There are times when I have some real problems with the safari travel industry. This may be one of those times.
Three years ago, some wealthy business types from the United Arab Emirates came up with an idea: Create a game preserve in Tanzania where well-heeled hunters could legally hunt for “trophies.”
The Tanzanian president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, whose government is chronically strapped for cash, signed off on the deal.
The deal, however, included the eviction of some 40,000 nomadic Maasai herdsmen and their families from their lands in the Loliondo region of northern Tanzania.
When they objected, things got ugly — violently ugly. Police beat villagers and forced out of their homes. In some cases, they were burned out, their precious cattle destroyed along with their villages.
If you didn’t hear about this back in 2009, it could be because we were preoccupied with a lot of things closer to home. The beginning of the Barack Obama presidency and the battle over health care reform, the deaths of Sen. Edward Kennedy and Michael Jackson, Iraq, Afghanistan, not to mention the latest doings of Donald Trump and the Kardashians.
Elsewhere in the world, though, people did hear about this. The Guardian newspaper in London, among others, reported extensively on it. There were even YouTube videos about Maasai families being forcibly removed.
Eventually, enough people of conscience, inside and outside of Tanzania, raised enough Hell over this that President Kikwete saw fit to back out of the deal.
Fast-forward to the present, and my email in-box, where I find this little missive:
“At any moment, a big-game hunting corporation could sign a deal which would force up to 48,000 members of Africa’s famous Maasai tribe from their land to make way for wealthy Middle Eastern kings and princes to hunt lions and leopards.”
If you read the 2009 Guardian story about this (and you really should), you will see that what’s been happening in Loliondo — and what may be about to happen again — is neither new nor unique to Tanzania.
In neighboring Kenya as well, the Maasai have been getting pushed around — and/or pushed off their ancestral lands — for decades, almost always in the name of generating lucrative safari travel. The Maasai have a few bones tossed their way — a little employment here, some drought aid there, a few sound-bite-worthy efforts toward wildlife conservation.
In the end, however, the story is nearly always the same. The tour operators get rich. The Maasai get dispossessed.
African politics is a minefield from which I generally try to stay as far away as possible. But this one involves international tourism, and this is just wrong.
I’m all for preserving wildlife. I may not be crazy about the idea of sanctioning recreational hunting for no purpose other than to allow wealthy hunters the chance to legally kill animals just for the fun of it, but if the local people are okay with it, that’s fine.
Just not at the expense of their homes and their way of life.
I don’t need to see a lion or a leopard that badly, nor am I inclined to kick people off their lands just for the chance to shoot one. But that’s just me.
Or is it?
If you feel the same way, you should consider adding your digital signature to the email petition being sent around by avaaz.org top put a stop to this land grab, hopefully for the last time.
You can sign the avaaz.com petition here.
MAASAI TOURISM — A DIFFERENT APPROACH
While researching this blog post, I can across an outfit that calls itself NOMADTanzania that claims ti operate tourist camps in Loliondo.
Two things about them jumped out at me immediately, the first of which was this:
“We are one of a very small number of companies to have formed a partnership with the Maasai in Loliondo and to be given permission to set up our camp here…The time we spend with the Maasai is very much about getting a view of everyday Maasai life; we don’t ask for anything to be laid on for our guests and our guests don’t expect this.”
And then, there was this:
“…like the Maasai, Nduara Loliondo is nomadic; every 6 months, the camp is packed up and moved.”
Are you intrigued yet? I sure am. If they truly operate as they claim they do, they would seem to be a model for the rest of Africa.
For more information, visit the NOMADTanzania Web site.