Africa Crime Democracy Featured Free Speech Military National Security Politics Terrorism World News

Exodus underway as Tanzania forces Maasai people from hometown


Narok (04/07 – 22.22) Thousands of Maasai people have been flocking to the border between Tanzania and Kenya in recent weeks, as the Tanzanian government continues its attempts to evict members of the Nilotic ethnic group from their ancestral lands in the northern town of Loliondo.

“The government has moved us a lot. We no longer have anywhere to go, I ask you to let us stay,” Lemuani, who prefers not to use his real name, tells Efe as he walks with a cane along the paths of Narok County in southwestern Kenya, where his friends took him after he was shot by the Tanzanian security forces.

Lemuani is one of the more than 2,000 Maasai, who crossed the border between the two countries after the outbreak of violence on June 10, according to Kenyan activists’ count.

Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the members of the community protesting their eviction.

At least 31 people were injured and one other was missing amid the wave of violence, according to human rights lawyer Joseph Oleshangay, who is part of the legal defense of the 23 people that were detained and accused of killing a police officer during the protests.

Early on June 10, when they noticed how the security agents demarcated their territories, the Maasai people approached seeking explanations but, “they responded by shooting indiscriminately,” says Lemuani, a 38-year-old father of two.

The eviction of the communities in Loliondo in the northern district of Ngorongoro threatens more than 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.

It is “entirely illegal,” Oleshangay tells Efe.

Loliondo was declared a controlled hunting area in the 1960s. This gave the government permission to manage such activities, however, the property was kept in the hands of its inhabitants.

In 2009, when a new conservation law was introduced, hunting was prohibited in the entire 4,000-square-kilometer area.

But the government currently wants to turn 1,500 square kilometers into a game reserve.

“The disputed area is entirely within communal land, so it is illegal under Tanzanian law to establish a hunting area,” the lawyer stresses.

“It is a violation of the Tanzanian Constitution, judicial decisions, the country’s laws and human rights,” he adds.

The Maasai people of Loliondo have already suffered eviction attempts in 2009, 2013 and 2017. In this current wave of violence, hundreds of huts were set on fire.

After the community brought the case to the East African Court of Justice, the court issued an injunction order in 2018. But the government does not seem to be following that order.

Activists and organizations say the United Arab Emirates-based Otterlo Business Company (OBC) is behind the new eviction attempt, as it has had a hunting concession in the area since the early 1990s.

Thirty minutes away from the village where Lemuani is recovering, more than 20 women crossed with their children into an area that lacks basic services.

Nolari, not her real name, walked for two days with her six children.

“They came and put borders on the land where we live,” says the 30-year-old mother, contradicting the official version that says the demarcation begins far from where the Maasai live.