The Tanzania government is considering seizing a tract of land in Loliondo Game Controlled Area from a United Arab Emirates royal hunting company, and transferring it to landless communities in the northern tourist circuit.
The move to take over the 4,000 sq km, natural resources rich Loliondo hunting block in Arusha from Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), is intended to address what has been described as a historical injustice that left the local Maasai landless, resulting in a 20-year conflict between them and the hunting firm.
The land was allocated to OBC in the mid 1990s under controversial circumstances involving senior government officials that came to be known as “Loliondogate.”
Lately, Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Khamis Kagasheki and Land and Settlement Minister Prof Anna Tibaijuka, have on different occasions engaged different players in Loliondo over the proposed land reform plan that would see the block revert to the local communities.
Addressing the Maasai community in Ngorongoro District Council hall in Loliondo town last week, Mr Kagasheki said the state planned to reduce the area under OBC and probably transfer it to the community to run as wildlife management area (WMA).
Mr Kagasheki wanted the community members to assure him they would protect the water catchment areas, wildlife breeding sites located within the area and wildebeest migration corridor.
But the Maasai leaders rejected the proposal, instead demanding the government change the game controlled area’s land use plan.
“We want the state to act in accordance with the Wildlife Act No 6 of 2009, which demands all the GCAs found in the village lands should cease from existing,” reads their written statement to the minister.
The leaders further demand that the OBC stop operating on their land without their consent as it has been doing for the past 21 years.
They also turned down a state plan to chop off 1,500 acres for a wildlife corridor, saying the area is the only pasture land for livestock, the livelihood of about 50,000 Maasai in Loliondo.
“If the government will continue chopping up our villages land for wildlife conservation and hunting block concessions, we will go to court to claim our alienated land, which created the Serengeti National park without our consent and compensation,” reads the document.
The letter containing the demands by the people of Ngorongoro was handed over to Mr Kagasheki, who has promised to give a government position on the matter soon.
The block, together with the Maasai pastoralists’ cultural aversion to eating game meat, make the area one of the most spectacular places in the world for watching wildlife.
But this has been far from an unmixed blessing: Under pressure from international conservationists, all people were evicted from the huge Serengeti National Park in 1959.
The colonial government made a deal with the Maasai living in the Eastern part of the National Park, giving them land further east in Ngorongoro Conservation Area — some also moved to Loliondo Game Controlled Area, where their interests would be paramount.
But instead the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) now reserves the right to decide where the Maasai can graze their cattle and to evict or relocate families that they don’t consider original inhabitants of the area.
Under the proposed reforms, OBC would see their GCA chopped down to a fraction; to be replaced by the introduction of community managed wildlife areas (WMAs).
Communities will be the biggest net winners as they are handed over more control of their lands but will have to compromise with the government for the scheme to work in the national as well as local interests.
Dr Gasper Mphongwa, a lecturer at Tumaini University in Moshi, said that in order to solve the longstanding land tenure conflict in Loliondo, the government needs to create a system where community, wildlife and investors can live together in harmony.