They are as famous as the lions and elephants they share their homeland with. With their long spears and red checkered kerchiefs, the Maasai are a must on every tourist brochure of the world’s most famous animal park, the Serengeti. However, the traditional nomads are increasingly becoming a burden to the Tanzanian government. Now more than 150,000 Maasai are to be resettled because they are said to be endangering nature conservation. The government’s plans lead to increasingly violent protests. In early June, two people were killed in a confrontation between members of the nomadic tribe and riot police in Loliondo district, east of the Serengeti: a Maasai shot dead by police bullets and a police officer shot by a Maasai arrow.
The conflict between the legendary pastoralists and the government is as old as the Serengeti itself. When the Serengeti was founded in 1959, in which the Frankfurt zoo director Bernhard Grzimek played a major role, the nomads were denied access to the national park the size of Schleswig-Holstein. Your cattle breeding is not compatible with the protection of wild nature, it was said to justify. Five decades later, they would forego another of their grazing areas. The government gave Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), based in the United Arab Emirates, a hunting license for a 1,500 square kilometer hunting ground east of the Serengeti. Even then, several thousand Maasai were expelled from the Loliondo district to enable tourists to hunt big game. However, a new government withdrew the license eight years later. It was said to have come about in a corrupt way. After another change of government, another chapter has now been added to the story.
Human rights groups had already sounded the alarm in January. The Tanzanian government plans to evict up to 70,000 Maasai living in Loliondo district. This district borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and wildlife migration routes pass through it. It is planned to divide the approximately 1500 square kilometer area of the approximately 4000 square kilometers again and to “reserve” it for hunting and safari tourism. The rest of the area will continue to be used as before.
At the beginning of the month, 700 police officers showed up in Loliondo to mark out the hunting ground with boundary posts. The nomads removed the markings at night. As a result, on the morning of June 10, the police used tear gas and live ammunition. According to the London organization Survival International, a Maasai was killed and 31 people were shot during the clashes, and more than 20 people ended up in prison. They are to be charged with murder or aiding and abetting murder.
The actions of the security forces also met with criticism abroad. According to a statement by human rights experts hired by the UN to monitor the conflict, the police action would amount to a “forced eviction” prohibited under international law. The “physical and cultural survival of the Maasai” is being jeopardized “in the name of ‘conservation’, safari tourism and big game hunting”.
Such conflicts of interest about the use of the area are nothing new, reports Masegeri Rurai, who is responsible for the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) as a project manager for cooperation with the local population. Rurai himself comes from Loliondo. “The Maasai are increasingly abandoning their traditional way of life,” he says, “and in many cases are only semi-nomads or even mostly sedentary. And they are increasingly farming in the area.” This changes the landscape and leads to a deterioration of the area from the point of view of wilderness. If the land were divided up and the 1500 square kilometer area classified as a nature reserve, economic use would no longer be possible.