Dar es Salaam. Tanzanians on Twitter have had different reactions to President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s statement that human rights defenders should support the government’s plan to ‘relocate’ Maasai from Ngorongoro instead of helping the indigenous peoples movement to remain the UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site.
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 to prevent the site from destruction, 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.”
The statement was however received with different reactions from Tanzanians who use the social media platform Twitter, with some condemning it while others were supporting it.
Deus Valentine is the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Strategic Litigation (CSL), an NGO that promotes the rule of law and constitutionalism in East Africa, who thinks that President Samia’s statement has raised “a very important debate” about the presence of Maasai in Ngorongoro.
“Is it true that the Maasai that we have found living with the animals ever since are the ones responsible for the destruction of ‘the world heritage?’” he asked in a Twitter post. “We need a national dialogue [to discuss this question].”
David Moses, a human rights activist who has been very vocal against the plan of the government to ‘evict’ Maasai from Ngorongoro, said in a Twitter post: “This is another evidence that [President Samia] is an architect of Maasai eviction in Ngorongoro. She seems not pleased by those who defend Maasai rights in Ngorongoro.”
A lawyer and human rights activist Fatma Karume said President Samia’s remarks “are saddening beyond limit” while Maria Sarungi Tsehai, another human rights activist, said that the world heritage site of Ngorongoro is not threatened by Maasai but by the construction of hotels in the site.
Others however commended President Samia’s statement, pointing out that the statement introduces the Head of State as someone interested in wildlife conservation.
“Congratulations Madam [President],” wrote one Twitter user with the name Patrick Gayo. “You’ve been a leader in the conservation movement to make sure that our natural resources benefit all of us and not just a particular group of people.”
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.
On May 7, 2022, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called on the government of Tanzania to “immediately cease efforts to evict the Maasai people from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.”