Clarification on the Root Causes of the Current Conflict over Land Use in Loliondo Game Controlled Area, Tanzania
September 2013, Volume 11-4

In the previous edition of African Indaba, an interview between Rolf Baldus and Markus Borner discussed the ongoing conflict over land and resource use in the Loliondo area which lies to the east of Serengeti National Park. In this note I provide some clarification to misinformation provided by the Baldus/Borner interview, which is crucial to understanding the root nature of the Loliondo conflict and its wider implications for conservation. I also provide a few links to additional and more detailed information on this conflict, which readers of African Indaba may wish to explore.

As Baldus/Borner note, Loliondo has been the locus of fierce conflicts around conservation, community land and resource rights, state protected area management, tourism, and trophy hunting for the past 20 years. These conflicts revolve around who gets to make decisions about land and resource uses, and who benefits from resources such as land and wildlife. The conflicts first arose in the early 1990s when Loliondo was leased out by the Tanzanian government to a foreign trophy hunting operation from the United Arab Emirates without the participation or approval of local resident communities, despite their possessing legal title to their lands.

In 2009 the parameters were fundamentally changed with enactment of the Wildlife Conservation
Act, which repealed the wildlife law passed in 1974.  As Baldus/Borner state, the Loliondo area is classified as a Game Controlled Area (GCA) that was created in the 1950s to regulate the use of wildlife. Historically, GCAs never imposed any legal restrictions on land or natural resource use within their boundaries, or human economic activities save only those pertaining to utilization of wildlife i.e. hunting.

The 1974 Wildlife Conservation Act basically regulated wildlife use everywhere in Tanzania, inside or outside of protected areas. The main function of GCAs after 1974 was primarily an administrative one to demarcate the boundaries of hunting blocks leased out by the state as concessions. GCAs placed no restrictions on human use or residency, (and) overlaid community lands with extensive human populations. The communities living in these GCAs have recognized land rights and demarcated village boundaries according to the provisions of Tanzania‘s land and local government legislation.

These circumstances changed with passage of the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act (that) prohibits both livestock grazing (Section 20) and crop cultivation (Section 21) in GCAs. This effectively upgrades all GCAs to a status equivalent to Tanzania‘s Game Reserves where residency, cultivation and livestock grazing have been prohibited since 1974, despite the fact that GCAs contain (large) resident human populations.  By summarily banning all cultivation and livestock grazing in GCAs, the implications of the 2009 law for the livelihoods of these people is quite dire. The Act also, however, instructs the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism to review (all) GCAs (to) ascertain if they should continue to exist or not and to ―ensure that no land falling under the village land is included in the game controlled areas‖ (Section 16.5).

Since 2009, no formal review of GCAs has been carried out, nor provisions made to ensure that no village land is included in GCAs as instructed by the Act, in Loliondo or elsewhere. It is the new legal form of GCAs under the 2009 Act that has created the major threat of large-scale eviction, and resultant local protest, in Loliondo. The trigger for this was the Minister‘s announcement in March that of the 4,000 km2 of Loliondo GCA, 2,500 km2 would remain village land, and 1,500 km2 would be designated as GCA. What is lost in this announced division of land is the reality that all of Loliondo GCA is settled and used for pastoralist livestock production by its Maasai residents, and has been for about the last two centuries. The 1,500 km2 set aside as GCA represents the loss of 40% of the communities‘ customary landed assets, and presumably loss of annual livestock productivity. That represents a major economic loss impacting the livelihoods of perhaps 20,000 people directly and a much larger population through indirect economic losses. It also represents the loss of those people‘s homes and traditional territories, since they cannot live where they are banned from grazing livestock or farming the land.

The communities in Loliondo and their allies in Tanzanian civil society are well aware of the new provisions of  (the) law with regards to the designation of GCAs, and in particular the new prohibition on livestock grazing in GCAs without the permission of the Director of Wildlife. The fierce local resistance to what is in reality a proposed large-scale eviction of people from their traditional lands, essentially converting community (‗village lands‘) lands to an exclusive state protected area is the reason why the Loliondo case has over the past four months received so much coverage.

Due to either unfamiliarity with the changes to GCA land use regulation in the 2009 Act, or a willful miscasting of the current legal parameters governing land use in GCAs, Baldus/Borner misrepresent the root causes of the current Loliondo conflict and in the process explicitly suggest what has been proposed by the Tanzanian government should not be construed as a large-scale eviction of the communities resident in the area:

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.

This exchange fundamentally misstates the essential issues underlying the present conflict,
which is precisely that livestock grazing is no longer legal in GCAs under the present law.  It also misses the crucial point that 40% of the communities‘ present land area would no longer be held and managed by them; it would be an exclusive state protected area in the form of the newly defined GCA. The suggestion that the government has put in place concrete measures to ensure that revenues from tourism and hunting should benefit the resident communities in Loliondo is not borne out by the local experience over the past decade, which has featured a strong rollback of previous benefits communities in Loliondo were able to capture through contracts with tourism companies.

If Baldus/Borner believe that the plan advanced by the government to gazette 40% of the land area in Loliondo as an exclusive GCA will advance conservation interests in the Serengeti ecosystem, as
is suggested by their interview, they should state this more clearly rather than misrepresenting the current root causes of the conflict and its implications for local communities. That would present a more useful point of departure for debate with those in the conservation community, which includes myself, who believe that long-term conservation objectives in the northeastern Serengeti are unlikely to be advanced by such large-scale displacement of resident communities, particularly those such as the Maasai who have a demonstrated track record in conserving their environment and local wildlife populations.

More commentary on the Loliondo conflict can be found in a recent article by Nicholas Winer in the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy newsletter (reposted on the Just
Conservation blog): A more detailed discussion of the history of the Loliondo land use conflict is also available.

The Cristian Science Monitor: Masai herders appear victims of land deal with Dubai hunting firm

The Citizen: Elders to JK: Drop Maasai land plan or lose our vote

CNN: Tanzania’s Maasai fight government, game hunters for ancestral lands

Rolf Baldus responds: In the last African Indaba (Vol 11(4)) we published an interview with Prof. Dr. Markus Borner about the alleged “evictions” of Masai in Loliondo/Tanzania. This interview was a reaction to a campaign of a petition website that has collected a million signatures worldwide, so it claims, against “human rights´ violations” in Masailand, although no hard facts were provided. The interview made it clear that the existing problems are a land use conflict and that the Government follows existing legislation. Based on his long experience as representative of “Frankfurt Zoological Society” in the area, Dr. Borner thought that compromise is possible and should be negotiated.

Fred Nelson, a representative of NGOs supporting some of the Masai groups, has written a reaction to the interview which we publish here as information for our readership. It should be pointed out that this is one opinion in a dispute which has been going on for many years and that some of the arguments brought forward are in the first place a disagreement with the Tanzanian Wildlife Act of 2009, which has been adopted by the Tanzanian Parliament. Markus himself is of the opinion that the viewpoints are not that different. He wrote to me stating “Where we differ is that I believe the Tanzanian Government will consider grazing in the proposed new Game Area whereas Fred thinks that the Masai would be completely excluded. I really think that is unlikely because of a) new research, that shows that joint use by wildlife and cattle is actually increasing the productivity of an area and b) because a complete exclusion of the Masai would politically be impossible and very detrimental to conservation in the Serengeti.”

Author: Fred Nelson, Maliasili Initiatives fnelson@maliasili.org
Letter shortened (Editor)