Tanzanian Maasai visit Europe to urge action over their eviction from their lands

A group of Maasai women
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A delegation of Maasai representatives from Tanzania are travelling around Europe in May. They’re seeking international support to stop ongoing evictions and abuses against their people.

The Tanzanian government has been evicting Maasai from their ancestral lands, in an area called Loliondo, since 2022. It has apparently done so in order to lease their land to a UAE-based trophy hunting company called Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), which has operated in the country for decades.

Several international institutions have condemned the evictions in recent months, and the Maasai delegation’s trip to Europe seeks more from the EU.

‘Abusive and unlawful tactics’

As Human Rights Watch reported in April, the Tanzanian government announced its plan to demarcate 1,500 square km in Loliondo as a wildlife reserve – for OBC’s exclusive use – in June 2022. The organisation conducted interviews with affected people between June and December that year.

Summarising its findings, HRW wrote that the Tanzanian authorities:

have engaged in abusive and unlawful tactics, including beatings, shootings, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests to forcibly evict residents from their land.

The authorities are also trying to remove the Maasai from Ngorongoro, a protected area. As the Guardian reported in January, sources say the government’s removal tactics here differ. These involve a ‘voluntary’ relocation scheme accompanied by the shutdown of access to necessities like water, education, and healthcare.

Read on...

Cease funding projects that violate human rights

The Maasai delegation will be visiting Germany and Austria. They’ll also be participating in a roundtable event at the European Parliament in Brussels, between 22 May and 1 June.

The delegation is supported by several non-governmental organisations, including Survival International and the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network.

In a release about the European visit, the delegation and its partners asserted that European governments, institutions, and nonprofit organisations are variously involved “directly or indirectly” in tourism and conservation projects in Tanzania. During the visit, the delegation will urge European entities to cease funding projects that violate human rights. International cooperation should instead promote such rights, they will argue.

In comments to the Canary, Joseph Oleshangay – a human rights lawyer – said that if the EU committed to this, it could trigger a ‘serious rethink’ by the Tanzanian authorities and an undoing of “many of its violative policies”. Oleshangay said:

This is the reason why the delegation is here, to urge different actors to act and condition their funding on compliance with human rights and good governance.

Survival International’s Martin Lena agreed that the issue of funding is critical, because it would mean that:

to continue receiving the support from the EU taxpayers’ money, [Tanzania] would have to stop violating the Maasai’s rights and more generally to change its approach to conservation that violates human rights and is devastating for the people who depend on these territories.

‘Unlike these rich foreigners, we don’t kill wild animals’

The Tanzanian government has justified its actions by effectively arguing that the Maasai’s presence is not conducive with conservation. Speaking with Le Monde diplomatique, however, a Maasai herder countered this narrative:

the government can’t teach us anything about conservation. Unlike these rich foreigners, we don’t kill wild animals – we’ve always lived alongside them. We’re not the ones endangering them. You find more wildlife in areas where Maasai live, whether it’s in Tanzania or Kenya.

As the Canary has previously highlighted, reports have implicated OBC in indiscriminately and unsustainably killing wildlife in Tanzania. The Institute for Maasai Education, Research, and Conservation produced one of these reports. OBC has had a presence in the country since the early 1990s. It facilitates trophy hunting and tourism by the UAE royal family and its guests, according to the Oakland Institute.

A report that the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre released in May, meanwhile, named OBC among the top five companies globally:

whose operations, value chains, or business relationships were connected to the highest numbers of attacks on human rights defenders

Potential treaty violation

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has evaluated the Maasai’s situation, releasing its findings in April. CERD warned Tanzania that:

the alleged forced evictions, excessive use of force, intimidation, arbitrary arrests lack of consultation and free prior and informed consent, and lack of adequate remedies to ensure access to justice, may amount to the violation of article 5 of the Convention.

CERD is referring to article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This article of the treaty binds signatory states like Tanzania to guarantee the rights of people, including various civil and political rights, “without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin”.

CERD has called on the government to “immediately halt” evictions and plans for relocations, consult with Maasai communities, and act to ensure their safety from persecution. Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) has also called on Tanzania to comply with CERD’s requests. IPRI said:

The State of Tanzania must recognize this undeniable and unjustified situation and act as a democratic state respectful of the rights of its people.

Maasai have protected the land for generations

The Maasai delegation’s visit to Europe will offer its officials the chance to join CERD, IPRI, and others in condemning the evictions.

Lena further said that, alongside the EU, other global authorities like UNESCO and the UN Development Programme have promoted or funded the “fortress conservation” model, i.e., the sort of approach that sees people removed from conservation areas. Survival International’s Lena argued that:

This model must change now to obviously ensure that the human rights violations stop, but also to ensure we protect biodiversity efficiently.

In its release, the delegation also pointed to the link between biodiversity protection and the Maasai’s human rights, stressing that:

The Maasai have lived for generations in the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania and have shaped and protected these lands, preserving wildlife and biodiversity in areas such as Loliondo, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the now Serengeti National Park.

To protect both humans and biodiversity, Oleshangay said that the EU and many other actors beyond the bloc:

are welcome to contribute in putting fortress conservation in the history box.

Featured image via Olais Wilson Lucumay / Wikimedia, cropped to 1910×1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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