If one pays attention to the ongoing debate on the fate of the Maasai people from Ngorongoro that is going on in Tanzania right now, one will be amazed by the magnitude of falsehoods perverting the course of the whole discussion.
It is not surprising, then, to see the report containing the opinions of native people from Ngorongoro – and Sale and Loliondo, other contested territories – being titled the Truth, Falsity and Mismanagement.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, to see even lawmakers, many of whom seem to be so clueless about the subject at hand, become propagandists of the false and utterly distorted narrative that aims at getting the Maasai people out of their ancestral land.
One would assume that, given the fact that lawmakers are paid handsomely to ‘represent’ their people, they would at least use their research team – if they have one – to collect facts about the subject before taking it to the podium and calling for eviction.
Well, this is purely my wishful thinking!
But this does end with MPs. Sometimes I feel sorry for President Samia Suluhu Hassan for committing the same mistake. Whoever is feeding the Head of State the information about Ngorongoro must be serving a good dose of misinformation to her.
Samia’s statements about Ngorongoro expose her as someone who is 100 per cent misinformed about what is at stake and the implications her plan to evict thousands of Maasai people from the land of their ancestors would bring.
While the public ignorance about the issue at hand can be excused given the scant and twisted media coverage, what on earth can explain President Samia’s apparent failure to grasp the signs of the danger lying before her and which so far she seems so near to fall into?
I, for one, cannot answer this question.
It is almost stupefying, however, to consider the failure on the part of Tanzania’s ruling class to grasp the contents of the historic agreement entered between the indigenous people of Ngorongoro and the colonial government that paved the way for the co-existence in the conservation of human beings and wildlife.
I would earnestly urge President Samia not to tread on that path. It will taint a good legacy that she currently seems to be building. Evicting the Maasai people from Ngorongoro would spell a disaster for them.
I fear this will not end well with President Samia. I fear it will haunt her throughout her life and it will go down as her administration’s greatest mistake.
“Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow,” wrote the English poet John Dryden. “He who would search for pearls must dive below.” President Samia ought to dive below the surface to be able to come up with the truth about Ngorongoro.
And this brings me to another point. Our president would benefit more by embracing people who oppose her plans to evict the Maasai people from Ngorongoro. She is not supposed to isolate them or chide them in public. She needs, instead, to keep them closer and learn why they take such a position on the issue.
This is why it was so unfortunate to hear Madam President rebuking human rights activists recently for what she thought was a failure on their part to stand with the government and support its plan to evict the native people from Ngorongoro.
That was not only unwise of the Head of State but also dangerous. It would make many think twice before they share their opinions publicly on what is happening in Ngorongoro.
And I fear that Samia would be a loser when that happens. This is because she will have very few opportunities to learn and rectify her position on the matter.
It would be to everyone’s advantage, therefore, if President Samia assumes the title of a mother and take time to listen to all parties before taking a stance and trying to silence opposing voices.
And Samia is capable of doing that as her approach to resolving Tanzania’s political stalemate clearly shows.
Far from being the destroyer of the UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site, the Maasai people of Ngorongoro have been, for generations, its most committed custodians. And that has not changed.
As the report cited above on the opinions by native people on conservation shows, if there are any culprits in the ongoing destruction of Ngorongoro then it is the tourism companies.
Why are the facts hard to grasp?
Why this is so hard for our leaders to grasp is not for me to answer. Maybe, the Maasai people are thought to be not that educated and sophisticated to be able to identify factors ailing the world heritage site.
Or maybe they are but nobody wants to listen to them. But why should that be the case?
Animals are undoubtedly valuable. But as I said in my previous article here their preservation should never come at the expense of human lives. And in the case of Ngorongoro, there should not even be a choice of what to preserve between the native people and the wildlife.
The two, as many have pointed out, have co-existed for multiple generations and as far as I’m concerned I have never come across a scientific study with findings that the co-existence arrangement is at the wildlife’s disadvantage or, for that matter, the heritage site itself.
In a nutshell, President Samia gave many people hope when she assumed the presidency on March 19, 2021. Some of these people are the Maasai of Ngorongoro. These people need Samia’s love and compassion; not threat and intimidation.
And love for these people means their right to live in the land of their ancestors without being harassed by state organs; without being fearful that they would be deprived of basic social services; and without being constantly ridiculed and held in contempt by people who are supposed to care about them.
Ezekiel Ngitoria teaches economics at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He is a native of Ngorongoro. He can be reached via email@example.com or on Twitter as @maishatz. These are the writer’s opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.