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The Tanzanian government plans to kick 40,000 Maasai people off their ancestral land to make way for a luxury big game hunting reserve. A section of the famous Serengeti plains, which teems with lions, leopards, elephants, wildebeest, zebra and buffalo, is to be sold to a Dubai-based company, the Ortelo Business Corporation, for a commercial hunting ground.
The Tanzanian government has been forced to back down once before -- last year, after massive local and international opposition to the plan, Tanzania's president promised the Maasai they could stay on their lands. Now the government has made a sudden u-turn, and told them the deal is back on and they must leave their ancestral territory by the end of this year.
The Maasai have been fighting the commercialisation of their traditional lands for decades, battling greedy investors eyeing the area's extraordinary wildlife and trying to get hunting and tourism permits. The nomadic herders are furious at the news that this deal has come back to life.
“This is the worst kind of betrayal ever,” said Ole Kulinga, a Maasai elder and traditional leader. “This government’s promises are clearly worth nothing. They said our lands were safe -- the lands where the Maasai have lived and died for generations -- but now they are going to take them from us, and sell them to rich royals from overseas who want to come and slaughter animals. We will never accept this deal. Our land is not for sale.”
There is a lot of money riding on the Dubai deal. Local activists opposing the hunting reserve over the last two years have been threatened, and even killed. So international attention and pressure has a crucial part to play in exposing the Tanzanian government's betrayal and forcing it to keep its promises. Please stand with the Maasai people who could lose everything, and help them keep their homelands
They insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and directly or indirectly affect the livelihoods of 80,000 people. The area is crucial for grazing livestock on which the nomadic Masai depend.
Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of 1 billion shillings (£369,350), not to be paid directly but to be channelled into socio-economic development projects. The Masai have dismissed the offer.
Activists opposing the hunting reserve have been killed by police in the past two years, according to Nangiria, who says he has received threatening calls and text messages. “For me it is dangerous on a personal level. They said: ‘We discovered you are the mastermind, you want to stop the government using the land’. Another said: ‘You have decided to shorten your life. The hands of the government are too long. Put your family ahead of the Masai.’”