Rights groups condemn Tanzanian police violence against Maasai

Activists say at least 31 people were severely injured as violence broke out over the demarcation of 1,500sq kilometres of land.

Maasai women walk within the Mbirikani Manyatta at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, near the Kenya-Tanzania border in Kimana, Kajiado, Kenya December 14, 2018.
Activists say at least 31 people were severely injured on June 10 as security forces started an eviction plan and demarcated 1,500sq kilometres to be allocated for conservation activities [File: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

Human rights organisations have accused Tanzanian police of using violence to evict members of the Masaai Indigenous community in Loliondo, in the country’s northern district of Ngorongoro.

Activists say at least 31 people were severely injured on June 10 as security forces started an eviction plan and demarcated a 1,500sq-kilometre plot being allocated by the authorities for conservation activities.

The nomadic Maasai people consider the area, lying on the outskirts of the Serengeti National Park, as ancestral land essential to their livelihood of keeping livestock and guaranteeing food for the community. A change in its status would mean the banning of human activities or settlement there.

In a statement on Monday, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights strongly condemned the incident, urging the government to halt the continuing eviction and to open an independent investigation.

It also stressed the need to “ensure that any measures for implementation of the conservation area are carried out in full collaboration with participation of the affected communities”.

According to a statement published by the Forest Peoples Programme on behalf of local Maasai community representatives, the authorities are “violently seizing” the land, despite a pending case at the East African Court of Justice. It also said some 700 people have fled the violence and that at least nine community leaders have been detained in unknown locations.

[Handout/Forest Peoples Programme via Al Jazeera]
Activists say 31 people have been severely injured as police fired tear gas and live bullets [Handout/Forest Peoples Programme via Al Jazeera]

Witnesses told the organisation that about 700 policemen arrived in the area on June 7 and violence erupted three days later after members of the Maasai community were attacked by the police for uprooting beacons that had been installed to demarcate the area.

Videos on social media show the Maasai running away as police fired tear gas and bullets. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the source of the videos.

The Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs) Consortium also said the government is acting “purportedly to make way for a game reserve operated by a hunting tourism enterprise”.

But government spokesperson Gerson Msigwa denied any continuing eviction, saying police officers were demarcating the area as part of a previous agreement with the local community to keep part of the land for living and allocate the rest for conservation activities.

“We are going to reserve the area and it is unfortunate that people are going against this,” Msigwa said.

Msigwa also said the violence broke out as villagers attacked the police, killing one officer.

Back in February, eight UN special rapporteurs in a report had voiced their concerns about the government’s reported plans for resettlement, forced evictions and home demolitions which are expected to affect about 82,000 people in Ngorongoro by 2027.

“If pursued these plans could jeopardise their physical and cultural survival in the name of “nature conservation”, ignoring the close relationship that the Maasai have traditionally had with their lands, territories and resources and their stewardship role in protecting biodiversity,” the report read.

Yannick Ndoinyo, a Maasai leader who spoke to Al Jazeera on Tuesday from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said the government is taking land using claims of conservation, but without consulting the community.

He said the community has presented plans to the government on how to jointly preserve the area but did not get any response.

“The government should consider very highly the community recommendations, and it must stop this operation so that they can open a dialogue on how to jointly resolve this,” Ndoinyo said. “But generally the community needs this land … for survival.”

Source: Al Jazeera