Tanzania: Maasai group looks likely to keep land

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2014 1:25 PM
Tanzania: Maasai group looks likely to keep land

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Maasai community near Tanzania's Serengeti National Park may be able to keep its traditional homeland after the country's president said on Twitter that the government would not take their land.

President Jakaya Kikwete said over the weekend that there never has been and never will be any government plan to evict the Maasai.

The advocacy group Avaaz has publicized the case of the Maasai land near the town of Loliondo, making it a global cause that mobilized more than 2.3 million people to sign an Internet petition. Avaaz says there has been a plan to evict 40,000 Maasai from Loliondo to allow a United Arab Emirates company to open a game-hunting business. Avaaz said the government evicted some Maasai communities in 2009 for such a purpose.

The land is close to Serengeti which is considered to be one of the world's natural treasures. The land, used by the Maasai for cattle-grazing, is a vast plain dotted with acacia trees and watering holes, where wildebeest and zebra gather in huge herds for annual migrations. More than 2 million animals migrate north from Serengeti into Kenya's adjacent Maasai Mara reserve every year.

The Tanzanian president's Twitter pledge is "a massive breakthrough," said Sam Barratt, an Avaaz official.

But a community leader, Samwell Nangire, said by telephone that he is still wary. He noted that Kikwete said on Twitter that there had never been a plan to evict the Maasai, and Nangire said that isn't true.

"He should have said we had the plan but we dropped the plan," Nangire said. "The plan was there for sure. But he said there was no plan. He should put in writing the commitment. That is what everyone is waiting for."

When the last debate about the Loliondo land broke out last year, the government said it would reclassify the land as a "wildlife corridor" that would have prevented the Maasai from living on it.