Maasai Latest Victims Of Violence, Land Grabbing
The Maasai are arguably the most iconic ethnic group in Africa. Living on both sides of the Kenya/Tanzania border, they are pastoralists and nomads. Their unique culture and way of life are now under threat, as they appear poised to become the latest victims of unfettered greed, imposed on them in the name of “development”. The Tanzanian state is moving ahead to grab 1,500 km2 ancestral and registered village land of the Maasai in Loliondo division in Ngorongoro in (Northern Tanzania). This is despite the fact that the East African Court of Justice is issuing a ruling on the same land on June 22, 2022, in case filed by the village councils in September 2017. And in spite of the fact that on 25th May 2022 the community submitted the report on the same to the PM.
On 7th June, a paramilitary group estimated to be around 700 people, mostly police, park rangers, military and other security forces arrived at Loliondo. Their arrival immediately instigated social unrest and public panic mostly because there have been rumors that the government will deploy a military unit to demarcate the 1500 km2. Some Parliamentarians advised the government to use military force including tankers and bombs to evict the Maasai from Ngorongoro division.
The military force arrived in Loliondo without informing the public or the local authorities of the purpose of their coming even though, council meetings were taking place in Loliondo since 6th June 2022. This elevated panic and worries even more.
On the morning of 8th June, the Police divided themselves into five groups, each in a different location. Reportedly an estimated 118 personnel went to Arash Village, 137 Oloipiri Village, 133 Ololosokwan Village and 128 Piyaya Village. Another team camped at the District Commissioner’s office compound.
The Maasai community continued to hold their own meetings and on 9th June, the police crashed into one of the community meetings in Ololosokwan village. According to the police, they came to put up the beacons to demarcate 1,500 km2 and therefore separate it from village land as 1,500 km2 is to become a game reserve area.
On the late hours of 9th June the community men went to uproot all the beacons that were installed by the police. It is said that they slept to guard the land through to daybreak.
As the day broke, the soldiers returned only to find huge gatherings of men and women and they started shooting, teargas followed by live bullets. A total of 31 people (18 men, 13 women) sustained serious injuries resulting from live bullets. Also, 9 councilors and CCM Party district chairman have been detained in unknown locations since June 9th,2022 to the present time.
Most of the injured need medical aid and food supplies urgently. Many people have run to neighboring Kenya for their safety and are now receiving medical attention for those injured and women and children are receiving humanitarian aid.
This is a third attempt to evict the Maasai. In 2009 and in 2017 the Government attacked the Maasai in Loliondo through an illegal military operation. Arson, mass beatings, raping, torture, and other crimes were widely reported in those years.
The matter is receiving attention from the United Nations. In a statement issued on 15 June 2022, the organization says: “We are deeply alarmed at reports of use of live ammunition and tear gas by Tanzanian security forces on 10 June 2022, reportedly resulting in about 30 people sustaining minor to serious injuries from live bullets and the death of a police officer.
“According to information received, on 6 June, following a closed-door meeting, the Arusha Regional Commissioner announced the decision to turn 1,500 square kilometres of 4,000 square kilometres of designated village land comprising the Loliondo Game Controlled Area into a game reserve. The change would imply evictions from Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash villages, which could displace up to 70,000 Indigenous Maasai. The decision came despite a 2018 injunction by the East African Court of Justice and the fact that on 22 June the Court is expected to rule on an a legal challenge to the eviction of the Maasai from their land in this area.
“On 7 and 8 June, around 700 members of security forces were deployed into five locations in the area, where they installed tented camps to start demarcating the 1,500 square kilometres. On 9 June the police placed markers to delineate the game reserve, but local Maasai people removed them and remained overnight to guard the site. When security forces returned at daybreak, they started firing live bullets and lobbed teargas at the Maasai.
“Another situation has been unfolding in the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where authorities have reportedly been advancing plans to evict an estimated 80,000 Maasai from their ancestral lands. Maasai representatives said that there had been no genuine efforts to consult them and that they have learned details of the planned eviction from leaked documents. Only on 9 February the National Assembly held a special session discussing the right of the Maasai to live in the area, which has been guaranteed in law since the 1950s. The Government stated there are no plans to forcibly evict the Maasai but there have been reports of an increased police presence and harassment in Maasai villages, advising locals to “volunteer” for relocation because they would have no choice but to move.
“Under such conditions, it seems impossible to guarantee that the relocation of the Maasai from the area will not amount to forced evictions and arbitrary displacement under international law.
“We are concerned at Tanzania’s plans to displace close to 150,000 Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo without their free, prior and informed consent, as required under international human rights law and standards. This will cause irreparable harm, and could amount to dispossession, forced eviction and arbitrary displacement prohibited under international law. It could jeopardize the Maasai’s physical and cultural survival in the name of ‘nature conservation’, safari tourism and trophy hunting, ignoring the relationship that the Maasai have traditionally had with their lands, territories and resources and their stewardship role in protecting biodiversity.”
“We call on the Tanzanian Government to immediately halt plans for relocation of the people living in Loliondo and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and begin consultations with the Maasai Indigenous Peoples, including direct contact with the Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, to jointly define current challenges to environmental conservation and best avenues to resolve them, while maintaining a human rights-based approach to conservation,”.