Nelly Bassily | April 15, 2013
The government of Tanzania is preparing to create a “wildlife corridor” in Serengeti National Park, which will deny local Maasai access to their traditional grazing lands.
The Serengeti, chosen in February 2013 as one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, is home to the largest migration of land animals on the planet. Over two million wildebeest and zebra, along with thousands of gazelle, travel over 800 kilometres across the endless plains of the Serengeti.
The area is home to over 70 species of larger mammals. But this week, Tanzanian authorities are seeking to exclude two species in particular: humans and cattle.
Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism announced last week that it would no longer allow Maasai and their herds to enter a 1500 square kilometre section of the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. Opinion is divided as to the purpose of the plan.
Local Maasai herdsmen say their cattle cannot survive without access to traditional dry season grazing land. The government says the land is needed as a wildlife corridor between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Land grabs are not new. Often, land without an official title deed is bought by, or granted to, private companies engaged in commercial agriculture. But the Tanzanian government’s plan has been referred to as a “green grab,” in which land is set aside for conservation purposes. It will affect the lives and livelihoods of over 30,000 Maasai people indigenous to the area.
Khamis Kagasheki is Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism. He argues: “There is no government in the world that can just let an area so important to conservation to be wasted away by overgrazing.” However, many people think that there is more to the decision than ecological concerns.
One of these is Sarah Gilbertz. Ms. Gilbertz works for Survival International, a London-based group that works for the rights of tribal people worldwide. She says: “Although the government claims that the land is needed as a corridor for wildlife, the area is leased to the Ortello Business Corporation of the United Arab Emirates to use for trophy hunting.”
Robert Kamakia is a Maasai who claims that the restriction will mean the end of the local community. He points out that 90 per cent of the population affected by this restriction depend on pastoral activities such as herding cattle and goats for their income.
The Tanzanian government says they will send the secretary of the ruling party to the area to discuss the issue. But the Maasai say there is nothing to discuss. They want their land back, and believe that there is corruption in the air, from the national to district levels.
The Maasai warn that they will fight for their land. Seventy-year-old Elirehema Saakai is a Maasai resident of Ngorongoro. He says that animals in Tanzania face extinction through hunting and export. He warns, “It will be like other countries which are able no longer to offer wildlife safaris because they’ve allowed their animals to be hunted or removed to extinction.”