Maasai communities in the Loliondo division of northern Tanzania are being forcibly displaced from their land in favour of increasing safari tourism and hunting concessions, according to a report published by Oakland Institute on May 10. Within the past year, more than 20 000 people have been evicted and left homeless. Their homes were burnt down, and their livestock displaced with the hopes of preserving the region’s ecosystem in order to attract more tourists. The Tanzanian government is favouring tourism over the rights and livelihoods of the Maasai, creating impoverishment and food insecurity, and foreign enterprises are seeking to profit off the Maasai’s stewardship and knowledge. Moreover, villagers are being faced with human rights abuses, including intimidation, violent evictions, arrests, starvation, and even death, by the hands of the Tanzanian authorities.
The Maasai are indigenous, semi-nomadic herders who have inhabited the Rift Valley for generations. Their ancestral land is located within the Serengeti National Park which was established in 1951. These people have lived in harmony alongside the wildlife for centuries. However, the government and tourism operations have accused the Maasai of degrading the Serengeti’s ecosystem, as well as denying western tourists full access to wildlife.
The report reveals that Tanzanian authorities and foreign companies are complicit in the forced evictions. The Maasai’s nomadic movements have been restricted since the start of colonial rule. Recently, the government has used conservation laws and land ordinances to dispossess Maasai, with the justification of protecting the environment. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has stated that conservation is the primary objective, and that the protection of the environment will benefit tourism.
The displacement of Maasai is under government orders in the name of conservation. However, it is also undeniably an economic opportunity for the government. The growing tourism industry is to blame, according to Oakland Institute Executive Director Anuradha Mittal who stated that, “As tourism becomes one of the fastest growing sectors within the Tanzanian economy, safari and game park schemes are wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of the Maasai. It is a reality that is all too familiar to indigenous communities around the world. In too many places, governments, corporations, and even large conservation groups collude in the name of conservation, not just to force the indigenous off their land, but to force them out of existence.”
Areas of land have become “protected” or transferred in ownership, consequently confining the Maasai. Access to land has been restricted by the government, prohibiting livestock grazing and the cultivation of home gardens on their traditional land. Locals have been excluded and denied access to arable land and water holes, which are vital to sustain their agricultural livelihoods. These exclusions open up more land to enable foreign tourists’ unfettered access to Serengeti National Park and its wildlife. As a result, the restricted land access has made the Maasai more vulnerable to famine, leading to malnutrition and disease among communities, with children being the most susceptible. Locals have appealed to the government to change conservation policies because of increasing cases of malnourished children.
Oakland Institute’s report argues that the best conservation approach should involve the participation and engagement of Maasai communities, instead of excluding them. Locals are stewards of the ecosystem and possess indigenous knowledge. The Maasai’s right to territory needs to be supported by the government, as well as their control of land and access to resources, cultural integrity, and the right to development. As an indigenous minority group, the Maasai are eligible to apply for special land titles called Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy, which grants villages the right to manage traditional land and deems eviction to be illegal.