The Oakland Institute
(August 25, 2021) — Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is renowned the world over for its wildlife and as the home of the indigenous Maasai people. To promote tourism, the government wants to enlarge the protected area — and evict more than 80,000 people, mostly indigenous Maasai. We cannot accept gross human rights violations under the guise of conservation.
Years of restrictions imposed in the name of “conservation” have driven an ongoing hunger crisis for Indigenous pastoralist communities living within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. Now, at the behest of UNESCO World Heritage Centre and other international conservation agencies, the Tanzanian government is moving forward with a new plan that threatens the continued survival of the Maasai on the land they have sustainably stewarded for centuries.
Focused on bolstering tourism revenues, the plan proposes the eviction of tens of thousands of Maasai pastoralists and would decimate the livelihoods of those remaining.
The impacted communities have made it clear what needs to be done to end their suffering and ensure the ecological health of Ngorongoro. The communities, however, have been repeatedly sidelined and ignored. The Indigenous residents of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area urgently need international support to elevate their demands directly to UNESCO and the Tanzanian government. With enough momentum, they cannot be ignored.
For generations, the indigenous Maasai people have lived alongside the rich wildlife of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro and Serengeti. With their way of life — mainly animal husbandry and agriculture for self-sufficiency — the semi-nomadic pastoralists have preserved nature and acted as the guardians of the savannah.
Thanks to its largely intact nature, UNESCO declared the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) a World Heritage Site in 1979. But while environmentalists and travelers celebrate the NCA for its biodiversity, the Maasai face untold hardship: their homeland is about to be taken away from them and their livelihoods destroyed under the guise of conservation.
Following criticism of the state of the World Heritage Site in an inquiry initiated by UNESCO, Tanzania’s government has prepared a land use model and resettlement plan that would trample the rights of the local people: The package would enlarge the territory in which the Maasai are not allowed to graze their cattle, cultivate crops or settle.
More than 80,000 people are to be displaced, writes the Oakland Institute in its study, “The Looming Threat of Eviction”. 42,000 are expected to leave the NCA “voluntarily” because of their precarious living conditions — yet the government has contributed to this very poverty.
The Maasai warn that the plans will exacerbate dispossession, malnutrition and hunger.
While the measures are to be realized under the pretext of nature conservation, the Oakland Institute states that the real reason is to generate more revenue from tourism.
The Maasai and other residents are calling on President Samia Suluhu Hassan to drop the plans to evict them. Now they are asking for international support.
The protection of human rights and the conservation of nature are not mutually exclusive. Please sign our petition and speak out for the Maasai.
To: Mechtild Rössler, Director, UNESCO World Heritage Center; Samia Suluhu Hassan, Her Excellency the President of the United Republic of Tanzania
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a national treasure and has been preserved and protected by the residents in the region for centuries. Due to the outstanding natural and cultural value of the NCA, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and 2010 respectively.
This status comes with big responsibilities for the Tanzanian government — and profound threats to the local population, mainly the Maasai Indigenous peoples. Despite centuries of sustainable stewardship by Maasai pastoralists, current restrictions imposed on them have led to widespread poverty and hunger. At a critical moment where action to alleviate the suffering of the Maasai is urgently needed, international conservation agencies and the Tanzanian government continue to move in the wrong direction.
In 2019, a joint monitoring mission report from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) stated:
“The NCA [Authority] urgently needs to implement stringent policies to control population growth and its subsequent impact on the OUV [outstanding universal value]”i and called on the Tanzanian government to “complete the Multiple Land Use Model review exercise and share the results with World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies to advise on the most appropriate land use model, including in the matter of settling local communities in protected areas.”
In response, the Tanzanian government has advanced a multiple land use management (MLUM) and resettlement plan that proposes the eviction of more than 80,000 men, women, and children, while imposing restrictions that threaten the very survival of the remaining Maasai within the NCA. Further restrictions will worsen hunger and starvation for Maasai pastoralists, destroy livelihoods, and increase poverty. The Looming Threat of Eviction, a report by the Oakland Institute, describes the situation in detail.
The complicity of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in guiding this plan is in violation of several covenants of the United Nations pertaining to human rights and runs counter to UNESCO’s own constitution. Allowing Indigenous rights to be violated in the name of conservation demonstrates a blatant disregard for the historical wrongs inflicted upon the Maasai, the internationally recognized rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the fact that the protection of human rights is essential for conserving nature.
Therefore we support the call of the local communities within the NCA and ask that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and Tanzanian government work together to:
• Stop forthwith this plan to move a legion of pastoral communities from Ngorongoro, given that Ngorongoro is their ancestral land and they have not done any degradation for many centuries and will not do so in the near future.
• Permanently cancel the eviction and demolition orders for people’s homes, government schools, health centers, village offices, houses of worship, and police stations, scheduled by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority in April 2021, that are currently suspended until further notice.
• Take emergency steps — in collaboration with Ngorongoro pastoralists — to avert the hunger disaster by lifting current restrictions on where livestock can graze and access water and allow subsistence cultivation.
• Form a judicial committee to investigate injustices, brutality and human rights violations for more than six decades now.
• Form an independent and participatory commission, comprised of experts in ecology and wildlife, human rights activists, and the local residents in an equal ratio, tasked to go through all challenges and recommend the best way forward to create a plan that ensures the area’s ecology, wildlife, and pastoral livelihoods.
• If the UNESCO World Heritage Committee cannot compel the Tanzanian government to implement the aforementioned recommendations, Ngorongoro should be delisted as a World Heritage Site until the government can ensure the rights of Indigenous residents are respected.
As the continued survival of the Maasai within the NCA is at stake, we urgently call on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and Tanzanian government to ensure the demands from Indigenous communities are met, as a first step towards a future management plan that respects nature and the rights of Indigenous Peoples alike.