Maasai Attacked and Arrested for Standing Up Against Land Theft
23 October 2023
The Indigenous Maasai people of Tanzania are fighting for their lands and their lives following a crackdown on protests against forced evictions and land theft. 40 more Maasai have recently been arrested by security forces while holding a peaceful meeting to discuss the government’s use of media to evict them from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is the latest in a series of eviction attempts which have been carried out since 2009 in order to supposedly protect wildlife from human interference and make way for conservation areas which provide a cover for industries to profit from the land.
Faced with being left without their homes, livelihoods and the resources they need to survive, the Maasai community have been forced to stand up against removal from their ancestral homelands and fight for the essential human rights being denied to them, such as water, healthcare and education.
Land is central to the Maasai culture and way of life, providing everything from grazing land for livestock, to food, medicinal plants, and building materials. If evicted from their homelands, not only do the Maasai forfeit all of this, but they also risk losing their livestock due to insufficient food and water accessibility in their new territory. With livestock acting as the Maasais’ main currency, as well as representing a family’s wealth and status, this loss could be devastating for the community’s wellbeing and way of life.
However, not only are the Maasais’ lives being completely uprooted in the name of conservation, but they are being subjected to horrific treatment in the process. Investigations show that security forces are using excessive force and violence on the community in their attempts to evict them, including shooting, the use of tear gas, and burning down homes. Cattle are stolen and auctioned off by authorities, putting the Maasai in the difficult position of choosing between buying back their own animals at elevated prices or else facing impoverishment without their income source.
In addition, many people have been unlawfully and arbitrarily arrested and convicted of crimes in which they have played no part. Onaway was recently concerned to learn that among those arrested by authorities in Loliondo was the leader of the beekeeping project run by SIDI. The whereabouts of those detained is unknown, leading to concerns over welfare and access to legal support to help them fight their case.
In order to continue their activities unchallenged and to hide the truth about the repression of the Maasai, the government has restricted access to newly demarcated areas. A special permit is now needed to enter the zone where the beekeeping initiative is taking place, meaning that organisers are having difficulty accessing the area and that project activities are being held up as a result. Unsurprisingly, Tanzanian officials have also gone back on their decision to allow MEPs entry to investigate human rights abuses against the Maasai.
The authorities justify these actions by painting a false picture of ‘overpopulated’ Indigenous peoples destroying the ecosystem by overexploiting natural resources and coming into conflict with wildlife. In reality, these evictions are devised in order to take back control of what may be considered by some as ‘unproductive’ land and make way for highly profitable industries such as trophy-hunting, game reserves, and tourism. In June 2022, 70,000 Maasai people were forced to move from their homes in Loliondo, Tanzania, which has now been renamed Loliondo Game Reserve and is exclusively reserved for the use of a private hunting company.
Despite the claims of those profiting from this crisis, the Maasai people live in harmony with nature and are the best possible custodians of their land, having protected its biodiversity for generations, to the benefit of the whole planet. Indigenous peoples possess innate knowledge about how to sustainably utilise natural resources without upsetting the natural balance of the ecosystem and are able to graze their cattle in harmony with the rhythms of the land.
At a time when so many are concerned about the future of the planet, this process of evicting nature’s custodians and handing the land over to exploitative and greedy industries is a highly manipulative and dangerous model which leads well-meaning individuals to support organisations which actually harm the people and the environment that they claim to protect.
Without the free, prior and informed consent of those affected, these evictions constitute nothing less than land theft. The right of Indigenous peoples to their land and resources and the vital and unmistakeable role they play in environmental conservation must urgently be recognised by those in power for the sake of the health of the planet we all rely upon.
“There can be no shortcuts to sustainable and effective conservation; it needs to be done together with those who have protected these areas of rare biodiversity for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples must be recognised not only as stakeholders, but as rights holders in conservation efforts undertaken in their lands and territories.”- United Nations
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