Land Issues: the Maasai and Loliondo

maasai-tanzania-tourism-big-game-huntingAll around the world, indigenous people struggle to hold onto the land that their people have been occupying for centuries. These populations are displaced in the name of development and the expansion of industry. In the case of the Maasai people of Tanzania, the case boils down to the royal privilege and excess of Middle Eastern princes and kings who want to use their land, particularly Loliondo, for corporate sponsored big game hunting. Forty-eight thousand Maasai people would be displaced if the big game hunting industry takes their land away.

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic group of herders who have lived in Eastern Africa, specifically Tanzania and Kenya for centuries. Like most indigenous groups they play a critical role in preserving the delicate ecosystem they inhabit, as do the animals that the Middle Eastern royals want to slaughter. Royals from the United Arab Emirates are pushing the plan so they can hunt big game and the plan is dangerous to both the wildlife and the surrounding communities like the Maasai.

The Maasai have a fighting chance in the fact that the Tanzanian President, President Kikwete, will stop deals like this if they generate negative press coverage. Unfortunately, President Kikwete is favoring local elites who want the deal in order to support development. Wealthy Middle Eastern princes and kings would displace the Maasai, who actually live and use the portion of the Serengeti in natural accordance with environmental interests, in order for the royalty to hunt endangered animals like wild lions and leopards.

Unfortunately this is not the first time the Maasai have been pushed off their land. It’s not even the first time this same corporation has pushed the Maasai off their land. In fact, the last time the big game hunting multinational corporation did so, the Maasai were beaten by police and their homes were burnt down and their livestock dies of starvation. A media frenzy followed the 2009 incident and President Kikwete of Tanzania tried to avoid controversy and embarrassment by returning the Maasai to their land.

This time around the Tanzanian government is less concerned. They are presently claiming there is no threat to the Maasai. The Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism put out a statement saying there are no Maasai in Serengeti Park or the Serengeti District and he claims they live in the bordering regions. The Tanzanian government officially denotes this area part of the Serengeti ecosystem, yet are failing to allow for its protections. The land grab has the potential to continue and evict the Maasai, even if there are none in the region the government claims will be affected.

Because tourism is a major source of income for Tanzania, President Kikwete is trying to keep the controversy under wraps. By signing the following petition you can let the international community know that this story should be in the spotlight and you can pressure the Tanzanian government into saving this land for the Maasai and these animals for tourist who want to shoot them with a camera rather than a gun, as Avaaz, the site hosting the petition to save the Maasai, so cleverly puts it.

Avaaz is also suggesting users leave comments at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism’s Facebook page.The petition itself can be found at Avaaz: Save the Maasai. If signed you will stand by both indigenous communities and their right to their ancestral land as well as by animals and their right to live in their environment (thus preserving their ecosystem) without being slaughtered by wealthy Middle Eastern royals.

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