• Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Tanzania does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples, even though Tanzania is home to 125-130 different ethnic groups.

The Indigenous World 2023: Tanzania

Tanzania is estimated to have a total of 125-130 ethnic groups, falling mainly into the four categories of Bantu, Cushite, Nilo-Hamite and San. While there may be more ethnic groups that identify as Indigenous Peoples, four groups have been organizing themselves and their struggles around the concept and movement of Indigenous Peoples. The four groups are the hunter-gatherer Akie and Hadzabe, and the pastoralist Barabaig and Maasai.

Although accurate figures are hard to arrive at since ethnic groups are not included in the population census, population estimates[1] put the Maasai in Tanzania at 430,000, the Datoga group to which the Barabaig belongs at 87,978, the Hadzabe at 1,000[2] and the Akie at 5,268. While the livelihoods of these groups are diverse, they all share a strong attachment to the land, distinct identities, vulnerability and marginalization. They also experience similar problems in relation to land tenure insecurity, poverty and inadequate political representation.

Tanzania voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 but does not recognize the existence of any Indigenous Peoples in the country and there is no specific national policy or legislation on Indigenous Peoples per se. On the contrary, a number of policies, strategies and programmes that do not reflect the interests of the Indigenous Peoples in terms of access to land and natural resources, basic social services and justice are continuously being developed, resulting in a deteriorating and increasingly hostile political environment for both pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.


Expansion of conservation areas

The expansion of conservation areas in Tanzania is the one of the main drivers of conflicts, forced evictions and land dispossession of Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania. The situation is worse than ever. There is a strong anti-pastoralist discourse in the country, and pastoralists are being blamed for many problems, including land degradation, wildlife decline and water shortages. Pastoralists all over Tanzania are being harassed, arrested, and forcibly evicted from their lands. They are being heavily fined for trespassing into wildlife conservation areas, and their livestock are being confiscated. All this leads to massive impoverishment and food insecurity.


The Loliondo evictions

The issue of Loliondo and Ngorongoro captured both local and international attention in 2022 especially from June 2022 onwards. On 10 June 2022, the government launched a forcible eviction of pastoralists from 14 villages in Loliondo and Sale Divisions of Ngorongoro District. In Ololosokwan village, the government deployed military, police and rangers from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. Villagers attempted to peacefully resist being evicted. However, a deadly confrontation ensued. This led to an infamous shoot-out, which left dozens of Maasai people wounded, including children, women and the elderly.

The forcible eviction was linked to an operation to annex 1,502 km2 of village land in Loliondo. This was done through Government Notice No 421 signed by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism in order to establish the Pololeti Game Controlled Area (PGCA) and Government Notice No.604 of 2022 signed by the President, upgrading the Pololeti Game Controlled Area (PGCA) to the Pololeti Game Reserve (PGR). These acts contravene the Constitution of Tanzania of 1977, the Land Act No.4 of 1999, the Village Land Act No.5 of 1999 and the Wildlife Conservation Act No.5 of 2009, among others.

An estimated 500 Indigenous Maasai pastoralists fled their homes in the wake of 10 June. Even to date, residents in Loliondo live under threat of the security forces who continue to arbitrarily arrest, interrogate and intimidate people in order to prevent them from demanding their human, land and natural resource rights.

In relation to the June 2022 evictions, gender-based violence was committed by military and police officers who abducted women and girls and subjected them to sexual harassment, including rape in Njoroi and Mairowa villages. Other members of the community, including men and young men, were stripped naked and left to flee in a state of humiliation. Men opted to sleep away from their homes for fear of being abducted, harassed and detained.

A total of 240 homesteads were demolished, rendering an approximately 600 women, children, young men and men homeless. It was very difficult to get these issues reported due to media censorship. It is estimated that around 76 young men were arrested and had their smartphones confiscated by security forces to ensure that the violations of human, land and natural resource rights would not reach the media.

The annexation of the 1,502 km2 of land for the purpose of wildlife conservation by establishing the Pololeti Game Reserve denied 14 villages and nine wards of Loliondo and Sale Divisions in Ngorongoro District access to vital grazing resources: pasture, salt leaks and water. This created huge land-use conflicts between Indigenous Maasai pastoralists and the wildlife conservation authorities. Livestock entering the recently demarcated 1,502 km2 area that has been declared the Pololeti Game Reserve are captured and auctioned without consideration that the illegally grabbed land was crucial dry season grazing for pastoralists, which they badly need during the dry times of the year. Pastoralism in Loliondo and Sale divisions has thus been curtailed by wildlife conservation, and some villages such as Arash, Piyaya and Malambo have lost around 90 per cent of their village land, including grazing land.

The annexation of the 1,502 km2 of land to the Pololeti Game Reserve has seriously affected the villages of Ololosokwan, Kirtalo, Oloipiri, Lopolun, Maaloni, Piyaya, Arash, Orkuyaine, Enkobereti, Olalaa, Mnuken, Olmanie, Oloirien, Losoitok, and Malambo. The villages were all legally registered as village land before the Pololeti Game Reserve came into existence.

The June 2022 annexation of the village lands has negatively impacted Indigenous pastoralists who have been caught grazing on what were their previous village grazing lands. It is estimated that more than 11,000 livestock have been caught by game rangers in the newly established Pololeti Game Reserve, and that pastoralists have to date been forced to pay fines amounting to USD 287,500. These acts can be perceived as an outright attempt by the government to impoverish the Indigenous Maasai pastoralists of Loliondo and Sale divisions in the name of wildlife conservation and big game hunting for fun.

The increasing levels of poverty have led more than 70 Maasai children from Loliondo and Sale who were studying both in Tanzania and Kenya to drop out of school due to the inability of their parents to meet the costs of their education following the eviction operation.

One 70-year-old man – Oriais Oleng’iyo – disappeared without trace during the evictions. He was last seen badly wounded by bullets and being held by the security forces. His tormented family is still looking for him in vain.

Twenty-seven Indigenous Loliondo pastoralists were charged with murder and conspiracy to murder a police officer on 15 June 2022. Three of them were subsequently released. In November 2022, after six months of litigation and advocacy interventions, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) failed to produce evidence on the case. The then State Prosecutor, Upendo Shemkole, told the court that the DPP had no intention of pursuing the case further, a decision that resulted in the unconditional release of the remaining 24 accused pastoralists by the High Court of Tanzania. Cries of joy were heard in the High Court grounds when this was announced.[3]


The situation in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

A programme to evict Indigenous Maasai pastoralists from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) to Msomera, Lengusero, Saunyi, Kitwai B and Kitwai A villages in Handeni, Kilindi and Simanjiro districts in Tanga and Manyara regions is underway. Over 3,000 Indigenous Maasai and Barabaig pastoralists, together with their livestock, have already been relocated from the NCA to Msomera village. This relocation has created land-use conflicts between the Indigenous Maasai pastoralists from Ngorongoro and the residents of Msomera village.[4] Apart from the relocation being in violation of the human, land and natural resources rights of NCA Indigenous Maasai pastoralists, it is also creating new problems for the resident Indigenous Maasai pastoralists of Msomera, and the Government of Tanzania, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) are escalating the problem rather than resolving it.

To support and speed up the process to evict Indigenous Maasai pastoralists from the NCA, the government, MNRT and NCAA, in collaboration with several other ministries, are working to eliminate pastoralists’ access to social and economic services in the NCA in order to make life unbearable and thus push people to leave. Civil society organizations’ efforts to engage communities in legal advocacy to defend their human, land and resource rights are also being frustrated.[5]


Drought and violations of human rights around Protected Areas

The rainfall in the rainy season 2021/22 was almost non-existent across much of Tanzania. Wild animals, including but not limited to herds of elephants, invaded villages inhabited predominantly by Indigenous Peoples. Wild and domestic animals shared the rangeland and this, combined with drought, led to the rapid depletion of pastures and water in the villages.

 Wildlife conservation laws in Tanzania are extremely biased in favour of wildlife. These laws include the Wildlife Conservation Act No.5 of 2009, the National Parks Act [Cap 282 R.E. 2002], and the Forest Act and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Act 284. With the exception of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, livestock are prohibited from entering into wildlife preserved areas in Tanzania, and breaching these laws leads to severe punishment.


Expansion of the Ruaha National Park

The Ruaha National Park was established in 1964, and its original size was 6,078 km2. On 24 July 1998 it was expanded to 4,148 km2 and several villages were forcibly evicted in the process. On 20 June 2006, the Usangu Game Reserve was incorporated, and this expanded the Ruaha National Park to 10,226 km2.

On 15 December 2007, the Ruaha National Park was once again extended to 20,266 km2. This was after the parliament of Tanzania had approved an unlawful annexation of 10,000 km2 of land belonging to 48 villages.[6] The government did not seek the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of these villages.

On 25 October 2022, at a rally held in Ubaruku Town, Mbarali District, the Minister for Lands, Housing and Settlements Development, Angelina Mabula, ordered the 48 villages that were supposed to have encroached into the Ruaha National Park to leave immediately. The minister, in a very intimidating way, warned the “trespassers” to start leaving the park.[7] All the villages the minister is accusing of being within the park are, without exception, legally registered as corporate bodies under the Local Government Act No.7 (District Authorities) of 1982. This registration gives the village council jurisdiction to exercise powers within the boundaries of the registered area. The villages are also registered as village land under the Village Land Act.

Right after minister Mabula had spoken, the Deputy Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, Abdalah Ulega, told the frightened audience that the pastoralists would be relocated to an area of some 44,000 ha on the Usangu Ranch.[8] Other people are already living on this ranch, and the area is much smaller than the village lands that the pastoralists will be evicted from.

The government is arguing for the expansion of the Ruaha National Park by referring to the drying up of the Great Ruaha River. The Great Ruaha River is increasingly becoming seasonal, and the river has for decades stopped flowing for several months. The situation is becoming worse, and consequently the fauna and flora in the Ruaha National Park and beyond are paying a very high price. This crisis is also causing hydropower shortages. Pastoralists have been wrongly accused and grievously punished for the drying up of the river. In 2006/7, the State unleashed its armed forces to evict pastoralists from Mbarali District in relation to this issue. And the State has repeatedly continued to breach laws, the constitution and international legal frameworks, wrongly physically assaulting pastoralists and dispossessing them of their livestock.

Park rangers use the opportunity to enrich themselves via the eviction exercise (extortion of illegal “fines” and seizing of livestock) and they kill people with impunity. Armed militias are also involved. They have raided hundreds of livestock found near water sources, and when pastoralists try to take their livestock back, they are killed or injured. The government is using the drought and water crisis to create negativity and hatred towards the pastoralists, and now the pastoralists are becoming scared of bringing their livestock to the water sources.


Expansion of Tarangire National Park

The Tarangire National Park was established in 1970 by evicting Maasai pastoralists. Through Government Notice No.160, the area of the park was established at 2,600 km2. The State has subsequently been arbitrarily expanding this park by annexing land belonging to many villages, and today the park stands at 2,850 km2. The authorities want to further expand the national park by 100 km onto village land for wildlife protection, and the Maasai people (more than 2,000) and their livestock have been given a few days’ notice to move out. The people are refusing to move, and there is a huge conflict, in which people have been arrested, shot and livestock has been confiscated.


Killings of Indigenous Peoples with impunity

On 5 July 2022, in Mwanga District, Kilimanjaro Region, rangers from Mkomazi National Park fatally shot 17-year-old Ngaitepa Marias Lukumay. This generated unprecedented condemnation especially from the social media. The pressure became unbearable for TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks), a parastatal which manages the park. It was forced to issue a public apology on 12 July 2022. No action was taken against the known suspects. Too often the rangers shoot, injure and kill villagers and get away with it. Allegedly the deceased attempted to prevent the rangers from seizing the animals he was herding.


The East African Crude Oil Pipeline and the Akie hunter-gatherers

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) is a pipeline that will transport oil produced from Lake Albert oilfields in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. EACOP promises on its website that: “The pipeline is buried and once topsoil and vegetation have been re-instated people and animals will be able to cross freely anywhere along its length.”

EACOP will traverse the land of Indigenous Peoples such as the Akie. The Akie hunter-gatherer community of Kiteto District, Manyara Region, continued to engage with the EACOP in 2022. The oil pipeline will run through some of their sacred sites, and the Akie community was consulted regarding the reallocation of these sites. The EACOP project facilitated plans for reallocation, and the Akie community members welcomed this and considered the plans ideal. The process was done through a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) document, which was also brought before civil society organizations, namely PAICODEO, UCRT and PINGO’s Forum for review and it was translated for the Akie community before the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Akie and EACOP. The organizations sat down with representatives of the Akie and went through the FPIC document together, sharing the meaning of FPIC principles and how this will be effective for them.



Edward Porokwa is a lawyer and an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania. He is currently the Executive Director of Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum (PINGO´s Forum), an umbrella organization for pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law (LLB Hon) from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from ESAMI-Maastricht School of Management. He has 15 years’ experience of working with Indigenous Peoples’ organizations in the areas of human rights advocacy, policy analysis, constitutional issues and climate change.


This article is part of the 37th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2023 in full here.


Notes and references

[1] National Bureau of Statistics and Office of Chief Government Statistician. “2012 Population and Housing Census: Population Distribution by Administrative Areas.” March 2013, https://www.google.co.tz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjMtN7Xz_PuAhWisXEKHeIMAfgQFjACegQIARAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftanzania.countrystat.org%2Ffileadmin%2Fuser_upload%2Fcountrystat_fenix%2Fcongo%2Fdocs%2FCensus%2520General%2520Report-2012PHC.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1E9NTiC9WCMu5kGjMGlnEP

[2] Other sources estimate the Hadzabe at between 1,000-1,500 people. See, for instance: Madsen, Andrew. “The Hadzabe of Tanzania: Land and Human Rights for a Hunter-Gatherer Community.” Copenhagen: IWGIA, 2000.

[3] Please see the online media article https://youtu.be/sAB4HeJ65aw on the release of the Loliondo 24 accused of murder and conspiracy to murder a police officer during the human, land and natural resources rights conflicts to resist the annexation of 1, 500 km2 of land into PGCA – PGR. Last accessed 17 December 2022

[4] “Fact Finding Report. Field Research at the Resettlement Site - Msomera Village In Handeni District, Tanzania.” Oakland Institute, 2022, https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/pdfpreview/field_research_msomera_resettlement_site_october_2022.pdf

[5] Traditional Land Use, Seasonal Livestock Movement and Culturally Critical Resources in Ngorongoro, Sale and Loliondo Divisions Report. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, 12 December 2022.

[6] Ofisi ya Mkuu wa Wilaya ya Mbarali. “Taarifa ya Uhamasishaji na Utambuzi wa Hifadhi ya Taifa ya Ruaha na Vijiji vya Wilaya ya Mbarali Kuanzia Tarehe.” 19 January-13 February 2017, pp 1.

7 Jamhuri of Dar Es Salaam, 26 November 2022.

[8] YouTube. “Waziri Ulega Kwa Uchungu Akubali Wafugaji Waondoke Bonde La Ihefu ‘Sio Kila Shari Ni Shari Tuondoke’, Global TV Online, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEq_r8uN9rw

Tags: Global governance



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