Maasai “Evictions” in Loliondo/Tanzania: A Land-Use Conflict or Human Rights’ Violations?
June 2013, Volume 11-3

African Indaba editor Dr. Rolf D. Baldus interviews Prof. Dr. Markus Borner

Dr. Baldus: Over the last year Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) have campaigned against an alleged eviction of thousands of Maasai in Loliondo, Northern Tanzania. The people would have to leave the land in order to give room for a hunting company. Tanzanian newspaper reported about protests of the Maasai. A petition website claims that they have collected nearly a million signatures against the “eviction” and the human rights violation of the Maasai. Marcus, what are the facts?

Prof. Borner: The Loliondo Game Controlled Area (GCA), to the east of the Serengeti National Park, with a size of more than 4.000 km² forms an important part of the Serengeti ecosystem. It is an integral part of the migration routes.  At the same time it is an important grazing area for the Maasai communities, and a productive area for tourism activities. For the past 20 years, conflict over the land between the government, investors and communities has carried on, with all sides firmly entrenched in their positions and seemingly no end in sight. Throughout this time, growing numbers of inhabitants and livestock as well as increasing climatic uncertainties including severe droughts have added to the challenges.

The proposal over the last ten years was to divest the management of the “Game Controlled Area”, which is legally an area designed for hunting and at the same time for activities like grazing, to the communities via a “Wildlife Management Area” (WMA). The latter is a special legal form of land, in which hunting and other wildlife uses are permitted under the management and for the benefit of the local communities.

A WMA would ensure that the communities would benefit from the conservation activities, that the Maasai would secure long-term land-rights, and photo-tourism and hunting could be practiced by entering into direct agreements with communities.

Unfortunately no agreement was ever reached on this land-conflict issue, despite a decade of
discussions between communities, central government and NGO’s.

Dr. Baldus: Some NGO’s claim that the Government wants to take away the land from the communities and hand it over to Arab hunters.

Prof. Borner: The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism explained to the local communities the value of the area for biodiversity conservation both nationally and internationally. He made it clear that this area is too important for the government of Tanzania to allow to become degraded, but he welcomed the local communities to participate in the management of the land and share the benefits. Community leaders rejected the Minister’s statement, insisting instead that the land should be used solely by the resident population without interference of overarching national or international interests. As this is against the prevailing law, the Government of Tanzania finally decided to earmark 2,500 km2 of the existing Game Controlled Area for general unrestricted use to the resident population, with 1,500 km2 along the Serengeti National Park boundary remaining as a GCA under central government control, mainly to conserve the diversity and the wildebeest migration of the Serengeti Ecosystem.

Dr. Baldus: In a nutshell: there are no plans to evict the Maasai?

Prof. Borner: Only insofar as there would be no agricultural activity and permanent settlements in the proposed new and greatly downsized GCA along the Serengeti boundary. If the Frankfurt Zoological Society can continue its role as a mediator between the communities and the central government, we will make sure that the Maasai can still graze their cattle there in droughts and can continue to use the area in their traditional lifestyle. The Government has also made it clear that revenues from photo tourism and hunting in the area should be benefiting the communities directly.

Dr. Baldus: This may explain why the petition website, which collects signatures against the “evictions” and the human rights violations, has provided no proof for their allegations. How do you judge the fact that a million people sign such petitions against decisions of a sovereign African Government without informing themselves properly first?

Prof. Borner: The Maasai are an interesting and handsome people that evoke all the dreams of western society for a life in harmony with nature. It is true that they are very tolerant of living together with wildlife and are consequently a good neighbour to the Serengeti National Park. Unfortunately, like the “American Indians” their lifestyle has been idealised by the western media. The truth seems to me that they are a people that are caught in the impossible situation to keep a traditional lifestyle and their obvious needs for development and integration into the modern Tanzanian Society. It is probably our own wish to dream back of when man was in harmony with nature that is colouring our pictures of the Maasai and led people to sign a petition like the ones circulating and it seems also very difficult to be able to get a balanced picture of the situation through the media and the reports from the human rights organisations.

Dr. Baldus: What is the land situation in Loliondo? What are the demands of the Maasai?

Prof. Borner: Land is getting scarce everywhere on the planet and land rights are key questions in Africa. In the case of Loliondo it is a questionof importance and priority. There is of course the local priority of the Maasai living in that area and they insist that this should be the only concern. They reject national priorities (for example about tourism) and are unwilling to consider international priorities and agreements like the UNESCO World Heritage Declarations.  Unfortunately nobody seems to consider
the rights of future generations. The local priorities deal understandably mostly with the local and present needs, but biodiversity conservation and rights of future generations is seen as mainly the responsibility of the State. The conflict of these different priorities is at the heart of the present conflict. The decision of the government to release most of the old GCA to the present local demands and to keep the biodiversity and migration routes intact along the Serengeti boundary is a fair solution that takes all priorities into due consideration.

Also the Maasai are not a homogenous group. There are different interests existing and each of the many dozens of mostly foreign NGO`s involved have a couple of Maasai who publicly support their positions.

Dr. Baldus: Which role does the Tanzanian policy of “Community based Conservation” play?

Prof. Borner: Tanzania – together with Namibia – were a leading force in developing and installing a new approach to conservation, where local communities get land and user rights for their wildlife, but in exchange have to take over responsibility for their conservation. FZS has been working with the Serengeti communities for many years to establish these locally administered Wildlife Management Areas in the Serengeti ecosystem. This was very successful in the west and the south of the park where communities now profit enormously from tourism and hunting: Unfortunately this could not be achieved in the east of the park, mainly because of the many conflicting interests, many of which are imposed from outside.

Dr. Baldus: Are the Maasai the true indigenous inhabitants of the country, as some claim?

Prof. Borner: The Maasai, even so labelled as indigenous by some human rights NGO’s are not the original population of Tanzania. They are a Nilotic people that arrived in the Ngorongoro Area only around 1850, just a few years ahead of the German settlers. In their move from the north they displaced the indigenous local communities of the Hadzabe (a hunter and gatherer tribe like the San) and the Dorobos and Iraqw (earlier immigrants from the north).

Dr. Baldus: How do you judge the policy of the Tanzanian Government in this conflict?

Prof. Borner: The Government of Tanzania has not always been the most delicate when dealing with rights of local communities. Amazingly the Maasai are the one tribe in Tanzania that have been granted exclusive land rights within the country, namely in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In Loliondo the Government has tried for a very long time to diffuse the long brewing conflict. The present proposal seems a good way forward.

The land conflict to the east of the Serengeti between local and national interests is likely to continue. It is hoped that the strong democratic processes that exist today in Tanzania will lead to an amicable resolution: A solution that supports the livelihoods of the present inhabitants of Loliondo, but also retains the unique wilderness value of the Serengeti ecosystem for the benefit of a future generation of residents and nationals alike.

Prof. Dr. Markus Borner is now a  Honoraray Professor  at the University of Glasgow and a member of the FZS Board. He has recently retired from his position as head of the Africa programme of FZS. For over 30 years he has worked and lived in Seronera, Serengeti National Park. Prof. Borner is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on the Serengeti ecosystem.