Tanzania’s Maasai Pleads for Government Mercy to Give Back Their Land

The Masai People

Tanzania, Loliondo- A legal aid organization has called upon religious leaders to speak tough against the illegal eviction of residents from Loliondo land in Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region.

Speaking to reporters last week, Civic and Legal Aid Organisation (CiLAO) executive director, Odero Odero, said clerics are capable of pressing the government against unlawful eviction due to their influence and respect bestowed to them by members of the community.

“We have joined members of the Loliondo community to mark one year since the government forced Loliondo  Division and part of Sale Division, especially Piyaya and Malambo villges, to leave their lands contrary to the law in what they termed as paving the way for nature conservation. I find this day momentous because the relocation was unacceptable. The villages had been there since time immemorial and were registered according to the law of the land,” said Odero.

According to Mr. Odero, in May 2023, the organization made a tour of 14 villages in Loliondo and Sale Divisions and found out there were violations of human rights during the implementation of residents’ relocation, adding that, people who were against eviction were beaten up, insisting that political leaders who defended community interests experienced some fabricated accusations, that to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for quashing their charges after six solid months detention.

“Some livestock were confiscated on pretax that they had been taming in the Game Reserve area. Shortages of food, poverty, and unrest such as the disappearances of an Oldman Orias Oleng’iyo, an Ololosokwan villager, and a child from Piyaya- Oleliosokwan is the demning indictment of the heinous crimes committed by the police in the name of relocating residents for conserving the environments,” said the CiLAO executive director.

He noted that CiLAO was committed to fighting for human rights, expounding that peace-loving people should stand firm to defend Loliondo residents from 14 villages in the Pololeti area, whose activities were stalled by the government in total disregard of their fate to pave the way for the game reserve.

He called upon religious leaders in the country, the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), and The National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA) to join the effort in a fight against the violation of villagers’ rights.

When reached for comments against Loliondo residents’ ‘unlawful eviction’ TEC Secretary General Fr, Dr Charles Kitima, said he was in a meeting and had no ample time to explain the matter nor could he promise to explain the issue before journalists.

Tanzania Prime Minister, Kassimu Majaliwa told the Parliament on June 30, 2022, in Dodoma that the demarcation of 1,500 square kilometers as a game-controlled area would not affect human development in 14 villages around. He insisted there wouldn’t be any village abolished.

He said the government in cooperation with the residents, had been standardizing livestock pastures, construction of good pits and cattle dips, and other infrastructures including drinking ponds for cattle, 2,500 square kilometers were allocated.

The outspoken lawyer-cum journalist insisted Loliondo residents were neither given a chance to air out their views through their Village General meetings as required by the Wildlife Conservation Act, 2009 nor were they allowed to speak against the illegal eviction to the media.

One of the councilors who was arrested during the operation (name withheld), told reporters that they were detained after being summoned to report at District Commissioner’s office, which arrived in the wee hours to determine their fate and ordered the accused to be sent to Chekereni Police Station.

“I was tortured to a great deal. I was ordered to sleep on the floor the whole night. I can’t forget the false accusations and the pain I suffered in the hands of the police, who were directed by the DC to remain silent as the government implements its orders,” said one of the residents who preferred anonymity.

Daniel Ngoitiko, Councillor of Soitsambu had to flee to Kenya upon being hinted at the suffering ensured by his neighbors whose, he says, whereabouts are yet to be established and when he heard his neighbors have been released, he returned back home to find his people were desperate, without knowing some of his neighbors’ whereabouts as their homesteads were demolished.

“I appeal to our leaders to have mercy on us and excuse us if there is anything wrong done. We are all brothers and sisters. If it happens that we all vanish like some of our relatives did, what benefits will they get?”, he lamented.

A member of the Kirtalo village council, Neema Yelle, said during the operation of installing beacons, some women were arrested, leaving behind young children crying day and night, explaining that the remaining villagers were prohibited from farming.

“We were deprived of all the means to make out a living. We had nowhere to get food. I could only eat leaves called ‘mnafu’, thank goodness no one of us was tired of praying to our ancestors to relieve residents from this mess, with full hope that one day the government would come back to terms with the village council and return our farmland,” she noted, reiterating that in the first place, the village councils had called upon the government to cancel its Announcement of June 2022 which justified their land converted to Game Controlled Areas, and also the council Announcement of October 2022 turned out residents’ plea and kept villagers’ eviction alongside demarcating lands for Game Reserve.

The report by Amnesty International, ‘We have lost everything: Forced evictions of the Maasai in Loliondo, Tanzania’, issued on June 5, 2023, details how the Tanzanian authorities forcibly evicted the Maasai community from Loliondo, a division in Tanzania’s northern Ngorongoro district in Arusha region, on 10 June 2022. Security forces violently and without due process removed the Maasai community from their ancestral lands in Loliondo, leaving 70,000 people without access to the grazing lands that their livelihoods depended on.

“This crucial report reveals how Tanzania’s security forces resorted to the use of brutal force when evicting the Maasai from 1,500 square kilometres of their ancestral lands in Loliondo”, said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Reacting to Amnesty International Report, Tanzania Minister for Constitution and Legal Affairs, Dr. Damas Ndumbaro, speaking to BBC on 6 June 2023, refuted the allegations against the government, saying there were no forceful evictions but the operation was the demarcation of 1,500 km to the conservation purposes. 

Masai manyattas (compounds)

He further narrated that  Loliondo was a conservation area founded by the colonial German government, and later was under the British government.

After independence(1961) it continued to be a conservation area before it was grabbed by ‘wananchi’ for human activities, and make it hard to continue with conservation.

Later the government decided to take 1500 square kilometers for reserve area, leaving behind 2,500 square kilometers for residents.

By: Mutayoba Arbogast – K-NEWS Tanzania Contributor

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