Tanzania: MRG's Head of Law visits Maasai communities pitted against safari company over land dispute
In August 2012, Carla Clarke, MRG's Head of Law, visited the Maasai villages of Sukenya and Mondorosi, which border the world-renowned Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.
The villagers are involved in an over 12,000-acre land dispute withThomson Safaris, a US-based tourism company which prides itself on its community involvement.
The primary cause of the conflict between the local community and Thomson Safaris is over land ownership in the area where they have traditionally grazed their cattle and accessed important water sources.
'The situation confronting the Maasai communities of Sukenya and Mondorosi is very serious,' says Carla Clarke. 'During my visit I discovered that in the past month alone, five men have been arrested, detained and subsequently charged with trespass, despite title to the land being disputed. Three children simply playing on the land have also been arrested.'
Following concerns of human rights violations against the Maasai communities in 2009 and 2011 by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, MRG supported them in bringing a legal case in the local courts (which is still ongoing), as well as preparing for possible negotiations with Thomson Safaris in an attempt to find a win-win solution, given that the size of the land involved provides ample space for wildlife and cattle to co-exist. For details of the affected communities’ own discussions, please click here.
The dispute dates back to 1984 when Tanzanian Breweries Ltd (TBL), a para-statal company, laid claim to 10,000 acres of land within the borders of the villages for the purposes of wheat and barley cultivation. In fact the company used only a minimal amount of the land for such cultivation (700 acres) and, to all extents and purposes, life continued as before for the local Maasai who used the land for grazing and watering their livestock.
For a history of the land dispute, please click here.
However, things were to change in 2006 when TBL divested the property (through a public tender) with sale of their leasehold to Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL), which has the same ownership as Thomson Safaris, which is a division of Wineland-Thomson Adventures, based in Massachusetts, USA.
Thomson Safaris began operations with the intention of developing the land as a tourism site and wildlife conservation area, although they have, to date, not secured any change of use to enable such tourist rather than agricultural activities lawfully to take place. One of their first objectives was to remove any local people residing in, or seasonally using the property. This has been the major source of conflict between the company, local government and the villagers.
Countless indigenous and minority communities across the African continent, according to MRG’s State of the World Minorities 2012 report have been evicted from communal land without adequate consultation or meaningful participation as recommended by international law.
View a photo story below from Carla's August visit to the Maasai villages.
All photos credit MRG.
Click on image for larger view