Thousands of Maasai herders in northern Tanzania have written to the UK, US and EU governments asking for help to stop plans to evict them from their ancestral lands.
More than 150,000 Maasai are at risk of being evicted by the Tanzanian government due to actions by the UN cultural agency Unesco and a safari company using the country for conservation and commercial hunting.
“We are asking for your help in letting our government know that our land is not for sale and that we will continue to fight back against this long-standing assault on our rights and the ecological integrity of our country. We therefore call on your organization to speak out against these abuses and to help us prevent the extinction of our people.” the letter.
“You can continue to fund those responsible for appropriating our lands for profit, or you can make it clear to our government that you will not stand by and stand by when our right to live peacefully and to preserve our lands is denied Make room for elite tourism and ‘trophy’ hunting.”
The Maasai say their lives are at stake as their ability to herd livestock and feed their communities will be destroyed if they are displaced.
“We have nowhere else to go,” they wrote. “The loss of this land will mean the extinction of our community. Over 70% of our homelands were taken for conservation and investment reasons.”
The government plans to evict Maasai in the Unesco-listed Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo near Serengeti National Park. Both are famous for luxury safari tourism. The Tanzanian government and Unesco believe Ngorongoro is overpopulated to the detriment of wildlife.
The Maasai, who have lived a semi-nomadic, pastoral lifestyle for centuries and move their livestock around with the changing seasons, have faced violent campaigns to clear areas for tourism for years.
“My wife and children feel threatened. The whole community is worried about what their future will hold,” said a Maasai community leader, who asked not to be named due to possible backlash from authorities. “The government is trying to find out who is behind the protests. A lot of people are being harassed.”
Eight UN Special Rapporteurs in February expressed their concerns about the clearance plans in Ngorongoro. About 82,000 Maasai could be removed from the area over the next five years, according to plans drawn up by Tanzania’s national commission for Unesco in 2019 to expand the protected area.
The Maasai are already facing restricted use of the land due to the Unesco listing. They are not allowed to grow crops, which has led to food shortages. The situation has recently deteriorated due to a severe drought in the region. A report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, released on Tuesday, outlined how prolonged droughts have resulted in severe shortages of pasture and water for livestock in the northern Maasai region. More than 60,000 animals were said to have died.
Further north in Loliondo, near the Kenyan border, 70,000 Maasai face displacement to make way for the expanding operations of Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), a UAE-owned hunting company.
Eviction orders were issued last year but stopped when allegations of abuse and intimidation of Maasai people surfaced. The evictions are expected to take place any day.
“She [the authorities] Denying people access to water and electricity. They want to create an uncomfortable situation for people,” said Denis Moses Oleshangai, a human rights lawyer and resident of Ngorongoro.
“People are worried. They are concerned about the impact of the evictions and what their lives will be like,” said a Maasai community leader from Loliondo, who also asked not to be named.
In February this yearTanzania’s tourism minister, Damas Ndumbaro, said the Maasai have no claim to their homeland as all land belongs to the president.
Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute think tank, said: “This is all for conservation, to create these pristine environments for tourists. The treatment of the Maasai population in Tanzania is symptomatic of a colonial approach to nature conservation and tourism that neglects the recognition of indigenous rights.”
A Unesco spokesman said: “The UNESCO World Heritage Center has never asked for the Maasai to be evicted. When conservation is an urgent need, tribal peoples are also part of the answer: they are key actors and rights holders to make it happen. The Unesco World Heritage Center and the 1972 Convention therefore recognize the importance of indigenous peoples and our practice is to involve everyone to find a solution where nature wins and people win.”
OBC did not respond to requests for comment.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been asked for comment.