It’s rush hour for Juma Olesampuerap, the only doctor on duty at the small Enkitoria Clinic on the outskirts of the Kenyan Maasai village of Ololaimutiek, near the Kenya-Tanzanian border. Outside, dozens of people are waiting for help. Most are women; through an open door you can hear the soft clinking of her colorful pearl jewelry and the small mirror plates around her neck.
Inside, Olesampuerap examines the gunshot wound of Partalala, a young man in a gray hoodie and red and black checkered shuka (traditional cloak). The white of the bone can be seen through a gaping hole in the leg. “Shame on the Tanzanian government,” the doctor murmurs as he bandages the leg. “They’re shooting at their own people.” Partalala’s face twists in pain.
A new wildlife park
On June 9, the day before the incident, three agents showed up in Ololosokwan, a town in Loliondo, northern Tanzania, according to neighbors. They wanted to ram a concrete post into the ground to indicate where a new wildlife park would soon be built, Partalala recalls.
The hunting license for the approximately 1.5 square kilometer park is held by the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC), a company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to a 2019 UN report, OBC is a luxury yacht company that obtained a hunting license in Tanzania in 1992, “enabling the UAE royal family to organize private hunting trips”. Although you will mainly travel to southern Africa for this activity, trophy hunting is not prohibited in Tanzania either.
But under international human rights treaties signed by Tanzania, the Maasai, an ethnic group of nomadic pastoralists, must first give permission to use their traditional habitat. “Expulsion without prior authorization is a violation of human rights,” says UN Special Rapporteur Balakrishnan Rajagopal. “Displacement in the name of conservation, safari tourism and trophy hunting threatens their physical and cultural survival.”
When the police wanted to demarcate the area in early June, the Maasai said that this had to be discussed with the elders of the surrounding tribes. When they gathered in the Ololosokwan border area the next day, they were approached by police who fired shots and tear gas canisters. According to neighbors, more than 30 people were injured.
“Misleading”: This is how Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa describes the bloody videos that have been circulating on social networks since then. Authorities confirm that no injuries were reported and that only one agent died, struck in the eye by an arrow fired by the Maasai. For this reason, 27 members of this ethnic minority were arrested and accused of murder.
“Behind that is Tanzania,” says the injured Partalala as the doctor finishes his leg. He points through the small window in the yellow walls of the room to the rolling hills some 15 kilometers away. He and “thousands more” came down those hills after the police attack, he explains.
However, Partalala cannot remember anything from this trip. He lost consciousness after being hit in the leg; the bullet went through. His villagers didn’t dare take him to a Tanzanian hospital because “they are run by the same government that shot us.” He woke up in Kenya.
“A New Colonialism”
In many places in Africa, they employ a conservation model that activists call “fortress conservation.” In the name of environmental protection, this one, which dates back to colonial times, tries to keep the indigenous people out of the natural areas as much as possible. However, the indigenous population is increasingly demanding their own administration and the protection of the national parks in which they have often lived for centuries.
“When the government works with foreign investors and doesn’t work with the people who already live in the areas, it’s a new kind of colonialism,” says a Tanzanian Maasai leader, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals . “Relocations” are nothing new, he says. According to him, the Maasai population of Tanzania (about 400,000 people in all) has been intimidated for decades. “The government regularly goes to the villages to tell them that they need land for wildlife parks or factories. We have nothing to say about that.”
The national government of President Samia Hassan Suluhu does not take into account the wishes of local and regional authorities in which the Maasai are represented when making decisions, says the chairman. “They’ve been the soul of this area for centuries,” he continues. “How can you take that away from them? Then there is an empty and parched land without life.
Lawyers, activists and human rights groups are also sounding the alarm. They claim that more than 70,000 semi-nomadic herders living in the northern Loliondo region are being forced to give way to private hunting grounds.
The Tanzanian government denies any eviction or deportation but does not allow independent investigators or journalists to enter Loliondo
The Tanzanian government denies any eviction or deportation but does not allow independent investigators or journalists to enter Loliondo. There are plans for UN human rights monitors to visit Tanzania, but it is not yet clear when they will be received.
The observers will also visit Ngorongoro, another area in the north where the Maasai are being displaced. According to the UN, 165,000 are affected by the resettlement plans in the two zones; a total of around 40,000 live in Tanzania.
concern for human rights
Human rights in Tanzania have come under increasing pressure in recent years. Nicknamed “The Steamroller,” President Magufuli, who ruled the east African country from 2015 until his death in 2021, silenced unwelcome media and opposition figures and halted HIV programs. In 2018, the World Bank canceled a €265 million loan over concerns about government policies preventing young pregnant women from attending school.
When Magufuli passed away suddenly in March 2021, former Vice President Hassan Suluhu took her place. Since his appointment, relations between Tanzania and the UAE have been strengthened. During Hassan’s visit to Dubai in February, it was announced that the UAE will invest more than 7 billion euros in Tanzania over the next four years. According to the activists, this agreement cannot be separated from what is happening now in Loliondo.
For the Maasai living on the Kenyan side of the border, it makes sense to welcome Tanzanians. These were also recently housed in a Maasai settlement outside of Ololaimutiek. “Several families came,” says tribal elder Ole Ndaika, “and they told us terrible stories.” Under his New York Yankees cap, he looks at the dry land with tears in his eyes. “You don’t have to ask if you can stay here,” he says. “They are our brothers and sisters and they are in trouble.”
It’s suffocatingly hot in his house full of children. Ole Ndaika, who lives here with his two wives and six children, has taken in two Tanzanian women and their children. “It’s difficult for us,” says the old man. “There is not enough space or food.” The Kenyan Maasai receive no help from the Kenyan government, it said. Ole Ndaika points to a small bed box. “We only have three small beds for 15 people,” he says. “The children sleep on the floor.”
Kiramatisho sits on one of the battered mattresses and breastfeeds her baby. “Her son was born when she fled to Kenya,” says Ole Ndaika sadly, “in the bush.” A few hours later her husband had to return with the cows, his most important possession. The 25-year-old is worried; She hasn’t spoken to him in weeks. “I’m afraid that they will arrest him, beat him or shoot him,” he says.
Although Kiramatisho’s husband is likely still hiding in the thick bush with his cows, many drove their cattle across the Kenyan border, noted Dr. Olesampuerap. He fears ethnic conflicts over land and food between the Kenyan and Tanzanian communities. “Now there are cows everywhere,” says the doctor, “but there is no grass and no rain. The situation is unbearable. People will die, many children are already malnourished.”
After the consultation in the clinic, Dr. Olesampuerap on a leather desk chair. The more he talks about the events, the more outraged he becomes. “We have always lived in harmony with nature,” he says. “We don’t hunt animals and we don’t even eat their meat.” Thanks to the Maasai, there are still wild animals in Loliondo, he emphasizes. “And now people are being killed so the Arabs can come and kill animals? It’s unimaginable.”
During the doctor’s speech, Partalala keeps looking at the hills on the horizon. “It’s not just my body that suffers,” he says after a while, holding his injured leg. “My livelihood and my family are in danger. I don’t know where my children are, my cows can’t graze here. The police continue to occupy the land we inherited from our ancestors. If we don’t get it back, we’re going to die.”
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