Tanzania reportedly selling Maasai homeland to Dubai royals for hunting

After a petition gathered nearly 2 million signatures, the Tanzania government appeared to back down on the sale of 1,500 km of Maasai land, but now the deal is back on.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  Nov. 18, 2014 at 11:45 AM
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LOLIONDO, Tanzania, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The Tanzanian government has reportedly told 40,000 Maasai they must leave their ancestral land to make way for a "wildlife corridor" where Dubai royals could hunt.

A deal struck last year would turn 1,500 square km bordering the Serengeti national park into a hunting ground for the Emirati-owned Ortello Business Corporation, a luxury safari company. Tanzania backed down after an international petition gathered nearly 2 million signatures, but the sale appears to be back on.

OBC has operated for more than 20 years, catering to royals in the United Arab Emirates and others, reportedly including the British Prince Andrew. Under the new deal, the "wildlife corridor" would officially be set aside for conservation purposes, but OBC clients would be free to hunt there.

The nomadic Maasai depend on the land for grazing livestock and say the purchase would rob them of their cultural heritage as well as the livelihoods of 80,000 people.

They have rejected an offer from the government of 1 billion shillings ($578,200) that would not be paid to them directly, but instead would be funneled into development projects.

"I feel betrayed," Samwel Nangiria, coordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group, told the Guardian. "One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It's inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There's nothing you can compare with it."

Nangiria says he believes the delay was merely an effort to avoid the international scrutiny that had built up around the deal, and that Tanzania always intended to go through with it.

"They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press," he said.

For the Maasai, the deal is reminiscent of their eviction from the Serengeti plains by the British in 1959. At the time, they were promised grazing rights elsewhere, but subsequent governments have reduced their grazing range by 40 percent.

Hunting and eco-tourism are big businesses in Tanzania, and as more room is made for the pursuits of the wealthy, the Maasai have been squeezed into increasingly smaller areas.

"The government uses our faces on tourism posters and brochures for Tanzania, yet President Kikwete has said that our way of life is a thing of the past and we should live in the modern world," Maasai elder Lekakui Kanduli told CNN last year. "But without our land and our traditions, what are we?"

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