The East African Court of Justice has ordered the Tanzanian government to stop evicting Maasai pastoralists in Ngorongoro district, pending a decision of the main case filed at the regional court.
The court noted the four villages the pastoralists occupy — Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo and Arash — were all legally registered, but the Tanzania government re-mapped them in a bid to change their boundaries.
In August 2017, the government ordered the pastoralists to move their cattle out of the 1,500 square-kilometre Wildlife Conservation Area bordering Serengeti National Park. But the Arusha-based court has ordered Dar to stop arresting and prosecuting herders and destroying their homesteads or confiscating their livestock.
EACJ judges Monica Mugenyi, Faustin Ntezilyayo and Fakihi Jundu further restrained the Inspector General of Police from harassing the villagers in relation to their main case No. 10 of 2017, which the regional court is about to start hearing.
In their temporary application, the Maasai pastoralists were seeking interim orders of the EACJ against the IGP to desist from harassing, intimidating or otherwise engaging the villagers before the final decision on the main case is reached.
They also asked the court to serve Ngorongoro Officer Commanding District (OCD) with summons to explain the measures his office had taken regarding their main case as well as their temporary application.
Since May last year, the Maasai pastoralists have been allegedly harassed and intimidated. Their representatives were detained and seven members of the community summoned to police stations and asked to withdraw their signatures from both the main case and the temporary application.
The villagers said unless the government and its agents were restrained from such blatant intimidation, they would suffer irreparable damage, which would have the effect of abusing the court process in both the main and the temporary applications they filed at the EACJ.
The Ngorongoro OCD on May 29 allegedly summoned some members of village councils to a police station, interrogated them on the dispute and threatening to imprison them.
In their main application, the villagers, represented by counsel Donald Deya, Jebra Kambore and Nelson Ndeki, are seeking EACJ orders to permanently halt the evictions, arrests, prosecution and destruction of their property.
They are also seeking orders of restitution, reinstatement of the villagers and reparations. The Tanzania government was represented by Principal State Attorney Mark Mulwambo and State Attorney Abubaker Mrisha.
The Ngorongoro District Commissioner triggered the dispute by directing the Maasai pastoralists to vacate the land bordering the park on August 5, 2017.
The villagers resisted, saying unless procedures governing the transfer of land from one user to another were followed, the land still legally belonged to them.