As previously reported by Geographical last week, the Maasai Mara found themselves facing eviction from their homes in Loliondo, in the Ngorongoro district of northern Tanzania, adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, as rumours spread regarding a possible eviction by the Tanzanian government.
Their plans were supposedly to turn the land into a game park, run by Ortello Business Corporation, a company with links to the UAE royal family. The eviction would have uprooted up to 80,000 people, who were collectively being offered compensation of one billion shillings (£369,350) for the move.
With the government facing international criticism for the proposal, President Kikwete was forced onto the defensive, taking to Twitter to dismiss the rumours, and claiming that there never had been such a plan:
Furthermore, Minister Nyalandu released a statement on Friday 28 November on behalf of the government, stating: ‘The government of United Republic of Tanzania has never had any plan to evict the Maasai people from their ancestral land as falsely reported by the media in recent days. The information circulated through the media outlets globally was misleading, malicious and meant to tarnish the image of our country and her international standing.’
He went on to say that ‘The argument that the land in question is being sold to a wealthy Middle Eastern family [is] a total fabrication and in contrary to the Tanzanian law.’
Representatives of the Maasai Mara and others who have campaigned on behalf of the Maasai hailed the announcements as a U-turn for the government, and a victory for the rights of the tribe.
Ole Kulinga, a Maasai elder and traditional leader from Malambo in Loliondo said ‘Without our land, we are nothing and this commitment from the President lets us all breathe a sigh of relief. But hunters want this land more than anything and we will only feel safe when we have permanent rights to our land in writing.’
International online activist network Avaaz, which has run a two-year campaign that now has over 2.3 million signatures calling for the Massai’s land rights to be recognised, encouraged people to write to their local Tanzanian embassy last week in response to the latest rumours, which saw over 18,000 people worldwide raise their concerns with the Tanzanian government.
Sam Barratt, Campaign Director for Avaaz said ‘This is a massive breakthrough. For the first time in 20 years, a Tanzanian president has definitively said the Maasai are safe on their land. Over two million people around the world have stood arm in arm with the Maasai to keep foreign hunters at bay.’
The next few days is expected to see a convergence of activity in the Loliondo area, as Minister Nyalandu is expected to lead a team of government officials to the area to address the concerns of local people, where they are likely to be met by a Maasai reception of potentially up to 5,000 people, according to Avaaz.