Dar es Salaam. President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday expressed disappointment over the decision by human rights activists in Tanzania to support the cause of the Maasai people to remain in Ngorongoro instead of supporting her government’s plan to ‘relocate’ them.
While speaking during the occasion to mark the ten-year anniversary of promoting and defending human rights and civic space by the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition (THRDC), Samia said her government works towards preserving the UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site, wondering why human rights defenders do not support it.
“When we go out to defend world heritage, the heritage that exists in Tanzania, like Ngorongoro, the government is committed to preserving that heritage,” Samia said. “But is it not your networks [of human rights defenders] that defend the people putting that heritage at risk? It is your networks by claiming that it is human about rights.”
President Samia made the statement in the context of other issues that she thinks human rights defenders in Tanzania ignore and which she thinks are important to be an attention to.
The Maasai people of Ngorongoro are fighting for their right to remain in their ancestral land as the government is trying to evict them, arguing that their continued existence there puts the UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage site at high risk of losing its status.
The government said on March 11, 2022, that it has designated an area in the Handeni district of the Tanga region where the Maasai people who will willingly agree to move from Ngorongoro will be provided with the land there for housing and animal feed.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said then that a total of 86 households, with over 453 people, have registered themselves, ready to move from Ngorongoro to Handeni. But activists faulted this, pointing out that the government had taken the names of people not living within the contested area.
This, however, did not stop the government from transferring projects funded by the COVID-19 recovery fund from Ngorongoro to Handeni. The government has ordered headmasters of schools located within Ngorongoro to transfer a total of Sh355,000,000 from their accounts to the account of the Handeni district.
In her address on Friday, President Samia wondered if human rights defenders in Tanzania have talked the Ngorongoro matter over amongst themselves and see what is more important between defending the Maasai’s rights to remain in Ngorongoro or supporting the plan of relocating them.
“What is more important between letting people continue to put our world heritage in danger or supporting the preservation of the heritage and those [Maasai] people relocated to a better place?” asked President Samia.
Samia commended THRDC for the works that it has been doing in Tanzania in the area of human rights and civic space, promising close collaboration with human rights defenders in furthering their cause in the country.
“Defending people’s fundamental rights is the duty of the government,” Samia said. “I, as a human being, totally support the entire concept of human rights. Let us work together in realizing this goal.”
In his remarks earlier, THRDC’s national coordinator Onesmo ole Ngurumwa asked if the government would help the network secure a plot where the organisation could build a permanent office.
“We want to have our own Watetezi House,” Ngurumwa said. Watetezi means defenders in Kiswahili. “We are wondering if the government could help us realize this goal.”