Victory for Tanzania's Maasai
November 29, 2018
The Oakland Institute
For years, the Maasai of Loliondo, Tanzania have lived under intimidation, harassment, and violence -- simply for standing up for their land rights. Their homes have been burned. They are beaten and arrested. They suffer from hunger and starvation -- all for the benefit of foreign safari companies. Today, these communities celebrate a major victory!
Special to Environmentalists Against War
Victory for Tanzania's Maasai
Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute
(November 21, 2018) -- "If we can break the ground to lower a body, why can't we break it for cultivation?”
This question from a Maasai elder haunts me.
For years, the Maasai of Loliondo, Tanzania have lived under intimidation, harassment, and violence -- simply for standing up for their land rights. Their homes have been burned. They are beaten and arrested. They suffer from hunger and starvation -- all for the benefit of foreign safari companies.
Today, these communities celebrate a major victory!
In September -- just a few short months after the Oakland Institute shattered the silence on this horrific situation, creating a groundswell of international attention and support for the Maasai -- the East African Court of Justice made a game-changing decision. Its ruling forbids the Tanzanian government from evicting, threatening, beating, and confiscating cattle from the Maasai.
This is a huge victory. But it hasn't come without risk.
When we started our work with the Maasai villagers, we were told that the field research would be too dangerous, that the safari companies might sue us, and that we would unleash the wrath of the Tanzanian government. But what mattered the most to us was: Could our research and advocacy help bring them justice?
In the face of mounting threats and pressure, the Maasai villagers refused to back down and neither did we. Instead, we brought their voices and struggles to hundreds of news outlets on six continents reaching audiences in the millions. We engaged the offices of several UN officials in their struggle. And we made sure the villagers had the support they needed to secure the court injunction.
This is the way of the Oakland Institute -- relentless, fierce, and steadfast in our research and advocacy to ensure land rights for communities around the world.
In recent weeks the Tanzanian government has renewed its campaign of violence and intimidation against the Maasai, in violation of the Court's ruling. This makes our work to support the Maasai villagers and bring international attention and solidarity to their struggle more important than ever.
And we continue to receive a flood of new appeals from communities asking us to support their struggles for their land, lives, and culture. From Latin America to Africa, the Middle East to Asia-Pacific, communities come to us because we refuse to give up.
"The indigenous communities in [Redacted] are now living in fear of losing their land and have lost hope of getting justice in [Redacted] as the Government has demonstrated that it can't respect court rulings. The communities are now appealing to The Oakland Institute to come to their aid in helping them seek justice to respect the land rights of the Indigenous Communities in [Redacted]."
-- An unsolicited request for support that we received in September 2018. Names and locations redacted for their protection.
But to respond to these appeals, to work with new community partners, and to provide the level of support, research, and campaigning that we have become known for worldwide, we need your help.
Thank you for making our work possible.
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, the Oakland Institute
Excerpt: Losing the Serengeti
Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever 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.
LOSING THE SERENGETI
The Maasai Land that Was to Run Forever
Anuradha Mittal and Elizabeth Fraser / 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. For more information about these allegations, please refer to the endnotes 4, 32, and 41.
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.
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.15 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.
Copyright 2018 by The Oakland Institute
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