According to UN experts, some 150,000 people are at risk of being displaced “without their free, prior and informed consent”.
This is a new stage in the showdown that has pitted the Maasai against the Tanzanian government for years in the name of nature protection. Thursday, June 16, about twenty Maasai families left the Ngorongoro nature reserve as part of a program described as “voluntary relocation” by the authorities but “expulsions” by human rights activists. These populations of semi-nomadic herders have lived since 1959 in the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in northern Tanzania. But their exponential population growth — and that of their herds — puts them in direct competition with wildlife, authorities say.
The number of Maasai living in Ngorongoro has increased from 8,000 in 1959 to more than 100,000 today, while their herd has grown even faster, from around 260,000 head in 2017 to over a million currently. “Ngorongoro is being lost,” Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan said last year. For their part, the Maasai accuse the authorities of wanting to expel them from their historic habitats to transform them into areas for safaris or private hunting.
Lately, these tensions have peaked in Loliondo, an area near the Serengeti Park, 125 km north of Ngorongoro. There were clashes between the police and the local community, who were protesting against the installation of “beacons” separating areas of human habitation and those reserved for wild animals. “ Hundreds of members of the security forces were deployed from June 7 to install these beacons, while eleven Maasai representatives of the disputed lands were pre-emptively arrested and detained,” reports human rights lawyer Joseph Moses Oleshangay. , himself a resident of Ngorongoro.
Tear gas and live ammunition
On the night of June 9-10, the Maasai gathered under cover of darkness to remove the beacons and remained behind to guard the site. “When dawn came, the security forces came back and started spraying them with tear gas, ” continues Joseph Moses Oleshangay. Then the police started firing live ammunition and the Maasai responded with arrows. At 8 o’clock in the morning, the toll was ten wounded by bullets on the Maasai side. At the end of the day, I was told about thirty wounded and two dead, a Masai and a policeman. »
Only the death of the policeman has so far been confirmed by the government. Twenty residents of Loliondo have been charged with the murder, as reported in a statement by the Tanzanian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders. According to their lawyers, they were allegedly tortured during their detention. The case is expected to go to trial at the end of the month.
In a press release published on June 15, nine independent experts appointed by the UN denounced the Tanzanian authorities’ plan to transform 1,500 km 2, out of the 4,000 that make up the controlled area of Loliondo, into an area reserved for safaris, trophy hunting, and conservation. According to them, the decision was announced by the regional commissioner of Arusha after a meeting behind closed doors and without consulting the Maasai representatives. However, this “sanctuary” would lead to the expulsion of the 70,000 inhabitants of four villages, Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash. An operation described by Amnesty International as an “illegal forced eviction”, “shocking both in its scale and its brutality”.
For UN experts, combining the Ngorongoro and Loliondo projects, there are even 150,000 Maasai who risk being displaced “ without their free, prior and informed consent”. “This will cause irreparable harm and could amount to dispossession, forced eviction, and arbitrary displacement prohibited by international law,” they warned.
The appetite of a wealthy Emirati society
In 2018, a year after a wave of large-scale evictions in Loliondo, the East African Court of Justice issued temporary orders against local authorities, valid until Wednesday, June 22. On this date, the court is supposed to decide on a legal appeal against the expulsion of the Maasai. The recent events of Loliondo, in violating these ordinances, demonstrate, according to Joseph Moses Oleshangay, a “gross lack of respect for this institution in particular, and for law and order in general “, on the part of the Tanzanian government.
In February, the Tanzanian National Assembly held a special session to debate the Maasai’s right to inhabit their ancestral lands, which has been guaranteed by law since 1959. In the process, to support its “voluntary” relocation program, the government increased the police presence in the Maasai villages and froze the financing of public structures, “in particular health and educational”, denounces Joseph Moses Oleshangay: “Today, all the infrastructures are paralyzed in order to force the inhabitants to leave the places. »
Loliondo’s wildlife has long aroused the appetite of a wealthy Emirati company, Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC). Already in 2009, thousands of families had been expelled from the area to allow OBC to organize private hunting trips there. The Emirati company has support in the highest echelons of the Tanzanian government: one of its shareholders is none other than Abdulrahman Kinana, the secretary-general of the country’s first party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), in power in Tanzania since his independence in 1962.
In 2017, after a ruling by the Tanzanian Human Rights Commission, the government decided to scrap OBC’s license – some seeing the move as the result of political disagreements between Mr. Kinana and then President John Magufuli. “ But Kinana seems to have regained its influence with the presidency, just like OBC, summarizes Joseph Moses Oleshangay. It is these close ties between Emirati interests and the Tanzanian authorities that are at the root of the current conflict. »