Dieter Telemans / Panos
In July this year the Tanzanian Field Force Police violently and unlawfully evicted 25,150 people from eight villages in Ngorongoro District that are traditionally used for dry-season grazing by pastoralists. Homesteads were burned, women raped, people were beaten, shot at and imprisoned. Three children went missing and, while two have since turned up, scraps of cloth are the only remains of the third.
The eviction was carried out in order to clear the area for hunting in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area, which borders the Serengeti National Park and is famous for its wildlife breeding grounds.
The area is controlled by a company from the United Arab Emirates called the Ortello Business Corporation (OBC).
The villagers have responded by demanding their rights. Fifty women marched on Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city, but President Jakaya Kikwete refused to see them. On returning home, the women were detained by police. ‘We think the Government intends to finish off our livestock and then finish us off as well... There is nothing else to do bar fight. We have nowhere else to go,’ explains Manyara Karia, a member of one of the affected villages.
This is not the only land dispute that Manyara’s village is contesting. A US company, Thomson Safari, bought 4,000 hectares of prime land under disputed circumstances in 2006, denying the Maasai grazing and water rights on land they have been dependent upon for decades.
Mysteriously, Thomson’s land boundary widens every year and 2009 saw the denial of water rights at two more water sources. ‘This year, the boundary has moved and comes right up to our bomas (homesteads),’ Manyara reveals. ‘We are now prohibited from using two more water sources. We used to go there for firewood, but now the Thomson security guards beat you if you go.’ Villagers, not knowing where the border lies, are accused of trespass and carted off to Loliondo police station, where they have to pay hefty fines before being released.
The OBC evictions suddenly stopped on 8 October to make way for village elections on 25 October. Local activists and non-governmental organizations believe that this is just the beginning of a new phase, however, and that the battle has just begun. A new Wildlife Act, which is waiting to be signed by the President, states that Game Controlled Areas cannot be situated where there are villages. In other words, villages must be removed from the area before the Act becomes operational.
Journalists are banned from the area, and the District Commissioner in Loliondo believes that concern about the evictions is a fuss over nothing and wants the whole thing hushed up. However, sources say that a new militia is being trained as a permanent force for the area and that new controls on the movement of livestock will soon be implemented. The District Commissioner has confirmed that OBC will be given land on a permanent basis for hunting. In response to this revelation, Maanda Ngoitiko, the Director of the Pastoral Women’s Council, declared: ‘We will carry on shouting. We will not be quiet!’