In videos shared online, Tanzanian authorities have been seen shooting at and forcing the Maasai people out of Loliondo in Tanzania’s northern Ngorongoro district, an area frequented by tourists. This is following a dispute regarding turning the grazing land into a game reserve for trophy hunting.
The reserve is to be operated by Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), a UAE-based company.
Images shared with Climate Home News showed some gunshot casualties with small bullet wounds on various parts of their bodies – one of them even sustaining a wound to the head.
Joseph Oleshangay a Maasai lawyer, activist and resident of the district shared his witness account. “It started with tear gas and it turned to live bullets. At least 10 people have been wounded. Eight of them are women and two are men, including one who is 70 years old. These are not people who were there to fight.
“Those injured cannot seek medical attention in Tanzania because a police report is required and that means they have to answer for the death of a policeman and resisting the government's push. So people are crossing into neighbouring Kenya to seek medical treatment. It's a very bad situation.”
According to Oleshangay, Tanzanian police members, soldiers and game wardens stormed the area on June 7 to demarcate an area spanning 1,500 square kilometres as a game reserve.
This move would force out any human settlements and grazing activities in the area. This would be devastating for local Maasai communities as the Loliondo area contains the only permanent water point in the district.
The effects of severe climate change is expected to result in more droughts in the region, stifling access to water supply which is crucial for the pastoralist Maasai communities. Oleshangay claimed the attack on pastoralism was an attack on the Maasai’s culture and spirituality.
Maasai people have recently gathered in multitudes to protest the displacement plan and protect their land.
On Friday, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa assured the parliament that the Loliondo situation was safe despite the police presence. He also claimed that no eviction was planned there at all.
However, by Saturday, the regional commissioner of Arusha, John Mongella announced that a police officer had died from an arrow shot during a confrontation against the Maasai community. He claimed that there were no other casualties and that the videos of shootings being shared on social media were not recent.
Some prominent members of society have accused the Tanzanian government of waging a war against the indigenous Maasai people. Tundu Antiphas Lissu, a presidential candidate from the previous election, took to Twitter to ask for the international community to intervene and end what he termed “human rights abuses”.
Anuradha Mittal of Oakland Institute also called for international intervention. “International mobilisation on these developments is imperative to help stop this disastrous and illegal move.”
Mittal argued that the government’s move to forcefully evict the communities was in direct violation of a 2018 East African Court of Justice injunction. The injunction prohibited the government from evicting the Maasai people and harassing them.
Yet, the Tanzanian government is bent on forcefully removing more than 70,000 Maasai pastoralists from the Ngorongoro district.
Human rights organisations such as Survival International deem the current situation to be part of a larger conservation issue.
“I think that what is happening to the Maasai today should be put in the wider context of human rights abuses in the name of conservation. This violence that we see in Tanzania is the reality of conservation in Africa and Asia: daily violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples and local communities so that the rich can hunt and do safari in peace,” said Fiore Longo, a campaigner with Survival International.
Longo also attributed the issue to a basis of racism and colonialism.
According to The Voice UK, the current dispute is not the first in the area. Thousands of Maasai families were evicted in 2009 to make way for special hunting expeditions for rich tourists. However, the plans were cancelled in November, 2017 amidst allegations of corruption against the government.
Source: Climate Change News