Scheme to remove Maasai from land near Serengeti revived?

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The Tanzanian government is being accused of reneging on a deal with about 40,000 people from the nomadic Maasai tribe.

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The government is reportedly proceeding with plans to evict them from traditional land near famous Serengeti National Park to make it a game reserve for Dubai’s royal family.

Santilla Chingaipe has the details.

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Nearly 900,000 Maasai are estimated to live mainly in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

They are a largely pastoral community, relying heavily on cattle.

Under the proposed plan, the Tanzanian government plans to establish a so-called wildlife corridor.

It would stretch across an area of about 1,500 kilometres of the traditional land owned by the Maasai near the border with Serengeti National Park.

The corridor would make way for a wildlife reserve for a Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company and force the Maasai from their land.

Dr Freddy Safieli Manongi is from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority in Tanzania.

He says the Maasai rely heavily on the land.

“Their livelihood is totally dependent on land, because cattle, which is their main, main business, depends on pasture and water. All those are land resources. So land is really key to the people.”

Last year, the government bowed to pressure to prevent the plan from going ahead.

But that deal is reportedly back on the table, with many Maasai being told to leave their homes.

Dr Manongi says he is unaware of the new development and still doubts the government would go ahead with such a plan.

“Any move to remove them from any land will have significantly negative impact on their livelihood. And I don’t think any reasonable government can do that.”

It is believed the government has offered the Maasai compensation for the eviction.

The government previously said the corridor would promote conservation, allowing tourists to kill big game in a sustainable manner.

Dr Eddie Game is from the Nature Conservancy.

He says indigenous people and wildlife can coexist.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s been presented as one or the other, because it doesn’t have to be. Certainly, land can be managed so that you can have wildlife and a pastoral lifestyle.”

Dr Game says removing the Maasai is not a solution.

And he fears any displacement of the Maasai to a smaller area would create an environmental problem.

“One of the big impacts is it will stop the Maasai being able to move. That means that they’ll (their herds of cattle will) graze their other remaining lands more intensively, which means the land will become even more degraded. Instead, if you allow movement to happen in a coordinated fashion, you can allow patches of the land that the wildlife can use and patches of land that the pastoralists can use.”