Ancestral land of Maasai people trophy-hunting grounds for UAE royals
As the world leaders meet to discuss global environmental concerns for 2030, Tanzania and the UAE royal family seek to capitalize on endangered species and ancestral territories.
Northern Tanzania is faced with evictions as UAE firm seeks to turn ancestral land into a trophy-hunting ground. More than 70,000 Indigenous Maasais reside in northern Tanzania, and they are all facing displacement after the government revealed plans to lease the space to a UAE-based company, Business Corporation (OBC), to create a hunting reserve for elite tourism.
Indigenous leaders have filed an appeal at the regional court, hoping that they could halt the plans for this area. For Maasais, the current evictions are considered a violation of a 2018 injunction that barred the government from evicting Maasai from 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of ancestral, legally registered land in the Loliondo Division of Ngorongoro, northern Tanzania.
The regional commissioner for the Arusha, John Mongella, according to sources, said the decision to lease the land was a difficult one. However, he claimed, that the country could largely benefit from the return on such a project as it will boost tourism revenue.
The Maasai people were informed of this decision on January 11, 2022. The timeframe for Maasai displacement is still being worked out, but plans for another group of Maasai to be relocated to an UNESCO World Heritage Site are set to begin at the end of February.
Evictions and actions
On Friday, June 10, 2022, Tanzanian security forces fired at Maasai farming communities. The gunshots came in the context of an eviction operation leaving Maasai people terrorized and feeling unsafe... all this happened for the sake of clearing the land to turn it into a hunting corridor.
Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank specializing in social and environmental issues, has been monitoring the situation of the evictions and said in a written statement to the OBC, “The government is willing to defy the court injunction, grab the ancestral land of the Maasai and hand it over to the royal family of the UAE for their hunting pleasures, indicating its ruthless disregard for its citizens, international law, and due process.”
يواجه الآلاف من شعب الماساي في تنزانيا الإخلاء من أراضي أجدادهم لتمهيد الطريق أمام شركة إماراتية متخصصة في تنظيم رحلات الصيد وسياحة السفاري لبرجوازية الخليج واثرياء العالم. pic.twitter.com/AQXKjltVds— K.Diallo ☭ (@nyeusi_waasi) June 11, 2022
International organizations such as UNESCO and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature collaborate with Tanzania's government to monitor conservation initiatives in specific regions. This week, as the world leaders attempted to save 30% of the world's land by 2030 as part of a worldwide initiative to protect biodiversity, indigenous people were being forcefully evicted from their ancestral land. Experts in human rights issues are concerned that the "30 by 30 plan" might result in abuses and breaches of the rights of Indigenous and local people.
According to Fio Longo, a campaign manager at the Indigenous rights group Survival International, "We are facing a humanitarian disaster that exposes the true face of conservation." She added, "The Maasai are being shot just because they wish to live peacefully in their traditional lands—all to make place for trophy hunting."
In the face of government brutality and human rights violations, four Maasai communities asked the East African Court to recognize their ownership of the ancestral land the OBC is attempting to snatch through a government agreement. The eviction, they argued, has seen a series of violations of their rights from the burning of their homes to arbitrary arrest and confiscation of Maasai livestock. These campaigns, said the indigenous communities, serve to intimidate and harass people coercing them into forced evictions.
The court argued that the evictions are lawful, while the government denied all allegations of human rights violations. A final decision has not been made due to interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Protectors of the Land
This process of snatching ancestral lands to make room for money-generating projects is no new endeavor. Longo says that "what happens today is in continuity with this colonial past. 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 safaris in peace.”
Maasai ancestral territory, some of which became part of the Tanzanian wildlife conservation areas bordering Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is of great significance in terms of biodiversity and environmental sustainability. While tourists from across the world view Tanzanian ancestral territory as a Lion King-like landscape that consists of herds of wildebeests, packs of zebras and lions, as well as giraffes and other endangered animals, the Maasai people see it as the motherland in which they are an integral part of its sustainability.
The cultural significance of the land for the indigenous communities that currently occupy the territory, as well as those that have historically done so, combined with its biological importance, especially with regard to threatened and endangered species, makes it a highly sensitive topic pertaining to not only human rights but also to environmental sustainability and diversity.
Human rights groups such as Survival International, the Oakland Institute, and others have actively pushed back against global conservation efforts especially those that displace Indigenous and local communities. Often such abuses are also linked to further violent abuses such as killings, torture, and rape according to InsideClimateNews.
As such, the UAE firm, and subsequently the Royal family, as well as the Tanzanian government, will not only be threatening the continuity and sustainability of the Maasai people but also the future of the region amid a global environmental crisis. Climate change and biodiversity are integral to each other and by threatening the latter, any decision also prevents global advance in environmental goals of sustainability.