There is unease in Ngorongoro, our government pretends not to know about it, and there could be real trouble if officialdom continues to bury its head in the sand.
For a number of weeks now, surveyors and other government officials have been at loggerheads with the Maasai community living in the world-famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area, demarcating areas and fixing beacons. The Maasai, who have lived on this land for centuries, think the government is up to some mischief and they are resisting what they suspect could be an attempt to evict them from what they call their ancestral habitat.
This story is not completely new, though the consequences could be more ominous this time round. More than a quarter-century ago, there was a lot of noise about hunting blocks which had been allocated to some Arab potentates, who had apparently secured the right to hunt and indiscriminately kill animals that were supposed to be protected.
I remember that the non-state media had a field day exposing the shenanigans that were going down at that time (the state-controlled media saw nothing, of course!) and the then one-party parliament seriously took the government to task, occasioning the dismissal of a couple of ministers in the Ali Hassan Mwinyi government.
A similar situation is being re-enacted, and this time around, reports point to the death of at least one policeman and the wounding of tens of Maasai herders.
It looks like a complicated, knotty situation. It involves the rights invoked by the Maasai to live where they have always lived; the desire on the part of the state to impose what it claims are protective measures for wildlife breeding and calving grounds; and the cross-boundary intermingling of the Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya.
As it is in any other situation of this nature, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between Kenyan Maasai and Tanzanian ones; wherever their cattle graze is their home and, over centuries, they have established cultural and spiritual liens that bind them together in age-group ceremonials that take no notice of the artificial European boundaries conjured in the 1880s.
In a way, these are the truest pan-Africanists who practise the theory of Africa being one. Last time I checked they were at our border with Zambia, and the cattle were facing southward.
There are so many issues intertwined in this continuing saga, and this goes way back some 30 years ago. The belief that the government has the right and power to do anything it pleases with the land, since all the land in the country is vested in the president, is one of the problems.
Another could be the feeling in some people’s minds that there is too much land and that we could convert some of it into some sort of collateral in exchange for what we call “development.”
And there might be a feeling that people like the Maasai are too backward in their lifestyles and that they are holding back “development.”
All these are issues that need serious thought, not the kneejerk responses we are treated to all too often. When it is reported that there is trouble, such as the case in consideration, the response by government is Hakuna Matata — everything is quiet — and this is mere fabrication.
Our people are now accustomed to governmental lies. Some individuals in government have been identified as chronic liars of such a magnitude that one has to wonder if the habit is taught in administrative colleges.
But in the midst of this new episode of the long continuing saga is the stance taken by the Speaker of the House, who waded into the controversy by adding her voice onto those saying “no wahala” in Ngorongoro, and suggesting that the “falsehoods” should be eradicated starting with those who put out the clips depicting the disturbances.
Now, that is a bit rich, even for an office that has long surrendered its independence because it is occupied by legislative personalities who would like to be part of the Executive. The current Speaker is no different than her predecessor who, in John Magufuli’s regime had so completely turned parliament into a department of government that all he did was wait for orders from State House for him to implement.
It now looks like we are not out of the woods yet, on this as in many other areas. The Speaker — erstwhile law professor, no less — sees the messenger as the problem, and would like to silence any message that says what she doesn’t like.
There is also nothing new in this, because it has been the stance of this parliament, for as long as anyone can remember, to encourage cover-ups and to discourage openness.
How we are going to come out of this debilitating ailment is hard to see, because we have lost much parliamentary clout by accepting a rubber-stamp talking shop instead of a proper parliament, and we are now all beholden to the presidency and everyone is begging the president to do this, do that and that other thing. It is nauseating.
If that is all we have for a parliament, a chamber of chorus singers instead of representatives of the people, are the huge amounts of money expended on its work ever justifiable?
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]