Land is the foundation of life. It holds everything together animals, people and culture Losing the land would mean losing everything. We would rather die than have our land taken.
The Tanzanian government is illegally carrying out gunpoint evictions of Maasai pastoralists in an area surrounded by the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Ngorongoro national parks, burning hundreds of homes.
It's all part of a plan to make way for luxury game hunting in the area. Ortello Business Corporation (OBC) - a luxury hunting company based in the United Arab Emirates with close connections to the Dubai Royal Family - occupied a 1,500 square km area of Maasai community land in 1992.
Since then OBC has built a private airport and exclusive hunting retreats - and deployed a range of tactics to prevent indigenous Maasai people from accessing their land: cutting them off from vital grazing land and water points; pushing the community ever closer to collapse.
In 2009, a mass eviction of Maasai villages within the 1,500 square kilometres took place. Over 200 homes were burned, leaving over 3,000 people homeless. According to witnesses, the operation was undertaken by the Tanzanian Field Force Unit with assistance from private security guards representing OBC (see Olosho video, below).
The plan for further evictions was apparently cancelled last year due to international pressure, including an Avaaz petition signed by over 2 million people. On 23rd November 2014 the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, tweeted:
"There has never been, nor will there ever be any plan by the Government of Tanzania to evict the Maasai people from their ancestral land."
President's promise soon broken
But evictions are once again under way, this time in the areas of Arash and Loosoito / Maaloni. Maasai campaigners report that SENAPA (Serengeti National Parks) rangers burnt 114 homes burnt between the 10th and 14th February alone, leaving 2,000 to 3,000 Maasai, including many children, homeless and without food, medical supplies or shelter.
The operation has involved forcing people from their homes at gunpoint and beating any that resist. Several women are said to have given birth in the open air. A series of photographs taken by the project team, who visited the area immediately after the evictions began, are reproduced with this article (right).
According to local sources, on 21st February the community was issued with a government order to leave the 'hunting area' allocated to OBC within 14 days. In addition local NGOs have been threatened with de-registration, effectively terminating their right to exist and operate.
In all over 40,000 Maasai are threatened with eviction from the OBC 'hunting area' which consists of around 20 villages, as well as several schools and other community infrastructure.
"It's all completely illegal", said Maasai representative Samwel Nangiria, coordinator of the local campaign group NGO-Net. "They are claiming that the Maasai villages are in the national park - but it's completely wrong. These communities have known and respected the park boundaries for 50 years."
The group is now preparing a legal challenge to the evictions, he told The Ecologist last night. "We are putting together a legal declaration of the area to take to court so that the evictions must be halted!"
"We were very happy to hear President Kikwete's promise last November, but now it's happening again", he added. "Maybe he just said that to stop the campaign. But he never put it in writing in a legally binding way. I cannot take his tweet to court!"
Nangiria also spoke of how Tanzanian officials favour foreign companies as 'investors' and promote their activities as 'conservation'. Meanwhile the indigenous Maasai are labelled as 'foreigners' - often accused of migrating from Kenya - and their traditional lifestyle criticised as a threat to the environment and wildlife.
And he concluded by saying: "Will the world please ask President Kikwete to keep to keep his promise - stop all evictions now and make a legally binding commitment that we will be allowed to remain on our land!"
Three things are inseparable: land, animals and people
There are no alternative pastures for the pastoralist Maasai of Loliondo, who were already once evicted from their ancestral lands in 1959 by the British colonial government to make way for the Serengeti National Park.
Herding is an integral part of Maasai cultural identity and the loss of indigenous traditions cannot be compensated by either cash payments or promises of 'development'.
The Tanzanian Government frequently argues that the area needs to be used as a 'wildlife corridor' for nature conservation. Given their continued support for hunting operations in the same area, this argument appears highly contradictory.
By contrast, the Maasai have herded their cows and co-existed in the area with the wildlife for centuries. Kooya Timan - a Maasai woman from the Purko clan who lives in Olosokwan Village - was interviewed for the film Olosho (above) and described the background to the situation today:
"For generations, we have protected all of the animals in our territories. We are pastoralists our way of life depends on the land. The land we are living on now is where the British resettled us when they created the Serengeti National Park in the 1950s. It was divided into villages after independence giving us legal and customary ownership.
"This is where our sacred sites are found and where we hold our cultural camps It's where we conduct our youth training I am talking about Maasai culture. We don't keep livestock just for food. There is a strong connection between our animals and culture. If you don't have cattle you must find a way to acquire them. In our lives, three things are inseparable: land, animals and people.
These lands are out lands - we would rather die than leave them
"The area you are seeing is where we live. These are the Maasai houses that our government refuses to recognise. These are the plains on which we have practiced our system of pastoralism, until now. The land is carrying everything trees, rocks, water ... everything.
"Land is the foundation of life. It holds everything together animals, people and culture Losing the land would mean losing everything. We would rather die than have our land taken. They want to take all this land Where do they expect us to go? We are not moving from this land because it is ours.
"We, the Maasai of Loliondo were evicted from our ancestral land in what is now the Serengeti National Park. Since that time we have struggled for our land rights. Why do you have to defend this land? We defend it because we know it is the foundation of everything. Our ancestors lived and were buried here. Our settlements, schools and water sources are all here. The land is everything we own.
"I can never forget 2009. They came to burn down our houses. I was there when they were burning houses. The people suffered greatly particularly my husband. When he returned to find our home burnt. He said he would rather die would sooner drink poison than witness the cattle suffering. They burned my house and my cattle. When they burned my house I had to move to another place and start again from nothing.
"There are people without even one cow. We know them. Those companies burned their houses and displaced their cattle. It has broken my heart. These are the plains they have taken from us. People have given their lives to protect it yet still we cannot find peace.
We have sought help at different times, in vain. Now we have no choice but to fight!"
Action: Tweet President Kikwete @jmkikwete #Tanzania #Maasai #StopMaasaiEvictions .
Petition: 'Stand with the Maasai!' - OPEN!
The film: Olosho was produced as part of a participatory video project. It was devised, planned and filmed entirely by the six community representatives: four women and two men from five villages in Loliondo, representing three distinct clans. The editing was undertaken on location by the project facilitator in collaboration with the participants.
The project was facilitated by InsightShare in collaboration with the United Nations Association of Finland and the Loliondo-based NGO-Net. It was undertaken with funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
InsightShare (Oxford, UK) are leaders in the use of participatory video as a tool for individuals and groups to grow in self-confidence and trust, and to build skills to act for change. InsightShare's methods value local knowledge, build bridges between communities and decision-makers, and enable people to develop greater control over the decisions affecting their lives.
United Nations Association of Finland is a Non-Governmental Organization that promotes and supports the actions and principles of the United Nations. UNA Finland was founded in 1954. The Association provides education and educational material regarding global responsibility and advocacy work, delivers and produces news items relating to the UN, and influences Finnish UN policy.
NGO-Net is an umbrella organization established in 2008 to coordinate and facilitate joint interventions of Masai CBOs in Ngorongoro district. It's a leading campaign and advocacy structure in the district.