One million against eviction of Maasai for royal hunters

Saturday August 18 2012

By PAUL REDFERN Special Correspondent, London

More than one million people are this week expected to have signed an international petition demanding that Tanzania’s government stop plans to force Maasai pastoralists off their traditional land, to allow game hunting by members of the UAE royal family.

An international campaign by the pressure group Avaaz saw over 400,000 people sign up to their petition in only one day, criticising plans to allow traditional lands to be used for hunting. Since then thousands more have signed up each day.

Although the Tanzanian government has denied the allegations saying that those who have signed the petition are being misled by an “unfounded and non-existent eviction claim,” Avaaz insisted in a statement that its information was correct.

“The Tanzanian government … plays cynical word games rather than addressing whether the government will commit to not evicting the Maasai from their land,” an Avaaz press statement said. 

“Rather than address the substance of the Avaaz campaign and the concerns of the Maasai, the government has tried to distract attention from those concerns by parsing distinctions between the Maasai lands at risk (in the Loliondo district) and the borders of the Serengeti plain and the National Park.

"They ignore the fact that Tanzanian government officials themselves, along with international experts, refer to the Maasai lands as within the Serengeti ecosystem. However the issue is whether the government will respond to calls from hundreds of thousands of people around the world to protect the land and livelihoods of its people over the hunting interests of foreign corporations.”

Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director at Avaaz, said: “If the government does not believe there is any threat to the Maasai lands, it should be easy for it to commit to a policy of not forcibly evicting any of its people to make way for foreign interests.”

Avaaz maintains that a big-game hunting corporation is set to sign a deal that will force up to 48,000 Maasai from their land “to make way for wealthy Middle Eastern kings and princes from the United Arab Emirates to hunt lions and leopards.

"The last time this same corporation pushed the Maasai off their land to make way for rich hunters, people were beaten by the police, their homes were burnt to a cinder and their livestock died of starvation,” Avaaz said.

“But when a press controversy followed, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete reversed course and returned the Maasai to their land.”

The Avaaz petition to the Tanzanian president reads: “As citizens from around the world, we call on you to oppose any attempt to evict Maasai from their traditional land or require them to relocate to make way for foreign hunters.

"We are counting on you to be a champion for your people and stop any attempt to change their land rights against their will.”