AFRICANGLOBE – Some 40,000 Masai shepherds will lose their ancestral lands in a deal brokered by the government of Tanzania with the Royal Family of Dubai. The Masai have been told to leave their historic homeland which borders the Serengeti National Park by the end of the year, so that the Arabs can move in.
The eviction notice came as a shock to activists who had defeated an earlier attempt by the government to set up a 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” for a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Masai representatives have called for a meeting with the prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, this week. Sale of the land will directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend.
The government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings (just under $600,000) – not to be paid directly but to be channeled into socio-economic development projects. The Masai rejected the offer.
“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.”
Nangiria said he believes the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme but only pretended they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”
An international campaign against the hunting reserve was led last year by the online activism site Avaaz.org, whose Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted more than 1.7 million signatures and led to coordinated email and Twitter protests.
Alex Wilks, campaign director for Avaaz, said: “The Masai stare out from every tourism poster, but Tanzania’s government wants to kick them off their land so foreign royalty can hunt elephants there. Almost two million people around the world have backed the Masai’s call for president Jakaya Kikwete to fulfill his promise to let them stay where they’ve always lived. Treating the Masai as the great unwanted would be a disaster for Tanzania’s reputation.”
Meanwhile, Khoi San of the Kalahari in Botswana are facing a similar fate. A $4.9 billion diamond mine was opened in the heart of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in September, leaving 700 Khoi San exiled to impoverished settlements on the edge of the park. They are forbidden to hunt the wildlife.
“The San of the Kalahari are just one among hundreds of ethnic groups peoples evicted or under threat of expulsion for the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected conservation areas,” noted Survival International in a recent report.
“In an attempt to protect these areas of so-called ‘wilderness’, governments, companies and ‘conservation’ groups NGOs enforce the creation of zones free of human habitation. Indigenous people who live in them are expected to change their way of life and relocate. They are given little, if any, choice about what happens.”
Stephen Corry, director of Survival, said: “This [trend] is based on unscientific assumptions that tribal peoples are incapable of managing their lands, that they overhunt, overgraze and overuse the resources on their lands.
“But it is also based on an essentially racist desire by governments to integrate, modernize and control tribal peoples.”
In a new development, governments are using climate change as an excuse to move people out of reserves.
In a letter last month to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Paul Kibet, secretary of the Sengwer council of elders, said: “We need to change the mindset of the colonial conservation which fails to recognize that our communities’ traditional lifestyles, economies and knowledge is in harmony with nature.”