Most people could not have failed to notice the recent story of 40,000 Maasai in danger of being evicted from their ancestral lands – to make room for a luxury camp, managed by a safari and game-hunting company based in Dubai. Any sort of ‘cleansing’ is shocking, but this is not a huge internecine conflict and it's not the first time the Maasai have been threatened with this. It is also not the first time there has been conflict involving Maasai lands. All over Kenya and Tanzania there are constant discussions about balancing the merits of traditional pastoral grazing and the potential benefits from tourism.
In the Masai Mara, tourists who stay in conservancies benefit both the wildlife (by their limited numbers) and local stakeholders (who get a proper share of the pie). However, this proposed development has nothing to do with tourism. A vast tract of land bordering the Serengeti National Park would be annexed by the Tanzanian government so guests can ‘enjoy’ the game – likely not looking down the lens of a Canon but a firearm's telescopic sight.
Anyone who has even come close to paying their enrollment fees to the human race can see that there is utter moral clarity here: it is wrong, on countless levels. To appease the outraged Maasai, a compensation of around half a million dollars has been offered, to be channelled into so-called ‘socio economic development projects’. The Maasai have understandably dismissed this. Many of them say they've been intimidated for confronting this monstrosity, and allegedly some have been killed.
This story did the rounds a year or so ago, but a huge petition sent it scurrying off to the murky backwaters of East African politics. Sadly it only remained dormant, and has now raised its ugly head. UAE-based Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC) – the safari and game-hunting company in question – has operated in the area for twenty years. In the past their clients have apparently included Prince Andrew; I wonder how Prince William will feel about that next time he tells the world how jolly cross he and his acolytes are that endangered animals are still being shot for profit.
The plan seems to be a simple one: kick the Maasai out, fence it off, then fly in blood-thirsty guests who'll pay vast sums to shoot elephants, leopards, lions – and more. As for the Maasai, the Tanzanian government, as well as anyone associated with this move, clearly do not care. Imagine telling all of the inhabitants of Winchester or Canterbury just to up and leave.
Hunting is a desperately emotive subject. Whilst I find the idea of lining up the cross hairs on an innocent beast repulsive, it is sometimes a difficult argument. If an old elephant in a well-managed Conservancy is on its last set of teeth, it will die an agonising death by starvation. But if someone is prepared to pay $50,000 to shoot it and the money is properly apportioned, this argument becomes harder to sustain. This has nothing to do with this debate.
The government think nothing of using the colourful Maasai in all their seductive branding for their country, but are apparently happy to disenfranchise them on a whim underwritten by greed. Naturally, some spokespeople for their government have pleaded ignorance when asked to comment.
Julius Nyerere, the founder-President of Tanzania post-independence, lived like a common man – and I wonder what he would have felt about this. His successor needs to be informed of the utter revulsion you feel about this, so please click this link to the petition and sign it
. And don’t be quiet about it.
A few days ago, after some pressure, the President tweeted that he will not do this deal. TWEETED! 40,000 people are facing penury and he expects people to believe a tweet! This shows how seriously he takes this situation. Last time, he waited until the international uproar had died down before looking to fill his pockets again. Until the Maasai are guaranteed rights to their traditional lands, in writing, the future looks bleak. Sign the petition to Tanzania's president telling him to abandon the deal now and do it in writing so the world can see.