Masai people living in northern Tanzania face eviction from their historical homeland, as the government has reportedly reneged on a promise and is proceeding with plans to turn the land into a hunting reserve for Dubai’s royal family.
RT reports: There are about 40,000 Masai people living on the 1,500 square kilometer “wildlife corridor” bordering Serengeti National Park. They are known for their semi-nomadic ways and have their own distinctive culture.
The original proposal by a company based in the United Arab Emirates to turn the land into a commercial hunting park was turned down last year.
But the deal seems back on track now and the Masai people were notified to leave their ancestral lands by the end of the year, the Guardian reported.
Tanzania’s prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, is scheduled to meet with the Masai’s representatives, who will speak out against the decision.
In their view, the sale of the territory will in some way or another impact the lives of at least 80,000 people and will leave those residing on the land without their heritage or livelihood, as Masai are reliant on the livestock living on the land.
In return for the sale, the government has proposed to offer an investment of one billion shillings (US$590,000) into socio-economic projects, which the Masai people have refused.
“I feel betrayed,” co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group, Samwel Nangiria, told the Guardian. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.”
Nangiria revealed his suspicions that the government probably never intended to back down from the proposal. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”
Those who speak out publicly against the deal in Tanzania get killed by local authorities, Nangiria said, adding that his life was threatened as well. “For me it is dangerous on a personal level. They said: ‘We discovered you are the mastermind, you want to stop the government using the land.’ Another said: ‘You have decided to shorten your life. The hands of the government are too long. Put your family ahead of the Masai.’”
Last year, an international media campaign against the hunting reserve proposal was led by the online activism site Avaaz.org.
The organization was behind the ‘Stop the Serengeti Sell-off’ petition, which gathered more than 1.7 million signatures. It also organized protests against the move.
“The Masai stare out from every tourism poster, but Tanzania’s government wants to kick them off their land so foreign royalty can hunt elephants there,” campaign director for Avaaz, Alex Wilks, said.
“Two million people around the world have backed the Masai’s call for president Jakaya Kikwete to fulfill his promise to let them stay where they’ve always lived. Treating the Masai as the great unwanted would be a disaster for Tanzania’s reputation.”
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s authorities have denied the existence of renewed plans.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m currently out of the office and can’t comment properly,” a spokesperson for Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism said.