Tanzania: Maasai Forcibly Displaced for Game Reserve

Provide Redress; Adopt New Conservation Model After Consultations


The Tanzanian government’s forced eviction of Maasai communities from areas in northern Tanzania they have long inhabited violates their rights to land, livelihood, and culture, Human Rights Watch said on April 27, 2023. Since June 2022, the authorities have engaged in abusive and unlawful tactics, including beatings, shootings, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests to forcibly evict residents from their land.

The government announced on June 6, 2022 that it would demarcate 1,500 square kilometers of village land as a game reserve, prohibiting the primarily pastoralist Maasai residents of Loliondo division, Ngorongoro district, from living on the land, using it for grazing, or even entering the area to seek water for household and agricultural use. Community members told Human Rights Watch they were not adequately consulted prior to the decision, as required by Tanzanian law.

“Tanzania’s displacement of Maasai from their traditional land has been devastating and puts their culture’s survival at risk,” said Oryem Nyeko, Tanzania researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should stop seizing Maasai land and adopt a conservation model that respects the rights of affected communities.”

Between June and December 2022, Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 people, including victims of violence and intimidation by government security forces and game rangers. These abuses follow a pattern of violations against Maasai in the area. Since at least 2009, the government has forcibly evicted thousands of people from Loliondo to open areas for conservation, tourism, and trophy hunting. Human Rights Watch’s analysis of satellite imagery of the area found that in July 2022 about 90 homesteads and animal enclosures were burned within the demarcated area.

On June 8, 2022, two days after the government announcement, dozens of police, military personnel, and game rangers arrived in Loliondo to demarcate the proposed game reserve. Over several days, the security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained 10 community leaders and fired teargas and rubber bullets at protesters and bystanders, injuring at least 30, including women, children, and older people. Witnesses said police took from his home an 84-year-old man who has not been seen since. Security forces also destroyed residents’ property and shot and killed livestock. Up to 2,000 residents from various villages across Loliondo fled to seek refuge and medical treatment in neighboring Kenya.

The authorities also arbitrarily arrested and detained a human rights defender and a community member who had shared photos and videos of the violence and its aftermath on social media.

Since then, security forces have continued to commit abuses against Loliondo residents, with victims and witnesses recounting several instances of rape and other sexual violence, nightly raids, and shootings into homes. Residents said game rangers, who are under the authority of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, have confiscated livestock that had roamed into the demarcated game reserve, initially extorting exorbitant fees to return them and later auctioning them off.

The government contends that blocking access to the area is necessary to protect “the ecological integrity of the entire Great Serengeti,” the area of northern Tanzania involved, and announced that it was “investing in improving pasture grounds, markets for livestock and investment products, plus the provision of drinking water for both people and livestock.” In June 2022, the Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry stated that there are “no settlements” in the area and “therefore there is no eviction.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to Tanzania’s Ministries of Natural Resources and Tourism, Home Affairs, and Health and Social Welfare, and the Police Force to share its research findings and request information but has not received a response.

The government’s actions have led to ongoing displacement, disrupted social support systems, and weakened local safety nets. Community members told Human Rights Watch that poorer residents, especially older people and households headed by women, have been particularly affected. Hundreds of residents have lost access to pastureland, homes, and livestock, and have a relative that has not returned after fleeing to Kenya.

United Nations independent experts and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have urged Tanzania to stop all forced evictions in Loliondo. In January 2023, the African Commission visited Ngorongoro district and raised concerns about the lack of adequate consultation and inclusion of local communities in the demarcation exercise and the use of force and threats against protesting community members.

International and African human rights instruments protect the rights to property and land of individuals and communities, including those with customary land tenure. Under international and regional law, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, forced evictions are prohibited. Prior to carrying out lawful evictions, governments should explore all feasible alternatives in consultation with the people affected, while “avoiding, or at least minimizing, the need to use force,” the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says, and should pay adequate compensation, including in the form of alternative land.

“The Tanzanian government should immediately stop its abusive tactics to displace Maasai communities,” Nyeko said. “The government should provide prompt redress to displaced individuals and communities and, moving forward, meaningfully consult with affected communities and protect their rights to their land, livelihoods, and culture.”

Source:Human Rights Watch