Arusha, Tanzania: Maasai children take their cows to a river. The government plans to expel around 150,000 pastoralists. Credit: Shutterstock.
  • Opinion by Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, Oryem Nyeko (nairobi)
  • Interpress service

When colonial authorities declared The Serengeti area, a national park in 1951, communities within its boundaries were moved to Ngorongoro District for permanent settlement. However, over the past half century, these communities have continued to face many evictions from these regions as well, while new regulations have curtailed their rights to graze livestock and grow subsistence gardens.

Currently, the government plans to displace around 150,000 pastoralists for its conservation initiatives in two areas in Ngorongoro District, the Loliondo Game Controlled Area and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).

In June 2022, security forces and Maasai clashed violently in Loliondo during a land demarcation exercise, which limits people’s access to pastures, water sources and in some places cuts across their homes. The government had decided, without consultation with the affected communities, to convert the area into a game reserve.

What happened in Loliondo in June is a continuation of the government’s forced displacement of these communities. Loliondo is the tip of the iceberg, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area illustrates the government’s sweeping efforts to forcibly relocate Maasai by cutting basic services and restricting movement into the area.

South of Loliondo, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage since 1979spans large areas of highland plains, savannas, savanna woodlands, forests and includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.

It borders the Serengeti National Park and is part of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem by acting as wildlife corridors important for protecting animal migrations. Colonial authorities established the conservation area in 1959 as a multi-land use area, with wildlife coexisting with traditional Maasai pastoralists. It is managed by the NCA Authority, overseen by the Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry.

Semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists have lived, used and managed the area along with other indigenous communities for over 200 years. They grow corn, beans, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, and graze cows, sheep, and goats, requiring large areas of open land as grazing land for their animals.

The Maasai strive to live harmonious with wild animals and their customs, such as taboos on consuming wild animal meat instead of beef and cutting down a live tree instead of using its branches, and traditional rules for managing pastures, promote the conservation of their natural resources. Their cultural and spiritual practices are intertwined with the land, with sacred areas for gatherings to teach young Maasai about their culture and how they live with the ecosystem around them.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area latest plan from 1996 has primary goals of conserving natural resources, protecting the interests of Maasai pastoralists and promoting tourism. However, since the creation of the conservation area, the Maasai population has increased through natural population growth, resulting in an increased need for land and resources.

The the government has used this to justify a new land use model that expands the conservation area to include parts of the Loliondo Game Controlled Areas, an adjacent park, and to relocate around 82,000 residents by 2027.

The government’s resettlement plan will forcibly relocate people in these pastoral communities from Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region, to Handeni District, Tanga Region, some 600 kilometers away, with little or no consultation. Media has reported that up to 500 residents and 2,000 livestock have been relocated to Msomera village in Handeni district since relocation began on 16 June.

Residents told us the government was cutting key health and education services starting in February. Services in these areas were already less developed than in other areas, with lower health and education outcomes than national figures.

In Februaryfounded the government Flying healthcarea medical outreach service provider, and in October announced that it would disparage Endulen Hospital, the area’s main hospital, to a pharmacy, reducing staff from 64 to 2. The government has also moved funding for schools to Handeni.

The government’s downsizing directly affects the communities’ ability to continue living in the area. It can have particularly devastating results in emergencies, including for pregnant women, and violates residents’ rights to health and education.

UNESCO has Pointed out that it did not recommend displacing the Maasai. Instead, a UNESCO committee recommended that “there is a need for a fairly governed consultation process to identify long-term sustainable interdisciplinary solutions … with the participation of all rights holders and stakeholders, consistent with international norms.”

UN experts has also said the government should stop forced evictions and relocations. They called on the government to work with affected communities to assess conservation challenges in the area, and design a plan that meets the needs of local communities as well as conservation.

The displacement of Maasai in northern Tanzania must be stopped. Government should consult with affected communities and ensure that they and their representatives have access to relevant information prior to consultation to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, in accordance with international standards, to any changes to conservation plans.

Human Rights Watch’s written request to the government for additional information received no response.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service