A semi-nomadic Tanzanian tribe is currently under threat of being relocated due to pressure from the country’s government. The Maasai are facing an uphill battle to retain their way of life in regions bordering the Serengeti National Park. The government claims their presence harms conservation efforts, but the reality involves an external party with game hunting interests in the region.
Who are the Maasai?
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic tribe that inhabit parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The population is one of the original tribes that inhabit the Rift Valley and are known for its unique way of life.
The Maasai stand out from other African tribes for their distinctive bright red and purple shawls called “shuka”. The community has herded cattle in the region for centuries and lives in harmony with nature. It isn’t uncommon to see exotic wildlife such as zebras and antelopes coexist with Maasai villagers without fear of being attacked.
How the Maasai’s Way of Life is Being Threatened
The Tanzanian government has been in conflict with the Maasai for several years due to the forced relocations. One-tenth of the country’s GDP comes from tourism, so the government has designated many regions as conservation zones.
The Tanzanian government has converted many swaths of land into national parks over the decades. This includes the Serengeti National Park, which is 14,700 square kilometers in size. The Maasai currently occupy regions that border this National Park. However, the government has declared their way of life threatens local wildlife and has chosen to expand these national parks into Maasai-inhabited regions
This has resulted in many conflicts in which the Maasai have lost their homes and cattle. For example, in 2017, the Tanzanian government burnt down 180 Maasai homes and displaced thousands of cattle and livestock due to tensions driven by relocation efforts.
The four Maasai tribes banded together following this incident and filed a lawsuit against Tanzania’s Attorney General. The lawsuit was intended to force the government to create protections for the Maasai and ensure they retained the rights to the land they had inhabited for centuries.
In 2018, the court issued an injunction meant supposed to halt relocations until a formal ruling had been reached. This ruling was expected to be announced on June 22nd, 2022. However, the court chose to postpone its decision until September.
This Maasai viewed this postponement announcement as a loss as the government had already begun relocation efforts on June 9th. On that day, community representatives saw police set up lines in Maasai villages marking the boundaries of the extended game reserve.
Community members gathered around these markers and slept next to them overnight. In the morning, the police returned and threw tear gas canisters and shot live rounds at them.
Dozens of Maasai members were injured, and one police officer was killed during the violent event. The Tanzanian government charged twenty Maasai with the murder despite the sparse evidence linking them to it.
The Truth Behind the Relocations
The Tanzanian government has formally stated they are relocating the Maasai to conserve the wildlife in the areas they inhabit. However, the reality is that many of these conservation areas are actually being turned into hunting zones.
A UAE-based company called Otterlo Business Corporation was given permission to perform hunting tours in the area back in 1993. It is believed the current conservation zones being set up on Maasai land are part of an effort to expand hunting zones for the company.
So how does a single company gain such a high level of influence in an Eastern African country? It is believed that Otterlo Business Corporation’s main clients are Saudi Royals, including Dubai’s current ruler Muhammed Al Maktoum.
The group, therefore, has backing from incredibly wealthy individuals who can pressure the Tanzanian government to put their hunting interests above preserving the Maasai’s way of life.
The Tanzanian government currently states the Maasai relocation is completely voluntary. However, the community’s members have said this isn’t true. The Maasai’s future looks bleak, and it will likely take an outcry from the international community to help preserve the way of life they have enjoyed on their lands for centuries.