Tanzania: Maasai Pastoralists of Soitsambu Village assert their rights to ancestral lands

In common with most indigenous people, the Maasai pastoralists of Soitsambu village have no formal recognition of their property rights. Despite a recent decision in the African Commission, holding that traditional possession of land by indigenous people has the same effect as that of a state-granted property title, the Maasai pastoralists of Soitsambu village are at risk of losing their lands and livelihoods due to an aggressive tourism campaign by the Tanzanian Government, and conflicts with a local tour operator.

Approximately 500 Maasai pastoralists live on Sukenya Farm, a subvillage of Soitsambu village. The village is located within the Loliondo division of the Ngorongoro District of northern Tanzania. Loliondo borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park, both important for the tourism industry, worth an estimated US$1.6 billion in 2008. The Maasai pastoralists of Soitsambu village have a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on pastoralism. They depend on raising livestock on their traditional lands according to annual patterns of rainfall and do not hunt wildlife, making their system of production compatible with the ecosystem. Besides climate change and drought, the major problem facing the Maasai pastoralists is land alienation, as land traditionally used for grazing is put to use for conservation, tourism and hunting projects.

Legal Proceedings
On 3 February 2010, the Soitsambu Village Council filed legal proceedings over Sukenya Farm in the High Court of Tanzania, Land Division, against Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL), a partially privatized parastatal company, and Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), which shares ownership and works closely with Thomson Safaris Ltd, a Tanzanian incorporated company of Wineland-Thomson Adventures Inc. based in the US.

The dispute regards the ownership of 12,617 acres of land. The Maasai pastoralists allege that 10,000 acres of their ancestrally owned land was allocated to TBL in 1984 without their consent; that the land was not actively used by TBL for 19 years during which time the villagers remained in occupation of the land; that in 2003 a further 2,617 acres were obtained by TBL improperly; and that in 2006 the 12,617 acres was leased to TCL without their consultation or consent. The Maasai pastoralists further allege that after the allocation in 2006, employees and/or agents of TCL burned, damaged and removed their homes and possessions from the disputed land.

Since then, there have been further reports of beatings, shootings, harassment, extrajudicial arrests and detention of pastoralists when they try to access the grazing and water sources on the land. Finally, it is alleged that TCL has been using the land for tourism purposes contrary to the stated allowed use. The Maasai pastoralists are seeking an order that the disputed land belongs to them, and compensation.

TBL and TCL both strongly deny the allegations. Separately, TCL has alleged that the village council is not supportive of the legal proceedings which, it claims, have in fact been brought by a small group of disaffected individuals. However, minutes of a village council meeting indicate the contrary. TCL has also claimed that the village supported their application for change of land use, but this is contradicted by minutes to another meeting. The company also claims their actions are legitimized by an investigation in 2008 by the Office of the Prime Minister. However, a copy of the investigative committee’s report has never been made public.

In addition to the main proceedings, an urgent injunction application was filed on behalf of Soitsambu Village Council to restrain the defendants from preventing the pastoralists from accessing Sukenya Farm. It also seeks to restrain them from any construction, development, or any change of its designated use pending the outcome of the main proceedings. To the disappointment of the Maasai pastoralists, this application was dismissed in August 2010 on a technicality. A second application was filed soon after and a decision is pending.

International attention

The dispute has been brought to the attention of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On 13 March 2009, the Committee sent a letter to the Tanzanian government under its Early Warning and Urgent Action procedure. After no response from the Government, the Committee sent them another letter on 11 March 2011 requesting they provide information on the expropriation of the ancestral territorities of certain ethnic groups in Tanzania and their forced displacement and settlement.

To read the minutes of the village council meeting download the attached documents

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Date: 15/02/2011




Indigenous Peoples
Land Rights
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