More than 400 families from the Maasai ethnic group, who earn living by rearing livestock are being dislodged from Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania, raising questions about the survival of this rare human tribe.
While the government claims that they are moving out voluntarily, Maasai pastoralists say they are being forced to relocate to the eastern Handeni district of Tanga some 600 kilometers (372 miles) away from their original habitat.
“Nobody, absolutely nobody in Ngorongoro has agreed to move out. Those who made the claims are not Ngorongoro residents,” Joseph Laizer, a Maasai leader better known locally as Laigwanansaid.
The regional commissioner for the northern Arusha region, John Mongela said the families who have willingly agreed to relocate would be assisted to get land for building homes, cattle grazing, and farming.
To reduce human activity at the UNESCO’s cultural heritage site of Ngorongoro, authorities in Tanzania have been reviewing the land use system in the region.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which includes highland plains and savanna woodlands, is multiple land-use area with wildlife coexisting with Maasai herders who practice traditional livestock grazing.
The Maasais are opposing the government’s plan to relocate them, saying that it will deny their cattle access to grazing grounds. They said that the government was taking the excuse of conserving wildlife to expel them. They say that they had been coexisting with wild animals for over past many centuries.
Laizer said the government’s move to relocate pastoral communities from northern Tanzania will put them on the verge of extinction.
“We ask the government to seriously think about our fate, it shouldn’t be misled by greedy individuals who promote business interests and ignore people’s welfare. They want to take our land under the pretext of conservation, while we know very well, they want to build hotels and infrastructures for tourists” he said.
Addressing Maasai chiefs in mid-March, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa expressed deep concern at the fate of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area due to the sheer number of livestock dotting the plains and soaring human population.
He said the government has earmarked 400,000 sq. km (77,220 sq. mi) in the Handeni district for the relocated people.
The Maasai pastoralists, who moved into the Ngorongoro and Loliondo areas from Serengeti National Park, claim they had been promised that they would never be relocated again.
For decades, the Loliondo and Ngorongoro areas have been embroiled in land disputes. In 1992, the move to lease the Game Controlled Area in Loliondo to an investor from the UAE for trophy hunting provoked anger among native Maasai.
They claimed that the licensing process was opaque and that they had been largely excluded.
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