Just a quick follow-up on the attempts to push the Loliondo Maasai in Tanzania off their lands to create a private hunting preserve for wealthy Arabs from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states.
When we first reported this, a petition on the Avaaz.org site opposing it had about 350,000 digital signatures. As you read this, there are now nearly 900,000 signatures, and it should hit 1 million before the weekend is up.
A similar land-grab attempt three years ago was thwarted after global condemnation basically shamed the Tanzanian government into backing off.
According to The Guardian newspaper of London, however, this goes back much further than three years, and is not limited to Tanzania:
“In Tanzania, the process of removing (the Maasai) from the plains started in 1959, when the British colonial government made…the Serengeti – in Masai the name means endless plain – a human-free wildlife reserve. The clans agreed to leave the plain and take possession of the adjacent volcanic highlands of Ngorongoro, famous for its enormous rhino-haunted crater. Here, the colonial administrators ruled, the Masai clans could live in perpetuity, with full rights to the grazing and water.”
If you remember the track record of our own United States government in its dealings with Native Americans, you can guess what happened next:
“Then, in 1961, a Tanzanian government took over. More national parks were created, and evictions followed. In 1973 the government of Julius Nyerere went back on the deal the Masai had done with the British, and excluded them from the crater of Ngorongoro.
“The Masai in the Ngorongoro conservation area cling on to the remains of the land the British promised them for ever, but in droughts they have to beg for water for their cattle from the luxury hotels that have been built on the crater rim.”
A Tanzanian president reneging on a British colonial deal that at least tried to do right by the Maasai? Why?
According to the Guardian, President Nyerere took a dim view of these people. In his view, the Maasai:
“…were not productive in the modern agricultural sense. They were shiftless, ungovernable and ‘uncivilised.’
“Today, 70% of the people live below the poverty line, and 15% of children do not survive to the age of five. But a third of a million tourists visit their land every year, earning the government-run park authority $10m.”
Okay, so the Maasai aren’t farmers. Maybe they’re a little too “country” for a young African nation bent on modernization. But did that really explain this treatment of the Maasai by their own government?
Enter Mikael Strandberg, a long-time Swedish explorer who was kind enough to re-publish the IBIT post on his own blog about this would-be land grab:
“I felt sad, alarmed and worried. And realized I had to do my part to let the world see what is happening to these amazing human beings!”
Mr. Strandberg spent six months living with the Maasai in 2000. It was he who filled in the blanks for me on why this has been happening to the Maasai:
“They were pushed away from any political power by both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments, since the people who ran these two countries, same as today, came from tribes that used to be dominated by the historically very strong Maasai. So, basically, revenge time!”
Nyerere was from the Zanaki tribe. The current president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, is Kwere. So there you have it. Tribal payback as government policy.
We’ve seen this play too many times in the last half-century, all over Africa. Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, the Congo, to name but a few of the stages. It never ends well.
This is neither new nor unique to the Mother Continent. Europe went through some very similar trauma before outgrowing its tribal antagonisms. Before those same Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples on both American continents routinely warred on one another.
Ethnicity was the basis for a gruesome civil war in Sri Lanka that lasted a quarter-century and ended only three years ago. Its lasting gift to the world, the invention of the suicide bomber.
So it’s not as if this kind of hostility is somehow unique to Africa. But there may be no other region on Earth more chronically harmed and ultimately held back by it.
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AFRICA: Forcing the Maasai off their land…for tourism?