You may have noticed numerous stories regarding the eviction of Masai people in Tanzania popping up on your news feed or Facebook wall as of late. Starting in early November there was a dearth of news coverage regarding the forced eviction of 40,000 Masai in order to sell the land as a private hunting ground for the royal family of Dubai.
Of course, this caused quite a commotion online, leading to an international backlash at the government’s harsh treatment of the Masai people. The last news release having to deal with the issue proclaimed that ” Tanzania’s Masai ‘breathe sigh of relief’ after president vows never to evict them.”
The land in question—Loliondo—lies in the northern part of Tanzania, bordering the north-east area of Serengeti National Park. The area was originally given by the (then British) government to the Masai people that were displaced out of their traditional pastoral lands when the national park was formed in 1959, kicking out all previous inhabitants.
Since the time of displacement the numbers of Masai using the land has grown tremendously (from around 3,500 to more than 60,000) as living conditions and medical treatment steadily improve, and other tribes move into the vicinity to share the fertile land. The Masai continue to practice their tradition of cattle grazing, with other tribes farming the land or engaging in commerce.
The truth is that this has been a long-running struggle between the Masai people of the region and the Tanzanian government. The Masai tribes in the area have faced this before, and through working with local and international NGO’s, originally had cause to celebrate in late 2013 when the government promised to not evict them from their land after widespread condemnation of the proposal.
Government officials had planned to annex 1,500 sq km bordering the Serengeti national park for a “wildlife corridor” that would benefit a luxury hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.
But campaigners said ministers dropped the scheme after visiting the Masai, who complained that their livestock would be cut off from vital grazing pasture, as well as 18 months of co-ordinated protests that included a global petition signed by more than 1.7 million people.
So, is the issue really resolved? Only time will tell. Certain parties with large pocketbooks are eager to get their hands on land throughout Tanzania (be it for hunting, grazing, farming, mining, oil, etc.), and being a developing nation, the government is keen to hear out their proposals.