A deal to sell a 1,500 sq km area of Tanzanian land for big-game hunting and luxury safaris is threatening the Maasai Mara’s homeland for a second time. The details first emerged last year, but after pressure from activists the government eventually backed down, promising the sale would not go ahead and instead proposing a ‘wildlife corridor’.
However, the deal now appears to be back on and Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group, believes the deal was never really off the table. ‘[The government] had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press,’ he told the Guardian’s Africa correspondent, David Smith.
The area is leased by a member of an Emirate royal family under the name Otterlo Business Corp, with Arab royalty and businessmen already frequenting the reserve and hunting far beyond the Tanzanian reguations.
Ordered to abandon their land by the end of the year, the Maasai Mara insist the move will affect up to 80,000 people, and claim that the compensation of one billion shillings (£369,350) is insulting. ‘I feel betrayed,’ said Nangiria. ‘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.’
The desputed Maasai land covers an area the size of Greater London and lies in the Ngorongoro district of northern Tanzania, boardering the Serengeti National Park. In 1959, the British relocated the Maasai tribe from the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro, creating the reserve to protect national wildlife and the paths of migratory species, like wildebeest. The Ngorongoro area is now a vital grazing ground, on which the nomadic Maasai depend for maintaining their livestock.
Maasai representatives will travel to the Tanzanian capital Dodoma, to meet prime minister Mizengo Pinda. They plan to express their fury in what Nangiria says will be their last attempt to settle the matter with talks, before pursuing other methods like court injunction. According to Nangiria, over the past two years the police have killed activists opposing the hunting reserve. The issue has received wider global attention and a petition was recently started aiming to protest the sale of the land used by the Maasai Mara.
‘I will fight for my community,’ he said. ‘The Masai would like to ask the prime minister about the promise. What happened to the promise? Was it a one-year promise or forever? Perhaps he should put the promise in writing.’