Reports from Tanzania over the last several days indicate determination by the central government to move ahead with the ouster of large numbers of Maasai from their land in the Loliondo District. Evicting the Maasai would give the Ortello Business Corporation, an organizer of luxury hunting safaris based in the United Arab Emirates, easy access to the big game that thrive in this northern Tanzanian district, as the animals migrate between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti Plain.
Some critics of President Jakaya Kikwete’s decision see evidence of his contempt for pastoralists, including the Maasai, in what he told a group of Maasai three months ago: “You must realize that living a nomadic life is not productive.”
Without trying to portray Kikwete as an advocate of pastoralism, it’s worth pointing out that there was more to the lecture he gave the Maasai.
“You must realize that living a nomadic life is not productive,” Kikwete said, “because many people have realized the value of land, they survey and own it, leading to a decrease in grazing areas.”
Whether or not Kikwete meant to condemn pastoralism without qualification, it’s legitimate to call attention to the growing hardship experienced by pastoralists in the face of Tanzania’s hunger for agricultural land. With almost eighty percent of its land area classified as semi-arid, Tanzania faces a big challenge in feeding a population that is heavily dependent on the land; this is not a population which produces manufacturing wealth that can be used to buy imported food. But the country’s population is now triple the 12.3 million people that were counted in 1967, by the first census after independence.
So more and more land of marginal fertility is being cultivated—even while Tanzania’s average annual precipitation levels continue to fall. In turn, the pastoralists’ access to grazing areas shrinks, leading to conflicts between herders and farmers. This has not approached the scale of tension between farmers and pastoralists that was one of the key factors in bringing tragedy to Darfur. Nevertheless, in 2001, a clash between herders and farmers in the eastern Tanzanian region of Morogoro killed thirty-one people, most of them women and children.
The pressure on the Maasai in the Loliondo District has, justly, attracted international attention. Pushing the Maasai off their land so that rich foreigners can bag hunting trophies not only fails to address Tanzania’s need for reasonable accommodation between farmers and pastoralists; it increases the tension between these two embattled groups.
The rising tension also suggests that, as alarming as it is, this episode is merely a harbinger of even more ugly days to come for Tanzania’s pastoralists and the farmers who must compete with them for land and sustenance.