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    Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Tanzania does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples, even though Tanzania is home to 125-130 different ethnic groups.
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  • The impact of conservation on Indigenous Peoples: a case study of the Loliondo pastoralists in Tanzania

The impact of conservation on Indigenous Peoples: a case study of the Loliondo pastoralists in Tanzania


In Africa, the protected area model known as "fortress conservation" is encroaching on Indigenous lands and infringing on their rights. A very clear case is that of the Maasai people in Loliondo, in whose ancestral lands and territory the Tanzanian government wants to create a conservation area in the form of a Game Reserve. As a result, the Maasai communities have suffered forced evictions and human rights violations. Instead of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge about how to protect nature, the fortress conservation methods regrettably undermine Indigenous ways of life and endanger the balance of their ecosystems.

All over the world, nature and biodiversity are increasingly being threatened by human action. And now this makes conservation a key global issue. Some of the world's most biodiverse protected areas are located on Indigenous Peoples' territories. This is the case in Africa, where most of the areas rich with wildlife are on Indigenous ancestral lands. Despite this, Indigenous Peoples in Africa are forcibly evicted from their territories in the name of conservation.

The main model of conservation practiced in Africa is "fortress conservation": this is where national parks and other types of conservation areas are created and then guarded in a militarized manner. As a consequence, local people, including Indigenous Peoples, are evicted from their lands, denied access to their livelihoods and, if they try to enter their territory and re-claim their lands, face violence. Against this backdrop, conservation has become one of the main causes of land dispossession of Indigenous Peoples in Africa, as seen in cases in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon and Botswana.

Forced evictions of Maasai pastoralists in Loliondo

While Tanzania's Indigenous Peoples have, for generations, conserved the biodiversity and wildlife of their ancestral territory, they are now being blamed for causing land degradation, wildlife decline and water scarcity. As a result, Maasai pastoralists are systematically being harassed, arrested and forcibly evicted from their land.

A significant case in point is the forced evictions of Maasai pastoralists from their ancestral land in Loliondo. Located in the Ngorongoro district in the north of the country, the land is legally registered as "village land." However, residents there are being forcibly evicted and the land expropriated in the name of conservation. The land in question covers 1,500 square kilometers and has been perfectly conserved by the Maasai people for centuries. However, the Tanzanian government has wanted to appropriate this land for years in order to create a conservation area for trophy hunting by rich people living in the United Arab Emirates.

The latest round of evictions organized by the government against 14 Maasai villages began in June 2022 when military, police and Tanzania National Park rangers were deployed. The Maasai tried to resist peacefully, while security forces fired tear gas and gunfire at the people. At least 40 people were injured, including vulnerable children, women and elderly people as a result of the violence. The injured had to cross the border into Kenya for medical treatment as Loliondo facilities refused to treat them if they could not produce a Police Medical Examination Form.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Tanzania Septiembre2023 2Maasai pastoralists need their land to feed their animals. Especially during the dry season.

Criminalization and impunity

240 homesteads were demolished, leaving approximately 600 women, children, youth and men homeless. Many Maasai leaders and human rights defenders faced harassment and an estimated 500 Indigenous pastoralists were forced to flee to Kenya and survive with no financial means. In addition, repression against those attempting to organize meetings and protests was widespread, and those trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression were persecuted. At the same time, a "media blackout" was initiated and the media was denied access to the area.

Additional tensions were caused by arrests when, between June and November 2022, dozens of people were arbitrarily detained and unjustly accused of crimes related to the death of a police officer who had died during the protests. In total, 27 people were charged with crimes related to the murder. After six months of litigation and defense interventions, they were all released because the Director of Public Prosecutions was unable to present evidence on the case. This was not the only intervention that faced judicial challenges.

The forced evictions also failed to respect a court order that had been issued by the East African Court of Justice in 2018. The court order prohibits the Tanzanian government from evicting the Maasai pastoralists until the resolution of a case filed by the communities against the state in 2017. So far, there have been no police investigations into human rights violations towards the communities.

IWGIA DebatesIndigenas Tanzania Septiembre2023 3The Government of Tanzania is attempting to appropriate 1,500 square kilometers of land legally registered and conserved by the Maasai.

The resistance of the Maasai people

The expropriation of 1,500 square kilometers of Maasai land was carried out in the name of fortress wildlife conservation. Subsequently, this land became the Pololeti Game Reserve and Maasai pastoralists, and their livestock were prohibited from entering their vital dry season grazing lands. In addition, thousands of animals were confiscated, and pastoralists had to pay exorbitant fines to have their livestock returned to them. Those who could not pay the fines saw their animals auctioned off. All this has led to impoverishment, food insecurity, hunger, fear and despair.

Tellingly, there was no type of free, prior and informed consultation. The communities did not receive any compensation for the destruction of their property and for the loss of their traditional lands and livelihoods. This move violates international treaties signed by Tanzania such as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The observations made by the United Nations , the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, and numerous international human rights organizations were also not taken into account.

UN organizations have continued to express their concerns about these land grabs and on 28 April this year the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued an Early Warning and Urgent Action to the government of Tanzania, expressing its concern over the forced evictions and human rights violations suffered by the Maasai Indigenous Peoples in Loliondo and Ngorongoro.

Despite these violations, communities remain organized and vigilant. When the Vice President visited the region, the Maasai took the opportunity to protest and highlight their grievances of injustices and the human rights violations they are experiencing. Recently, local leaders succeeded in stopping the adoption of a new District Land Use Plan promoted by the Tanzanian government and international conservation organizations, which would have converted 90% of the Ngorongoro District into conservation areas. It remains to be seen what will happen with those plans.

There have also been signs of hope. Maasai residents from Loliondo have used the legal system to challenge the establishment of the Pololeti Game Reserve and on the 22 August, the High Court in Arusha put a temporary stop to the Government Notice, which provides for the establishment of the Pololeti Game Reserve. This is good news, and it remains to be seen if the decision will be respected and more challenges to fortress conservation tactics will be upheld.

An unjust conservation model

To this day, residents in Loliondo continue to live under threat from security forces who continue to arbitrarily arrest, interrogate and intimidate people to prevent them from claiming their human rights to land and natural resources. On a tour of Europe, Maasai representatives briefed governments and organizations on the injustices and human rights violations committed in Loliondo. The delegation visited the headquarters of the European Union, Germany, Austria and Italy, and hopes that this can re-inforce international pressure on the Tanzanian government to provide compensation for the injustices committed will intensify.

Conservation is the main cause of land dispossession in Tanzania. Conservation areas are steadily expanding and almost 40% of all land is now under conservation. In most places, conservation is carried out in the old, militarized "fortress" style. National parks are expanding into Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and this is among others currently happening in relation with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tarangire National Park and Ruaha National Park (one of the largest in Africa).

Instead of being supported to remain the primary conservers of biodiversity, Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania are evicted and their food security, livelihoods and future existence are undermined. The situation is of great concern and there is a great need to develop human rights-based conservation models that support the livelihoods and assures the future existence of Indigenous Peoples.

Tags: Indigenous Debates



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