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Tanzania’s Land Rights Violations

Tanzania’s Troubling Trend of Land Rights Violations And Evictions.

This article highlights the plight of the Maasai in Tanzania who are experiencing land rights violations and evictions. The author is a frequent visitor to Tanzania and has first-hand knowledge of the situation there.

Recently AVAAZ, an online activism site started a petition that led the concerned reader to believe that without immediate action 48,000 Maasai faced eviction from traditional homelands to make way for a private hunting lodge for Middle Eastern princes and sheikhs. 

They were misinformed. 

It has already happened. 

It is not an isolated case either; illegal and underhand appropriation of land and it’s leasing to private parties and ensuing state-orchestrated, forced evictions have occurred elsewhere and new legislation is paving the way for future abuses. It sounds absurd, legislation that enables a government to perpetrate land rights and human rights violations on its own citizens, but it is a practice Tanzanian citizens are experiencing more and more.

The Past

Sukenya Farm and Thomson Safaris

In 1984, with the growth of economic liberalisation and state encouragement of land use commercialisation, a parastatal company, Tanzanian Breweries Ltd, took over Sukenya Farm near Soitsambu village. This was about 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares) of land to be used for barley production.

Only in 2003 did TBL move to formalise its title with the Ministry of Lands and to obtain a certificate of occupancy to use the area solely for plant and animal husbandry. It is alleged they used fabricated village meeting minutes to illegally acquire the title deed toSoitsambuVillageitself, while also increasing their total acreage to 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land. This new title deed gave them control of the land with a 96-year lease agreement. Three years later, having only ever cultivated an area of about 900 acres (364 hectares) having discovered the land to be unsuitable, TBL transferred its lease to Tanzanian Conservation Ltd, a Tanzanian registered company whose two Directors and two subscribers are Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson of  Wineland-Thomson Adventures.  Thomson Safaris is a division of this Despite not having any legal authority to use the land for tourism purposes, TCL/Thomson Safaris did exactly that. 

Unlike TBL, TCL/Thomson Safaris began actively preventing the local people from accessing the land through intimidation and force, often assisted by the police. NGOs have documented numerous cases of beatings, imprisonment, impounding of cattle, and the imposition of “fines”. The restrictions put in place at Sukenya by Thomson Safaris effectively prevent the Maasai from from Irmasiling from reaching the District hospital at Wasso and the market town of Loliondo, forcing them to detour across the border into Kenya and back toTanzania via the villages of Soitsambu or Ololosokwan. 

In November 2007, a Maasai traditional leader, Shangai ole Putaahe, who had protested against the occupation of the land, was shot and killed by the police who claim they had to shoot him because he was hiding weapons used in an armed robbery and tried to escape when he was going to show them the hiding place. His family refute the claims. In April 2008, there was a clash between herders taking their animals to water and Thomson Safari guards aided by the police during which a herder called Lesinko ole Nanyoi was shot in the jaw. A month later, an investigative journalist from New Zealand, Trent Keegan, was accosted by Thomson Safari guards whilst carrying out his investigations around the disputed land. On May 27th, he was found beaten to death in a drainage ditch in Nairobi ,Kenya. His laptop, camera and phone were missing, but his murderers left his cash and credit cards, normally the first things taken. 

Before his death, Keegan had given a copy of his findings to a local friend, Brian MacCormaic.  MacCormaic says he was invited to a meeting with Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, who had come toTanzaniaon a “fact-finding” mission in July. Originally planned as a tete-a-tete at a meeting place close to Wasso hospital, MacCormaic found himself subjected to a barrage of questions from a 15-strong assembly selected by the District Commissioner, an ardent Thomson supporter. When he tried to walk out, a Thomson Safaris’ vehicle arrived and about 10 armed men, policemen MacCormaic was told later, jumped out and took up positions around the compound. “I thought I would be kidnapped and dumped in the bush at the mercy of leopards and lions or shot,” he said. Adrenaline kicked in, and the racket he created drew enough onlookers to leave the armed men in a quandary and he made good his escape. 

In a subsequent meeting with Thomson Safaris’ local manager and the District Commissioner, MacCormaic “saw files that must've been hacked from my laptop and taken fromTrent’s, there was no other way they could have them.” 

In early 2010, Susanna Nordlund, a curious and caring tourist, was deported fromTanzania after asking questions around Loliondo about Thomson Safaris and the Ortello Business Corporation (more on OBC below).

The Mbarali Evictions at Usangu Game Reserve

In May 2006, according to Oxfam, over a thousand households of Sukuma agro-pastoralists and IlParakuiyo, Taturu and Barabaig pastoralists and their livestock were evicted from the Usangu Plains in Mbarali district. In June that year, it was announced that this protected area would be upgraded to become part of Usanga Game Reserve in an expanded Ruaha National Park. Between November 2006 and May 2007 large numbers of livestock keepers, most of them Sukuma agropastoralists, were forced to leave Mbarali District together with their herds and were relocated to the Lindi and Coast regions in Southern Tanzania.

According to Adam Kuleit Ole Mwarabu of the Parakuiyo Pastoralists Indigenous Community Development Organization, 320,000 livestock were lost in the operation and pastoralists were forced to pay fines of approximately 10 USD per cow/bull and $5 per sheep and goat for damaging the environment. More than $700,000 was collected by the district. 

The arguments given for the evictions were that the pastoralists should allegedly be responsible for environmental degradation in the Ihefu and Usangu Basin and the drying up of the Great Ruaha River (which is in turn linked to the power cuts that have plaguedTanzania for years). However, those accusations disregard scientific studies concluding that the drying up of the Great Ruaha River is not caused by the activities of pastoralists, but rather by the expansion of irrigated cultivation, in particular the extension of rice and other crop-growing into the dry season.

The affected families were neither compensated for being evicted nor provided with essential needs in the new areas. The evicted pastoralists and agro-pastoralists are now completely destitute, having lost their best pasture, many cattle and the means to provide for themselves.

The government was so impressed by the implementation of the eviction that in October 2007, according to Adam Kuleit Ole Mwarabu, they awarded US$195,000 to the government officials who carried out the operation.

Loliondo, OBC and the UAE Royal Family

In 1992, the Government of Tanzania granted a commercial hunting licence on land belonging to eight registered villages in Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District in northernTanzania. The licence was granted to Otterlo Business Cooperation (OBC) €“ aUnited Arab Emirates company owned by Brigadier Mohamed Abdulrahim Al-Ali, a member of the Royal Family of the United Arab Emirates. The eight villages, which are predominantly inhabited by Maasai pastoralists include Soitsambu, Oloipiri, Ololosokwan, Loosoito/Maaloni, Oloerien Magaiduru, Piyaya, Arash and Malambo. Upon arriving at the Ololosokwan villages, one receives the following network text message “Dear Guest, Welcome to the UAE. Enjoy the best network coverage and other unmatched services only with Etisalat. Have a pleasant stay in the UAE.”

These villages are located within the boundaries of the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. As a result of the hunting licence, the Maasai pastoralists lost control over important parts of their village lands which are fundamental to their livelihoods. These areas contain key natural resources such as a salt lick and water and they provide refuge in times of acute drought.

In addition to the fact that Maasai pastoralists have been living in the area for over a hundred years, the said villages and village lands are legally recognized under the laws of Tanzania, in particular, the Land Act, Cap. 113, the Village Land Act, Cap. 114 and the Local Government (District Authorities) Act, Cap. 287. These land laws state that the rights of villagers over village lands is non-derogable by any law or authority and that whenever there is a conflict between the Land Act and any other law, the provisions of the Land Act will prevail. Furthermore, at the time of the evictions the Wildlife Conservation Act, Cap. 283 allowed coexistence of wildlife and human beings in Game Controlled Areas.

OBC hosts the UAE royal family and their guests for the hunting season from July to December. Hunting inTanzania has strict rules, but there are many testimonies of these laws being blatantly disregarded, with hunting conducted at night and with automatic weapons, with absolutely no regard for the number of animals killed. The area is on the migration route of the world-renowned “Great Migrations” of wildebeest and zebra as they move between the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara each year. To facilitate their hunts, a 1.6-mile long runway capable of handling cargo jet planes has been built, and UAE registered vehicles and guards have been shipped in, many are still driven on UAE plates, and live animals are shipped out by the dozen.

Meitamei Dapash works out of a small office inWashington,D.C., the sole representative of the Maasai Envrionmental Resource Coalition, or MERC. In existence since 1999, MERC is supported by, among others, the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Legal Defence Fund. He and his colleagues have interviewed hundreds of Maasai in the Loliondo area and estimate that up to a hundred live animals can be shipped out each week in peak periods, including all the Big Five species, plus cheetah and even giraffes and hippos.

On August 8, 2007, Molonget Konerei and some other herders were out looking for lost sheep. At sundown, they were passing OBC’s yard in Soitsambu when several vehicles came from behind them. The herders ran off in panic in different directions. Upon regrouping, they realised Konorei was missing. They returned to the site to find a puddle of blood at the roadside. Koronoi’s dead body was at Wasso Hospital. Local authorities concluded that it was an ordinary road accident. OBC staff said they had been out pursuing poachers when they hit Konerei killing him instantly. The herdsmen with him insist he was shot first and then the vehicle ran over his body deliberately. There is no evidence to support the allegation, but the Maasai are highly suspicious of the autopsy report.

In February 2009, despite it being four months before the official start of the hunting season, an ecotourism operator with a group of tourists was approached by the Tanzanian security forces and told to leave the area immediately. Three months later, in early May 2009, village leaders received letters from the District Commissioner and the District Council, ordering them to leave the OBC ‘hunting grounds’ immediately.

In total disregard of the rule of law, the government leadership of the Ngorongoro District, in collaboration with the OBC security guards and using the Tanzanian paramilitary Full Force Unit, forcefully evicted 3,000 Maasai pastoralists in July 2009 by burning more than 300 residential houses. During the eviction, the villagers lost their properties including cows and goats and witnessed their clothes, money and utensils taken by the fire. Accusations of rape have been documented and at least one pregnant woman miscarried.

Meatu communities of Hadzabe, Wataturu, and Sukuma 

In the late 90s, the Makao WMA (Wildlife Management Area) was created in the Meatu area to the west of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with little regard for due process according to reports from the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organisations Forum. In 2009 it was leased to the US-owned tourist hunting company Mwiba Holding Co. Ltd., for the paltry annual rent of approximately 1 USD per hectare.

November 10th, 2011 marked the beginning of the forced evictions of 7,000 Wataturu, Sukuma, and Hadzabe people from their land, burning of their homes, and the destruction of their property, as well as the displacement of 70,000 livestock. No compensation was offered, and thousands have lost the means to provide for themselves, including over 1,000 Hadzabe hunter-gatherers, of whom there are an estimated 3,000 left.

Why does the Government look after OBC so well? Because OBC claims to make annual payments of $560,000 USD to the central government and $109,000 USD to the Ngorongoro District Council, although the terms of the contract have never been made public and are not subject to any accountability. 

The Present

With access to grazing and water sources restricted, the hardship continues, as does the violence and intimidation. On 15th August 2012 five local Maasai men, previously arrested for trespassing on Sukenya Farm, were scheduled to appear for their court hearing. The hearing has been adjourned until mid-September so that Thomson Safaris can “gather more evidence”. On August 17, 2012 three Maasai boys, none of them older than 14, were beaten and then arrested the following day after Thomson guards found them on Sukenya Farm. It is illegal to arrest children inTanzania. The boys were not even grazing cattle; they were just playing within the boundaries of the land.

The government has commissioned investigations of the evictions at Mbaraili and Loliondo, but the reports from investigation missions have not been made public and no measures have been taken to compensate the victims and remedy the situation. On the contrary, the pastoralists continue to live in abject poverty.

A court case has been launched by the local village to challenge TCL’s presence and entitlement to the land that they see as having been illegally appropriated from them. The hearing started on August 23rd, but given that Transparency International givesTanzaniaa score of 3 out of 10 on its perceived corruption indicator, a fair outcome is far from guaranteed and in any event will take considerable time. Carla Clarke of Minority Rights Group International estimates that the High Court hearing could take up to two years, and would no doubt be subject to appeal. According to Clarke, “In relation to the land case at the most recent hearing on 23 August, the main case (ownership of the land) has been scheduled for mention on 6th February 2013 and the application for injunction (to stop harassment, intimidation and allow grazing and access for the villagers while the main case is ongoing) on 10th October 2012.”

The Future 

Tourism is booming inTanzania, with income from tourism in 1990 of $60 million dollars growing to 1.6 billion dollars by 2008. Before the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act, Game Controlled Areas (an area where wildlife hunting is permitted) allowed human settlement and all forms of land use in GCAs, while only prohibiting unlicensed use of wildlife. However, the 2009 Act changed this by prohibiting all livestock grazing and cultivation in GCAs. The Act also required the Ministry to ensure that there is no overlap between GCAs and village lands within one year of the Act coming into force. The Act has been in force for more than one year now, but little action has been taken to resolve the extensive overlap of GCAs and village lands.

At present, Game Controlled Areas inTanzania form part of many indigenous pastoralists’ villages meaning they are found within legally existing villages. The initial establishment of the Game Controlled Areas within indigenous pastoralists’ villages did not prevent the indigenous pastoralist from accessing their natural resources and continuing their traditional pastoral livelihoods.

However, in an extraordinary turn of events, the new Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 provides that “Any person shall not, save with the written permission of the Director [of wildlife] previously sought and obtained, graze any livestock in any Game Controlled Area.” This law poses a very big threat to the continued existence of pastoralism as a livelihood system contrary to article 1.2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In a conversation with George Matiko, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the author was told to not listen to the NGOs in the area as “they never told the truth,” that there were no plans to displace any one, and that the Maasai had left the area voluntarily in 2009 and set fire to their own homes.

In Loliondo there are fears that OBC wants to take all the land available in the GCAs, from Lake Natron up to the Serengeti and incorporate it in their hunting grounds. The area covers over 8,000 km2 (2,090 square miles) and is home to 99,000 Maasai. And Loliondo is far from the only place affected. Vast tracts ofTanzania are GCAs and hunting is big business. A hunting safari client spends a lot more money more than a '€œnon-consumptive'€ safari customer. A week-long lodge safari in northernTanzania starts at around $2500, a buffalo hunting safari costs $21,000 and male lion hunting starts at $25,000.

Although the visitors to the OBC are probably not paying clients, but invited guests. It is not a commercial venture but a private folly and there is ample scope for more evictions and the ensuing destruction of traditional lifestyle under the new legislation and ample pocket-filling by officials and ministers. Despite the hollow denials and the bluster of the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism, eviction and appropriation of traditional lands are not uncommon inTanzania. The Wildlife and Conservation Act 2009 make it more likely than less that this will continue, to the detriment of the indigenous land users and the wildlife they have cohabited with, for so long.

The author gathered information for this article from personal communications, both email and phone calls with the concerned parties and from articles and websites shown in the bibliography.

The views expressed in ecoView are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Ecology Global Network. EGN does not verify the accuracy or science of these articles.

By Walter Hicks -


  • District Land Use Framework Plan (2010-2030)  National Land Use Planning
  • Martin Walsh, University of Cambridge (2012): The not-so-Great Ruaha and hidden histories of an environmental panic in Tanzania, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 6:2, 303-335
  • Conservation, Commerce, and Communities: The Story of Community-Based Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania’s Northern Tourist Circuit Jim IgoeBeth Croucher Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Denver, Campus Box 103, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364, USA
  • Shadow Report Concerning the Situation Of Economic Social and Cultural Rights of Indigenous Pastoralists and Hunter Gatherersof The United Republic of Tanzania by the Coalition of Indigenous Pastoralist and Hunter Gatherer Organizations
  • Integrating Pastoralist Livelihoods and Wildlife Conservation? Options for Land Use and Conflict Resolution in Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, February 2011 TNRF report
  • PINGOs Forum, Sectarianism  Against Pastoralism; Causes Consequences and possible solution,  2009
  • Journal of Peasant Studies  Tourism and the politics of the global land grab in Tanzania: markets, appropriation and recognition by Benjamin Gardner Version of record first published: 19 Apr 2012
  • Pastoral Activists: Negotiating Power Imbalances in the Tanzanian Serengeti by Maanda Ngoitiko, Makko Sinandei, Partalala Meitaya and Fred Nelson
  • Wildlife Management Areas in Northern Tanzania -Emmanuel Sulle, Edward Lekaita and Fred Nelson October 2011
  • FEMACT’s Loliondo Fact Finding Report of August 2009 available online through search machines. Also see: Report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, [Ref: A/HRC/15/37/Add.1, 14/9/2010], paragraph 445, page 181.