Blood and Soil
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The Tanzanian government describes the transfer of ethnic Maasai people from their traditional homelands as “voluntary relocation.” The Maasai call it “eviction,” Le Monde reported. The truth is far more complicated, especially after the regional East African Court of Justice recently ruled that the government legally moved the semi-nomadic herders in the interests of protecting wildlife in Serengeti National Park.
In a recent decision, the court dismissed Maasai allegations that the government used violence to kick them off their land as part of a plan to conserve 580 square miles of the national reserve, reported Al Jazeera.
The Maasai failed to prove their claims that officials used violence and the destruction of their property, including the torching of their homes, five years ago to compel them to move, added Mongabay, an environmental news outlet.
Officials claimed their plan was justified based on the growth of the Indigenous people’s community and local ecosystems. The Maasai population has increased from 8,000 people around 60 years ago to more than 100,000 today. Their livestock population has grown from 260,000 five years ago to one million today.
The Maasai are planning to appeal. The court, said the community’s lawyers, did not technically give the government the right to evict the Maasai – and had accepted that the village is separate from national park land, Radio France Internationale wrote. The lawyers also argued that the court should have accepted testimony from a Kenyan surveyor which bolstered their case.
The government, meanwhile, continues to lease the land to a United Arab Emirates-based company that runs trophy hunting and elite tourism excursions. That isn’t quite the protection for wildlife that most environmentalists had imagined.
The court has set a dangerous precedent, said Fiore Longo of Survival International, a group that advocates for native communities around the globe. “The court has given a strong signal to the international community that evictions and human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples should be tolerated if they are done in the name of protecting nature,” Longo told Reuters.
Inhabiting the border regions between Tanzania and Kenya, as the Jerusalem Post reported, the Maasai still live mostly according to their traditions, wearing brightly-colored robes and eating raw meat and milk, for example, from their cows. But they have also embraced elements of modern life. The Maasai have opened social media accounts where they have generated viral videos of warriors eating pizza and launched online fundraising sites with the goal of creating businesses to generate income for their families.
Perhaps they will have better luck in the court of public opinion.