Tanzania: Maasai land dispute with safari tourism group

Freddy Batundi, MRG’s Capacity Building Officer in Africa, reports back on a visit to Maasai communities in northern Tanzania.

Towards the end of last year I made a field trip to Loliondo, Tanzania, as part of MRG's work to support Maasai community meetings in the sub-villages of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke, which are part of Soitsambu village in northern Tanzania, to agree on their position for possible negotiations with Thomson Safaris over a disputed stretch of land known as Sukenya Farm.

Thomson Safaris is a US-based tourism operator that works closely with Thomson Safaris Ltd in Arusha, Tanzania. Both companies, being under the same ownership, are also under the same umbrella of quality control. Thomson Safaris proudly boasts that it has been operating in Tanzania for over 30 years, and it is among the top companies offering deluxe safari tourism services in the country.

The primary cause of the conflict between the local community and Thomson Safaris is over the land ownership of Sukenya Farm. The main struggle of the Soitsambu people has been to gain back the ownership of Sukenya farm, located in Soitsambu Village, Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region, northern Tanzania. The land in dispute lies between the villages of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke (which incorporates a sub-sub-village, Irmasiling), and is also bordering Enguserosambu village. All three sub-villages are currently in Soitsambu Village within Soitsambu Ward in Loliondo Division. Sukenya sub-village alone is inhabitated by 500 people. Soitsambu village has a population of 7000 residents.

The dispute dates back to 1985 when Tanzanian Breweries Ltd (TBL), a para-statal company, laid claim to 10,000 acres of land within the borders of Soitsambu village 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.

However, a small number of the villagers did seek to challenge the grant of land to TBL in the courts. They lost their case, not least because the village chairman and secretary appeared as witnesses on behalf of TBL saying that they had consented to the handing over of the land on behalf of the community.

An appeal was struck out because of a technical issue over the non-filing of the correct papers. Following those legal proceedings, TBL had their title to the land formally registered in 2003 with the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for 99 years, which, in fact, provided for use of 12,617 acres, i.e. an additional 2, 617 acres. Not long afterwards, TBL leased the land on a 96 year lease to Tanzanian Conservation Ltd (TCL) – a Tanzanian incorporated company but which is effectively run by an American couple who run Thomson Safaris (www.thomsonsafaris.com).

This is when the real problems began to occur for the community. as they were being denied access to the land because Thomson Safaris sought to establish it for the use of safari tourism. There are accounts of beatings and shootings taking place, of arrests as the local police work hand in hand with Thomson Safaris security staff, etc. Matters reached such a point that a presidential commission was set up to investigate the situation, but its report has never been made public. Further court proceedings were initiated in February 2010 by Soitsambu village against both TBL and TCL.  The new case was initially dismissed in May 2011 on the basis that it was essentially an attempt to re-open the earlier proceedings.  However, an appeal against the May 2011 was recently successful before the Court of Appeal and the case is to be returned to the lower court to be heard in full.

Back to my visit.

The community meetings were organised by the Pastoralist Women Council (PWC) with the support of MRG, through its legal cases programme. MRG's role was to support the community in deciding what kind of a settlement they want, help them build consensus, and appreciate the consequences or likely outcomes of their options.

From Mondorosi, Enadooshoke and Sukenya sub-villages a total of 337 men and 226 women participated. Key community leaders were present including the chairperson of Soitsambu village, Boniface Kanjwel, William Alais, the ward councillor of the Oloipiri area, Daniel Ngoitiko, a ward councillor of the Soitsambu area, and Elias Melami ,the health and development officer in the Ngorongoro district.

The district commissioner from Loliondo came in person to speak to people and encouraged community members to ‘embrace wholeheartedly the way of peaceful negotiation as all of us are tired of this struggle which in fact is only impoverishing our people.’
An elder from Mondorosi said: ‘This is the beginning of the end. By God’s help we want a peaceful end to this.’

In Tanzania, the law provides avenues for villages to engage in direct negotiation with companies conducting business on community land. The Local Government Act of 1982 makes villages corporate entities and empowers them to engage in activities that improve the welfare of the community. The Village Land Act of 1999 gives power to the Village Council and Village Assembly to manage and administer the village land for the benefit of the community.

It is on this legal basis that villages within Tanzania have entered into agreements with tourism companies to share the proceeds. This gives them direct economic benefits from land and natural resources that are available in their villages. Based on the above, community members from the three sub-villages affected by the Sukenya Farm dispute agreed that their position in any negotiations with Thomson Safaris were:

  • The village members recognize that Thomson Safaris has done investments on some part of the land. The village members agreed that Thomson Safaris could retain exclusive land ownership on 2000 acres around the MOROGWA area.
  • The community members are to acquire back the ownership of 10,617 acres of the land and then enter into direct agreement with Thomson Safaris to allow Thomson Safaris to continue to use some of the land for tourism activities.
  • The process leading to the agreement between the community and the company should be participatory, transparent and stipulate the following:
  1. Recognition of community rights ownership over the 10,617 acres of the land.
  2. Unrestricted access to water points, foot ways from one sub village to the other, and specified grazing areas for the community.
  3. Clear rules and procedures for implementation and management of the contract should be put in place.
  4. Clarified roles and responsibilities for both parties in terms of security and other relationship resolutions.Items like the length of the contract, the annual land renting fees, the bed fee per nights per person (for tourist entering the community land) and the termination of the contract should be clearly be discussed in the contract.
  5. The village council will oversee the use of the income generated by the contract for equitable sharing among the three sub villages for their socio-economic development.

The people believe that if the above issues are taken into consideration in any negotiations, it will result in peaceful co-existence. A man from Enadooshoke sub-village said: ‘What we need is real investment that empowers us because we also have to survive.'

The meetings with the members of the various sub-villages were important in their own right in bringing the villagers to a common position and increasing their sense of ownership of the legal proceedings.  Unfortunately, approaches to Thomson Safaris to enter into negotiations have subsequently been met with a resounding ‘no’ as well as completely unfounded and unsustained allegations of fraud and false representation.

Note - 4 September 2012

Since this article was written at the beginning of 2012, Sukenya and Mondorosi have been upgraded from sub-villages to villages.


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Masaai community meeting in Sukenya village
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Date: 22/03/2012




Indigenous Peoples
Land Rights

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