• 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 2024: 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 themselves 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[i] put the Maasai in Tanzania at 430,000, the Datoga group to which the Barabaig belongs at 87,978, the Hadzabe at 1,000[ii] 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 (UNDRIP) 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.

General observation on 2023

The year 2023 posed a serious challenge for Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania. Their displacement across the country from villages adjacent to Protected Areas (PA)[iii] for the exclusive benefit of investment and tourism ventures was observed in different areas. The Indigenous Peoples bordering Serengeti, Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), Manyara, Tarangire, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Mkomazi, Ruaha, Mikumi, Nyerere (Selous), Mkungunero, Maswa, Burito-Chato have all been affected by various methods of land grabbing, including the expansion of PA boundaries or the invasion of business and tourism enterprises. This is also accompanied by human rights violations that have been reported in different media, and Indigenous Peoples have witnessed and experienced annexation of their land without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)and which, in some cases, resulted in violence and casualties.

Expansion of Loosimingor Forestry Reserve

Monduli is a Maasai district with a total population of 227,585, of which 204,827 are Indigenous Maasai. The district has an area of 6,981 km2, which is mostly rangelands and farmlands. Monduli is a substantial grazing and forested land with two major forest reserves: Loosimingor and Kaikitet. Both forests are used by the Maasai as grazing areas for dry seasons with rich wildlife populations. However, the forests are also targeted for carbon trading to benefit the central government, which at the same time denies Indigenous pastoralists access to the dry season grazing resources therein.

It was established in 1954 through government Gazette Number 187 (GN187), accounting for 4,649 hectares. The area was later upgraded to a Nature Forest (NF) in 2021/2022. The gazetting and upgrading of the forest area was all done without the FPIC of Indigenous pastoralists and has led to a denial of access to the land for traditional grazing.

The Tanzania Forest Service (TFS) claims to own 6,070 hectares of this grazing area, which is a significant increase in the original 4,649, an area that has encroached by 1,421 hectares onto the ancestral land owned by Indigenous pastoralists. The Loosimingor Nature Forest is of exceptional conservational value as it includes rich biodiversity with endangered flora and fauna, and yet the government allows commercial hunting to take place and the installation of water catchments for both government tourism ambitions and carbon trading schemes, which are paradoxically not as effective or sustainable as traditional pastoralist conservation methods.

Since 2023, hostility between Indigenous Maasai pastoralists and TFS officials has occurred, leading to physical confrontations between TFS paramilitary forces and Indigenous pastoralists who have been denied access to the forestry resources they used to enjoy and sustainably conserve. The conflict consequently resulted in the pastoralists’ loss of property and lives, affecting the 10 villages surrounding LFR – Loosimingor, Makuyuni, Esilale, Baraka, Mungere, Selela, Mbaashi, Losirwa, Makuyuni and Lepurko.

Further, the Indigenous Maasai communities are denied access to their sacred worship sites, the “Oreteti”. These restrictions have negative consequences for spiritual, environmental and natural resources and fail to respect their culture and customs or freedom to worship.

Traditional Indigenous Maasai Spiritual Leader Olaibon-Loongidong’I, for example, has been denied access to medicinal plants in the forest as a result of TFS-enforcement. Apart from being used by traditional leaders, individuals and families also use the forest resources as a source of medicine and herbs as well for the treatment of different ailments for both humans and livestock. Now that the forest is inaccessible, the Indigenous people of Monduli are denied access to the affordable healthcare products and services offered by the forest that they have relied on and protected for generations. It is well known that the motive behind the upgrade of the community land into a nature forest was also influenced by various factors including investment for tourism activities such as hunting blocks, tented lodges and sites and climate conservation purposes. This includes funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of more than USD 28 million (approx. EUR 26 million), which has been given to the Tanzania government for conservation of these nature reserves for carbon market investment.

Longido Game Controlled Area

Longido, another Maasai district, has a pastoralist population of 158,324 with an area of 8,064 km2, of which the Longido Game Controlled Area (LGA) covers 95%. There are processes in motion to upgrade the whole district into a Game Reserve (GR), which would apply even more stringent restrictions on an already restricted pastoralist way of life. Longido has a 21.82 per km2 population density, meaning the sparse population is increasingly vulnerable to stricter protected area rules that would cover more than 85% of the land being reserved for wet and dry season grazing. Indigenous Maasai pastoralists are worried about potential land grabbing and increased pressure for them to participate in carbon trading, a move that may place further restrictions on pastoralism.

Simanjiro District

One of the largest Indigenous Maasai pastoralist districts is Simanjiro District, which covers a land area of 19,816 km2 and has a population of 291,169 people, 262,053 of whom are Maasai pastoralists. This Indigenous Maasai district faces challenges associated with PAs including Tarangire National Park (TNP) and Mkungunero Game Reserve (MGR).

Currently, there are evictions ongoing in Kimotorok village bordering TNP. On 14 December 2023, TNP issued a 21-day notice instructing Kimotorok residents to vacate their homes in a lawfully established village because they had been living in the park. The heading of the notice proclaims the village to be within TNP. At the same time the “vacate notice” accused resident pastoralists of having set up home within the park contrary to the law. Upon expiry of the notice on 5 January 2024, force was used to remove those considered to have illegally entered the park. Conservation paramilitary entered Kimotorok registered village, firing their weapons at people and confiscating livestock, destroying homesteads, and arresting anyone who resisted, taking them into police custody. The village sought legal advice, including bailing out those arrested and filing a case to defend the Kimotorok pastoralists’ human, land and resource rights. The case is scheduled for hearing on 6 February 2024 and the government and its institutions are working hard to ensure that the communities drop the case because they know that if the justice system observes the rule of law, namely the legal protection that the Village Land Act No 5 of 1999 provides, then they will not be able to win because the government actions are in contravention of Village Act No 5 of 1999, which legally protects the Masai in the villages. The problem is that individual applicants in the lawsuit are being encouraged to drop the case.

On 21 December 2023, the village government issued a press release explaining the genesis of the 1970s forcible eviction of Indigenous Peoples to establish TNP. Tarangire National Park continues to annex village land into its area without the FPIC of Maasai pastoralists.

Same and Mwanga (Kamwanga) districts

Outside Arusha (Ilarusa) and Manyara (Emanyatta) regions, Indigenous pastoralists are in a minority; however, they remain a unique people. Indigenous Maasai pastoralists occupy villages such as Mindu Tulieni, Kigoda and Msitu wa Swala, among others. Same and Kamwanga districts suffer the same problems. Worse, they are not unified. The impact of Mkomazi National Park (MKONAP) on pastoralism affects villages with a majority pastoralist population, including Pangaro, Emugur, Mbuyuni, Jiungeni, Makayo, Alnyasai, Meserani, Ruvu Muungano, Marwa, Gunge, Gonja Msoroba, Pangaro, Karamba Ndeya, Kiria and Mgagao. These pastoralist villages are impacted by Mkomazi National Park (MKNP), which is having widespread effects on pastoralism in Same and Mwanga districts. This includes the illegal confiscation and auctioning of livestock from village lands adjacent to the park, exorbitant fines of up to TZS 250,000 levied on pastoralists, bribes given to park rangers of up 2,000,000 for each livestock herd that allegedly trespasses into the park, along with the excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings of innocent pastoralists.

Ngorongoro District

There has been conflict in Ngorongoro District over land and natural resource use for years. The conflict is complex, with many stakeholders involved, but the root of the problem is clear – land, tourism and investment do not need the Indigenous Maasai.

Loliondo and Sale divisions- Pololet Game Reserve and Serengeti conflict

Through their village councillors, Indigenous Peoples continue to be pressured by Ngorongoro District councillors to pass German-funded and facilitated legislation to legitimize what has been formulated as the Ngorongoro District Land Use Framework Plan 2023-2043. While all councillors are members of the ruling party, the Maasai councillors refuse to accept the plan. This plan was drawn up by a team of 40 state security councillors and surveyors in late October/November 2022, a time when many village chairpersons were still in exile in Kenya or in hiding, and village councillors were locked up on remand following the violent evictions in 2022 that were well publicized.[iv]

Surveyors were sent to re-survey the villages in Loliondo and Sale. This was done in a very threatening way, and beacons were planted, at least in Ololosokwan village, setting aside zones – outside the stolen land – for exclusive grazing and tourism use. After the legitimate village chairman returned from exile in Kenya, most of these beacons were removed by the local Maasai.

On 29 February and 30 March 2023, meetings were held at the Ngorongoro District Council Hall in Wasso to pressure all local leaders to agree to the Ngorongoro District Land Use Framework Plan 2023-2043. The councillors stood firm and, on 19 May, they unanimously rejected the proposal, which was not just meant to legitimize the already taken Pololet Game Reserve but also extend it to an area next to Lake Natron.

On 10 September, the councillors voted on the same plan again, after being given a Swahili version, which the district government hoped would change their minds. The plan was once again rejected.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

In an apparent continuation of the effort to promote elite tourism and commercial hunting, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) continued with the narrative of conservation, insisting that the only way to protect the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is to remove people from their ancestral lands and to make the pastoralists voluntarily relocate to Msomera, over 500 km from their land. All the while, the government has stopped providing social and humanitarian services and denied access to grazing areas and firewood to people living in Ngorongoro Division where the NCA is located.

Kilimanjaro International Airport

There is evidence that government officials in Arusha and Kilimanjaro defied court orders giving Indigenous pastoralists living on their traditional lands where the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) is located the right to continued occupancy. The Member of Parliament for Hai District called on the government explain why it is evicting people without their participation.

The government compensated some of the Indigenous Peoples from eight villages who were forced to vacate their ancestral lands without FPIC. The land, estimated to comprise 7,000 hectares of mostly grazing and farmlands, has been earmarked for the expansion of the airport, which is currently occupying around 4,000 hectares. The move will affect more than 20,000 Indigenous Maasai pastoralists and their livestock herds, the same people who originally gave up their ancestral land in the 1970s to establish today’s KIA.

A team of 17 Indigenous Peoples’ community representatives mobilized to resist the intention of the Tanzania government to grab their land for the KIA; both the Tanzania Aviation Authority (TAA) and Local Government Authorities (LGAs) supported the government.

Kibaha District

Kigoda village in Kibaha District, Pwani Region is a pure pastoralist village with a territory of 5,000 hectares composed of 376 households with a total population of 803 people. The resident pastoralists, who own a total livestock population of 9,218[v] practise semi-nomadic pastoralism both inside and outside the village during the farming season and after the harvesting season.

The village, today, however, is in crisis as it has found itself in the midst of an increasingly growing urban area that is threatening their traditions, which revolve around individual dignity and respect earned in the community, enhanced by access to and ownership of livestock, grazing land, and related resources.

They are working hard to protect their way of life. Despite managing their land sustainably, neighbouring farming villages are continuously attempting to grab their land and resources.

In response to the various threats, they have started implementing a programme whereby they place the residential homes of young warriors on the village periphery to serve as protection, with a fence marking their boundary, and have established a way of monitoring people entering the forest to harvest forestry resources unsustainably.



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 (PINGOs 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 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[i] National Bureau of Statistics and Office of Chief Government Statistician. “2012 Population and Housing Census:

Population Distribution by Administrative Areas.” Tanzania, 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

[ii] 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. https://www.iwgia.org/en/resources/publications/305-books/2662-the-hadzabe-of-tanzania-land-and-human-rights-for-a-hunter-gatherer-community.html

[iii] Protected Areas (PAs) include - Game Controlled Areas (GCA), Game Reserves (GR), Wildlife Dispersal Area (WDA), Wildlife Corridors (WC), Wildlife Managed Areas (WMA), National Parks (NA) and Forestry Reserves (FR).

[iv] Porokwa, Edward. “Tanzania.” in The Indigenous World 2023, edited by Dwayne Mamo, 617-622. IWGIA, 2023. 122-131. https://www.iwgia.org/en/tanzania/5063-iw-2023-tanzania.html

[v] The composition of the livestock herd: 4,226 cattle, 4,212 goats and 780 sheep. Initially, they underestimated the market value of sheep and they have now realised how important the sheep herd is. Most households have now started growing their livestock population.

Tags: Land rights, Human rights, Conservation



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