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Maasai women protest land seizure in Tanzania, 2009
In 1959, under the force of the British colonial government, the Maasai people were forcibly evicted from the lands that now make up Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. They were not compensated for their losses, but rather were promised that they would not face eviction again. Since that time, the Maasai, who are a semi-nomadic pastoralist people, have suffered greater and greater restraints on grazing lands.
In 1992, the government of Tanzania secretly leased over 4000 square kilometers of the Loliondo Game Controlled Area in the Ngorogoro District to a wealthy businessman from the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed Abdulrahim Al-Ally, for hunting purposes. It has been reported that the boundaries of the sheikh’s land have been constantly expanded by the Tanzanian government to benefit the sheikh and his company, the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC). The result is that the Maasai people of the region have constantly suffered displacement. In the past, the Maasai have passively moved onto other available lands, but there is no more available land for the perpetually displaced Maasai to travel to.
The conflict reached a climax on July 4, 2009, when Tanzanian police set fire to the Maasai homestead in Loliondo to evict them. Eight Maasai villages were burned down, leaving 3000 people without food, water, or shelter. 54,000 head of cattle were also displaced without water or grazing land in acute drought conditions. There were reports of police raping and beating women during the eviction. By August of 2009, the burnings had stopped but any Maasai found herding within five miles of the OBC lands were arrested.
The following February, a parliamentary report of the evictions was supposed to be reviewed and discussed, but the ruling political party of Tanzania, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which means the Party of the Revolution, blocked the report.
On the night of April 6, 2010, Maasai women all over the region gathered together to protest the forced eviction. 400 women gathered in Ololosokwan Town. They were threatened with violence by local authorities if they chose to keep marching to Loliondo Town. The next morning, they decided to keep marching but were intercepted by police in Oloipiri, where they were forced onto trucks under the threat of violence, and were driven back to Ololosokwan. At the same time, women all over the region were walking to Loliondo to protest. 60 women from Enguserosambu were arrested by Tanzanian police and questioned about their actions. The largest single group was made up of 500 women, who spent the night in the bush outside of Wasso. In total, over 1500 women were able to make it into the city of Loliondo to return 1833 voting cards to the local government.
The voting cards served as membership cards to the CCM. To return the cards was considered a serious political move because it withdrew their support from the political party, which had held national power since 1977. The women, most of whom were illiterate and lived without electricity, were able to organize primarily through mobile phone contact, which was fairly financially accessible in Tanzania, and through work with local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
On April 8, the women put forth three demands for the CCM. First, they wanted the blocked parliament report on the eviction to be reviewed by Parliament, when it opened later that week. Secondly, they wanted the government to discontinue plans to seize village land to create a wildlife corridor that would essentially serve as an extension to the Loliondo Game Controlled Area and would be off-limits to people, except those with hunting rights. Finally, the women wanted to be able to hold a peaceful, public demonstration in Loliondo Town. Kijoolo Kakiya, the leader of the demonstration told authorities, that the women would return with thousands more cards if the demands were not met by the 16th.
On April 12, police arrested three employees from the Ngorogoro Non-Governmental Organizations Network (NGONet) for organizing the demonstration the Maasai women had held. The arrests of the three NGONet employees, Samwel Nangiria, the director of NGONet, Robert Kamakia of NGONet, and Gasper Leboy of Oxfam International, drew international attention to the campaign. Public statements by the NGOs said that the arrests were a severe violation of human rights as the individuals were unlawfully detained and denied bail by Tanzanian police officials. Three days later, Ngorogoro District Commissioner Elias Wawa Lali said that he was planning to meet with representatives of the NGOs before meeting with members of the district’s Defense and Safety Committee.
The government delayed the meeting for several weeks. During that time there were small cases of women holding land rights demonstrations and burning their CCM cards across the region. However, the women’s demands continued unaddressed by government officials. Finally, on May 22 the District Commissioner, the Department of Lands, Housing, and Settlement Development, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism held a meeting with village chairpersons and community leaders. However, the government officials did not allow the village representatives to voice their stance, but rather, handed them a meeting agenda determined by governmental departments. The meeting essentially served as an opportunity for the government agencies to announce a new land use plan that had been created without any input from village representatives. The plan maintained the establishment of the OBC wildlife corridor. The government has yet to address the demands of the village representatives and the Maasai women are still without land of their own.