News / Africa

    Pastoralists of Northern Tanzania Face Extinction, say Activists

    Foreign-owned hunting camps, violence and prejudice force Maasai and Hadza off ancestral lands

    Darren Taylor

    This is Part 4 of a 5-part series: Africa's Endangered Peoples
    Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

     

    “We’re fighting for our rights, but our culture is dying. Very soon, the world will not know Maasai as we truly were,” says Edward Porokwa, a Maasai and also director of PINGOS – a group of NGOs representing the indigenous people of Tanzania.

    A Maasai woman in her traditional village in northern Tanzania, where the indigenous people are locked in a battle to maintain their culture
    A Maasai woman in her traditional village in northern Tanzania, where the indigenous people are locked in a battle to maintain their culture

    Traditionally, the Maasai have survived through cattle alone, with meat and milk being their staples. They herd their animals across the grass plains of northern Tanzania, with some of their ancestral lands being in areas the government has designated as national parks.

    The state says the reserves are for animals only. Also, it doesn’t acknowledge the Maasai’s rights to any land, since they’ve never held title deeds. “What has always been difficult for the Maasai is that they don’t recognize formal land ownership. Their tradition is to move from area to area, following the grazing for their animals,” Porokwa explains.

    Increasingly, government authorities are ordering the Maasai to leave areas where they’ve survived for hundreds of years. “The Maasai don’t understand this,” says Porokwa. “To them, the land belongs to God and the animals and to people such as them.”

    ‘Sky high’ cost of investment

    What “deeply frustrates” the Maasai, according to the activist, is that the state is increasingly leasing their traditional lands to tourism operators, foreign hunters, private farmers, ranchers and big industry.

    A map showing the Maasai group’s traditional land in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya (in green)
    A map showing the Maasai group’s traditional land in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya (in green)

    “The government is not conserving this land, but exploiting it,” Porokwa maintains. The state acknowledges “generating investment” from various “projects” in northern Tanzania and insists that such profits are used for the good of all Tanzanians.

    But Porokwa remains skeptical. “African governments, including Tanzania, are big supporters of foreign investment. It hardly ever matters to them at what cost such investment happens,” he says.

    And for the Maasai the cost is “sky high,” says Porokwa, with investment on their lands having several “negative consequences” for them. “One is refusing to allow the Maasai people to access their grazing land and water sources,” he tells VOA.

    The indigenous people are also upset that mining is now being allowed on their ancestral lands. “Extractive industries also come with a lot of other negative things, like pollution into (Maasai) water sources,” says Porokwa.

    He adds that the presence of tourists benefit a “few” Maasai, “who sing and jump and sell a few trinkets, but mostly the Maasai receive no direct benefit from the presence of these lodges. It’s the government who receives the benefit because the foreigners buy land rights, building rights and business rights from the state.”

    Violent evictions


    The Loliondo region of northern Tanzania, one of the Maasai’s traditional areas, has been the scene of intense violence in the recent past. Porokwa explains, “The government told the people that they have to move out of that area because it is a conservation area. So the people were evicted by force (by Tanzanian riot police). More than 100 homesteads were burnt down.”

    He says many Maasai were injured by “hard weapons, like guns and teargas bombs.”

    A Maasai man blows an antelope horn
    A Maasai man blows an antelope horn

    Survival International, an organization advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, says it has confirmed the “brutal evictions” of “thousands” of Maasai “to provide safari companies with more access to land for game hunting.”

    Porokwa says the Maasai are now “suffering, because (Loliondo) is the only area that has water. The pastoralists need water just like any other human being; as much as their livestock.”

    The government denies persecuting the Maasai, but continues to insist they’re “destroying” the environment, especially through overgrazing.

    Porokwa vehemently denies this, explaining that the Maasai use a communal land ownership system that always leaves “enough pasture so that it can replenish in time for the next batch of cattle.”

    Two young Maasai men in conversation
    Two young Maasai men in conversation

    By forcing the Maasai and their animals off their ancestral lands and into “small, concentrated area and not allowing them to roam,” says Porokwa, “that is what leads to overgrazing.”

    Resource-based conflict


    Lack of water and grazing, says the advocate, brings the Maasai into “deadly conflict” with others, “because everyone is now fighting for few resources.”

    The authorities have argued that they’re evicting the Maasai from certain areas precisely to stop such conflict. But the Maasai say this ignores the fact that they, and not the other groups, are the original inhabitants of the grasslands.

    Porokwa says, “Government policies are directed towards making the Maasai a sedentary population, which is totally contrary to their tradition. The government only recognizes the rights of settled communities.”

    The state is urging the Maasai to become farmers, stressing that their traditional, pastoral way of life is “over.” Porokwa says some Maasai are indeed trying to farm.

    Human rights activists say the Maasai are being pushed off their land by various groups, including the Tanzanian government
    Human rights activists say the Maasai are being pushed off their land by various groups, including the Tanzanian government

    “But still they cannot farm (properly) because it is not their tradition; they do not know how to do that. And even if they get to know how to do it, the land (where) they are living is not favorable for farming,” he maintains.

    The government says it’s helping the Maasai to “develop” by relocating them to “safer areas” and encouraging them to farm. Porokwa disagrees.

    “Helping the people would be bringing water, education and health services close to the Maasai, not building big projects on Maasai land.… But at this point in time, we are facing extinction,” he says.

    With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, the Maasai – especially the men – are forced to move to towns and cities. But there, says Porokwa, the “cycle of mass impoverishment” of the Maasai continues.

    A young Massai woman in traditional dress
    A young Massai woman in traditional dress

    “They can’t find jobs and even if they do, they earn very little – not enough to send back home to their families,” he comments, adding, “The Maasai men go to the cities as single people, leaving their wives and kids in the villages. At the end of the day many of them get infected with HIV and other diseases, and they spread the diseases when they go back home.”

    Hadza people also threatened


    Also in northern Tanzania, another indigenous group is facing “enormous problems,” according to Survival International fieldworker, Fiona Watson. The hunter-gatherer Hadza, who number only 1,500 and speak a unique click language, have lived around Lake Eyasi for centuries.

    “Increasingly their land is being invaded by neighboring tribes who are pastoralist people, who herd cattle there. And in the north part of their territory, nearest the Ngorongoro Crater, a lot of people have invaded that land to plant onions, which they sell to an international market,” Watson explains. “So the Hadza are seeing themselves increasingly squeezed and losing a lot of valuable land which they rely on entirely for hunting.”

    As in the case of other indigenous peoples throughout Africa, says the researcher, most locals and the government consider traditional groups like the Hadza to be “very primitive.”

    Watson says there are “a lot of really racist attitudes” towards hunter-gatherers in Africa. “For example, the Tanzanian government has always wanted to settle the Hadza people. They’re trying to bring them into towns, providing them with education. (But) nobody really sits down and says to the Hadza or other hunter-gatherers, ‘Well what is it that you want? How do you see your future and your development?’”

    She says the Hadza not only are “targeted” by people “stealing” their land, but are also victims of “preconceived ideas, of government thinking, ‘Well, we know what’s best for you.’”

    Watson says all the Hadza she’s met have insisted that they wish to remain on their land. “They want to live that way of live because it’s a good way of life. The game means everything to them,” she says.

    Her NGO wants the Tanzanian government to formally recognize the land rights of hunter-gatherers. Watson says there’s “some encouraging movement” on that front.

    “Hadza have told me recently that the government is talking with them about some form of recognition of land title,” she says, adding, “What we would like to see is a proper land rights program that would encompass all the Hadza territory, because that really will be the only way that their land will be protected for future generations.”

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora