Heritage of an entire race saved by global action
More than 40,000 traditional Masai farmers have been saved from eviction from their ancestral lands in Tanzania after an 18-month global campaign that attracted almost two million signatures to an online petition.
The Government of Tanzania had planned to sell the land to Dubai’s royal family for a big game hunting enterprise.
The Masai celebrated this month when the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1,500 sq km “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti national park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Masai representatives met Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda who spent two and a half days with the Masai in Loliondo district late last month.
“The Masai said we cannot lose this land at any cost – this land has been ours for centuries,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
“The conclusion was that government has turned down the plan to evict tens of thousands of Masai. It’s a big success story, not only for the Masai in Loliondo but also in Tanzania and east Africa,” said Masai activist Samwel Nangiria.
The Masai argued the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people.
They said the area was crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend.
Initially, the government offered compensation of 1 billion shillings ($A690,000), to be channeled into socio-economic development projects but the Masai dismissed the offer.
The hunting enterprise was to be controlled by the Ortelo Business Corporation, a luxury safari company (OBC), set up by a UAE official close to the royal family.
Activists opposing the hunting reserve have been killed by police in the past two years, according to Mr Nangiria, who says he has received threatening calls and text messages.
An international campaign against the hunting reserve was led last year by the online activism site Avaaz.org, whose ‘Stop the Serengeti Sell-Off’ petition attracted more than 1.7 million signatures and led to coordinated email and Twitter protests.
Campaign director for Avaaz Alex Wilks said: “The Masai stare out from every tourism poster, but Tanzania’s government wanted to kick them off their land so foreign royalty can hunt elephants there”.
Mr Nangiria paid tribute to a “very sophisticated, high level” campaign that was mounted in defence of the Masai with the help of methods old and new.
It included a protest march, pressuring international donors to Tanzania, and adverts in the East African newspaper that warned that the Masai would reconsider their support for the government at the ballot box.
The Masai will now try to renew their legal rights and end long-running disputes over the land with the assistance of the land minister, Mr Nangiria said.
He said he was not aware if alternative arrangements had been made for the OBC.
AMES Senior Journalist