growing sector within the tourism industry, East Africa's Rift Valley has become a tourist destination, and to some, the Maasai are interruptions to the pristine view and wildlife experience advertised by the industry.
Two tourism-based companies in Loliondo have had a particularly negative impact on the Maasai -- Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), a company owned by the couple that owns Boston-based Thomson Safaris, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Ortello Business Corporation (OBC).
In 2006, TCL purchased a 96-year lease to 12,617 acres of land in Northern Tanzania from Tanzania Breweries Ltd (TBL). Three surrounding Maasai villages contest the sale of this land arguing that the land was sold to TBL in 1984 without their consent. TBL then abandoned the land in 1990.
The Maasai villages assert that they are, therefore, the owners of the land through adverse possession. Since TCL began occupying the land, the local communities have been denied access to vital grazing areas and watering holes, and face intimidation and violence from police, who are sometimes called in by the safari company, which has since established its business on the land.
Operations of the Ortello Business Corporation have also impacted the Maasai. In 1992, the OBC was granted a hunting license for 400,000 ha -- home to more than 50,000 Maasai. Community resistance over more than 20 years led the government to reduce the area to 150,000 ha. The license allowed the UAE's royal family to conduct private hunting trips and the company even built an airstrip for exclusive use. The OBC also restricted access to lands and water used by the Maasai.
In addition, Tanzanian government forces, in collaboration with OBC security guards, have violently evicted several Maasai communities -- burning their bomas,* their belongings, and displacing their livestock. After decades of complaints against the company, Hamisi Kigwangalla, the newly appointed Natural Resources Minister, terminated OBC's 25-year-old hunting concession in November 2017, suspended the Director of Wildlife, and ordered investigations into the dealings of the OBC as well as former Tanzanian tourism ministers.
[*A traditional Maasai boma consists of several small huts made from mud and cow dung.]
These actions -- in tandem with ongoing conservation pressures, laws passed by the Tanzanian government, and some government officials who favor investors over the Maasai -- haven't just pitted indigenous land rights against tourism and conservation. They actively disregard the Maasai way of life, and have led to intimidation, loss of livelihoods, starvation, and violent evictions.
This report exposes the hardships faced by the Maasai in the Loliondo region of Tanzania. It weaves together the travails of the communities most impacted by recent events with a history of land laws, unpacks various legal challenges, and exposes how these forces are leading to starvation, outbreaks of disease, and the destruction of a way of life.
The report also explores various ways forward, including immediate actions that must be taken, such as the restoration of the rights to graze and practice subsistence agriculture in Game Controlled Areas and the need for clear security of land tenure for the Maasai; various legal and policy remedies via the right to food and international case law; the role of non-state actors, including an exploration of the UN's Guiding Principles for businesses on human rights; and local grassroots innovations such as Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs).
While this report focuses on the plight of the Maasai in Northern Tanzania, it is a reality that is all too familiar to indigenous communities around the world. In too many places, national governments, private corporations, and large conservation groups collude in the name of conservation, not just to force indigenous groups off their land -- but to force them out of existence.
This colonization of indigenous land in the name of conservation must end.
In August 2017, fire and destruction ripped through several Maasai communities in Tanzania's Loliondo region. Early reports suggested that 185 bomas had been demolished, displacing thousands of villagers, destroying their food, and leading to the loss of livestock along the way.
By early September, the extent of the damage had grown, with reports that 19 people had been arrested, 11 seriously injured, over 5,800 homes damaged, more than 20,000 left homeless, and significant losses of livestock.
According to the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the violent evictions began on August 10, 2017 and were set to last for two weeks. The Ministry's press release notes that bomas were being burned under government orders, in order to preserve the ecosystems in the region and attract more tourists.
Claiming that false information was being spread about the nature of the exercise with the intention of generating hate against the government for its actions, the Ministry's statement warned persons found to be misleading others.
A year before, in July 2016, similar intimidation was waged against the Maasai in Loliondo, when eight individuals -- including villagers, civil society organization (CSO) members, and secondary school teachers -- were arrested.
When a local lawyer and member of the Tanganyika Law Society, Advocate Shilinde Ngalula, attempted to follow up on these arrests, he was arrested as well. Though later released, he was not allowed to meet his clients who were still in detention. When he arrived at the District Court as the counsel for the arrested, Ngalula was re-arrested in the court precincts -- this time in his full court attire.
According to the Tanganyika Law Society, the July 2016 arrests were allegedly linked to the long-standing land conflict between the Maasai pastoralist communities and foreign investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and United States.
It was through media and advocacy efforts of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, and the Tanganyika Law Society, that the accused were released on bail. However the arrests significantly worsened the climate of fear among the Maasai villagers.
In November 2017, OBC's hunting license was cancelled and an investigation was launched by the Tanzanian government's anti-corruption bureau. Local communities, however, remain cautious as they push for the land in dispute -- 150,000 ha -- to be gazetted as a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) as opposed to a Game Controlled Area, in effect a No-Go-Zone for the communities. If declared a WMA, the process of creating the new land-use management plan will take at least two years, requiring meaningful consultation and the involvement of local communities.
Furthermore, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is undergoing a new General Management Plan (GMP) after the expiry of the previous one. However, the Ngorongoro Pastoralist Council (NPC) -- the organization that represents NCA residents -- and the community members, have not yet been consulted.
Given the ongoing repression and widespread fear, the names of those interviewed for this report and any information that might endanger the informants and all who supported the research, has been redacted to ensure their safety and to protect them from retaliatory measures.
The Oakland Institute is very grateful to all who were willing to speak to us and who continue to courageously stand up to challenge the widespread oppression and theft of the Maasai lands and resources.
This report is dedicated to them and their daily struggles.
A Game Park for the Royal Family:
Lost Homes and Lives of the Maasai
The villages of Ololosokwan, Soitsambu, Olorienmahaiduru, Arash, Oloipiri, Malambo, Piyaya and Maaloni are all situated within the Loliondo Game Controlled Area (LGCA) in the Ngorongoro District. For the past 25 years, members of the Dubai royal family have regularly arrived on an exclusive landing strip in Loliondo, complete with UAE cell phone networks, to hunt and trap rare animals.
This was done through the Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), which was granted a hunting license in 1992 that was reportedly revoked in 2017 after decades of complaints of corruption. During those 25 years, thousands of animals and birds were killed, and local communities denied access to grazing lands and water as a result of the OBC. According to community members on the ground, despite the cancelation of their license, as of March 2018, OBC is still present in the Loliondo region.
The OBC gained its license when the Tanzanian government, purporting to act on behalf of, but without involving the impacted villages of Ololosokwan, Soitsambu, Olorienmahaiduru, Arash and Oloipiri, granted concession of the LGCA to Brigadier Sheikh Mohamed Abdul Rahim Al-Ali, former Deputy Defense Minister of the UAE to provide hunting excursions exclusively for the UAE's Royal Family and their esteemed guests.
In recent years, the OBC's presence led to violence and intimidation of the Maasai, along with growing divisions among the local population. Villagers from the surrounding area told Oakland Institute researchers how the OBC benefitted from fueling these conflicts.
"Today the OBC is well established -- since its arrival in Loliondo in 1992. It even has its own airstrip, almost the size of an airport. OBC has built water wells in several villages, especially in Ololosokwon over the last three years. But these tokens of goodwill have failed to curtail conflict. The wells have won over the support of some 3,000-4,000 residents of Ololosokwon, while neighboring villages suffer.
"Starting from the Ololosokwon village, the OBC wants 150,000 ha of land with the help of the government. To defeat the local opposition, it has divided the local communities by supporting one village over the other."
"River Pololet was once shared by the villages of Soitsambu, Kartalu, and Ololosokwon. Kartalu was a part of Soitsambu, but with demarcation, it is its own village today. The residents of Ololosokwon however refuse to acknowledge Kartalu as a village with any rights over the river. With support from the government and the OBC, they have encroached the land of the village -- they crossed the river to build homesteads and take over the river."
"We need economic development but do not benefit from the investments. We only face restrictions. Foreign investors are taking away our lands while we are left with no recourse. If we speak out, we face harassment. But no one from our boma works with the OBC. There is no peace. We are uncertain about the future of our children."
Over the course of its tenure in Tanzania, the OBC imposed significant restrictions on grazing land and access to water for the Maasai and their cattle. According to James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, "herders who ignore such restrictions risk violent conflict with hunters in the area as well as loss of livestock due to hunting activities."
Since their arrival, the OBC has evicted the Maasai from their traditional lands. The most well-documented eviction took place in July 2009, when OBC security guards and Tanzania's paramilitary Field Force Unit burnt 200 bomas to the ground. Over 3,000 were left homeless and 20,000 impacted, while over 50,000 cattle were left without access to pasture or water. According to a 2010 report by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, the evictions involved physical and sexual violence.
The Special Rapporteur also stated:
"The circumstances surrounding the evictions indicate that the evictions were in fact part of a larger Government policy favoring the interests of private enterprises engaged in conservation tourism and wildlife hunting, principally the Ortello Business Corporation, over the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly the Maasai pastoralists."
One of the official reasons given for the 2009 eviction was reportedly that the Maasai's cultivation of small plots of land for subsistence agriculture was leading to environmental degradation. This rationale conveniently disregards the impact of a private airstrip in the middle of wildlife migration routes. In addition, reports suggest that the OBC had no regard for laws governing wildlife and hunting. Complaints against the company include corralling animals by helicopter, trapping live animals, and leaving behind wounded animals to suffer.
Shortly after the 2009 eviction -- which took place without compensation or a plan for resettlement -- a group of Tanzanian NGOs under the banner FEMACT launched a fact-finding mission. The mission established a "close link" between the police who carried out the evictions and OBC, concluding that the evictions were not because of the Maasai's subsistence agriculture practices, but rather to clear the area for hunting in favor of OBC's purpose.
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The Way Forward
Throughout time, conservation has come with a significant cost for indigenous communities, not just in Tanzania, but around the world.184 There is a massive overlap globally between traditional indigenous lands and lands that have been protected in the name of conservation. But while conservation has often involved displacing indigenous communities, studies show that indigenous groups are often superior to governments when it comes to conservation.
There are also numerous examples where land given to governments for conservation has led to illegal logging, agribusiness expansion, large-scale infrastructure development, the extraction of natural resources, and other anti-conservation practices. Despite the clear and growing evidence of exemplary environmental stewardship by many indigenous communities, the important role played "by indigenous peoples as environmental guardians has still failed to gain due recognition."
Hardships faced by indigenous groups worldwide -- including hunger, poverty, loss of livelihoods, displacement, violence, and more -- demonstrate widespread and embedded discrimination, bringing a global perspective to the plight of the Maasai shared in this report.
These struggles combined with the decades-long history of abuse faced by the Maasai -- including prejudicial legislation, disenfranchisement, and now the actions of foreign investors and tourism companies -- make it essential to determine a way forward. While the following list is in no way comprehensive, it offers several possible paths, including inspirational grassroots solutions developed by the Maasai.
Need for Immediate Action
In the context of ongoing intimidation and harassment of the Maasai, there are several important actions that must be taken immediately to ensure their rights. These include:
* An independent commission of inquiry, which includes the Maasai pastoralists, must be set up to investigate land-related human rights violations, including unlawful arrests, injury, evictions, and more. Its findings should be made public and the culprits prosecuted.
* The Tanzanian government must refrain from intimidating pastoralists, human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society actors through state machinery. Instead, the government should prosecute perpetrators involved in the arbitrary arrests, mistreatment, and imprisonment of innocent pastoralists.
* The Loliondo Constitutional case against the OBC has been pending in the High Court of Tanzania Arusha Registry since December 2010, despite being filed under a Certificate of Urgency with the aim of speeding up legal proceedings. While the OBC's hunting license was cancelled in 2017, the case never went to court. It is essential to improve the efficiency of the justice system to ensure that constitutional and other public interest litigations are conducted expediently.
* The government, through affirmative action, should ensure the representation of pastoralists in decision-making bodies that impact their lives and livelihoods. For instance, the new General Management Plan (GMP) for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has failed to consult with the Ngorongoro Pastoralist Council or local community members. The GMP should be stopped until the process and Terms of Reference between the NCAA and residents are agreed upon.
* The Tanzanian government must immediately address the issue of severe hunger faced by the Maasai and allow them to maintain their culture and livelihood. Their rights to grazing cattle in Game Controlled Areas and other traditional grounds, as well as the cultivation of subsistence garden plots, must be restored.
* The Tanzanian government must ensure security of land tenure and communal ownership of land for pastoralists through constitutional and legislative safeguards.
* The Tanzanian government must ensure that all land taken unlawfully is restored to the pastoralists and must not allow any further land grabs and unlawful evictions.
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