Game over for hunters in Tanzania
After a 25-year struggle, Maasai activists are hopeful that they will return to traditional grazing grounds that were lost to big-game trophy hunters.
Last November, Tanzania’s newly appointed Natural Resources Minister Hamisi Kigwangalla revoked the licence of a hunting concession granted to the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC) – which is owned by the Dubai royal family – and ordered the arrest of its CEO on corruption charges.
Back in 1992, the government granted OBC the rights to hunt wild animals such as antelopes, lions and leopards on 4,000 square kilometres of traditional lands of nomadic Maasai herders in Loliondo, which lies east of the Serengeti National Park.
In 2008, the corporation was allowed to take more Maasai land. The following year saw brutal mass evictions with houses burned down and Maasai cattle impounded.
The Maasai have campaigned strongly to return, using a range of awareness-raising methods, including traditional media, online organizing and participatory video – at one point attracting 2.2 million signatures for their cause through an online petition.
‘We saw our struggle as a clash between money and life,’ says Samuel Nangiria, a leading Maasai campaigner who says he was arrested 10 times and had to flee the country for a time after death threats.
The government’s anti-corruption efforts have given the Maasai campaign a new momentum. The head of OBC in Tanzania faces a number of charges, including bribing ministers; Minister Hamisi Kigwangalla has stripped the company of its hunting licence, and says it will not be granted one again.
Now that the tables have turned on OBC, the Maasai will focus on making sure the land comes back to them. ‘We have been there for centuries: our people are buried there,’ says Samuel. ‘We will keep fighting.’