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Tanzania Clarifies a Video of Spears-wielding Maasai in Loliondo as Tension Rises

PM Majaliwa insists that no fighting is taking place in Loliondo but social media is full of photos of injured Maasai people. 

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Dar es Salaam. The government said Friday that the video that shows a group of Maasai people from Loliondo pleading for compassion while brandishing traditional weapons like spears is not representative of what was happening on the ground and instead aimed at putting a spin on the authorities-led exercise.

In the viral video circulating online since Thursday afternoon, members of the Maasai community are seen keeping a vigil in what has been interpreted as an effort to block the government’s convoy from accessing land that critics claimed authorities wanted to make a conservation area by evicting its native people.

But Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa denied that to be the case, telling the parliament that the exercise aimed at erecting beacons in a multiple-use land so that human and livestock activities do not interfere with the wildebeest migration, wild animals’ reproduction and a source of water.

“[The video] is just a part of a strategy to construct a negative image about Tanzania,” Mr Majaliwa informed lawmakers dismissively. “There was not any fight. No police officer went to the village to threaten the villagers in any way.”

It was reported on Thursday that police were spotted in Wasso town in Loliondo division of Ngorongoro district, setting up a camp in the Oloosek area of Ololosokwan and in Sanjan sub-village of Malambo to enforce the erection of beacons to demarcate 1,500 km2 of village land that authorities want to be turned into a protected area.

But it was in the Ololosokwan village where native people gathered to protest the unexpected police presence, praying as well as wielding traditional weapons like spears and machetes. Mr Majaliwa, however, said the village is about eight kilometres away from where the beacon erection exercise was to take place.

“While we were passing with vehicles towards the forest, villagers from Ololosokwan, the nearest village among the 14 villages surrounding the area where beacons are to be erected, gathered and made a video to show that there was a fight in the area,” Mr Majaliwa said.

A microcosm of a larger tug-of-war

The latest development is a microcosm of a larger tug-of-war taking place within the Ngorongoro conservation area between the government and the indigenous people of the area.

The former aims at ‘relocating’ the latter to Handeni and Simanjiro, arguing that continued stay there threatens the UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site into extinction.

The native people, however, have denied involvement in the destruction of the conversation. They instead blame the reported destruction on the underregulated tourist activities in the conservation area.

This ‘eviction’ threat notwithstanding, Mr Majaliwa, who doubles as Ruangwa MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), said Friday that the beacon erection exercise in the area would not enable the eviction of any person native of Loliondo.

“These beacons aimed at showing pastoralists that if they want to water or feed their animals, they should not cross a particular line for that area is being used for wildebeest migration, wild animals reproduction and also serves as a source of water for the Maasai Mara River,” Mr Majaliwa explained.

But Anuradha Mittal, the Executive Director with the U.S.-based conservation think tank Oakland Institute, considers Thursday’s development as a signal that the government is determined to change the status of the Loliondo Game Controlled Area into a Game Reserve.

In a statement, Ms Mittal added that this determination would trigger mass evictions of Maasai living in legally registered villages within the area.

“Despite earlier pauses, the Tanzanian government is blindly moving ahead with plans to remove Maasai pastoralists out of their land to clear the way for trophy hunting,” she noted in a statement. “International mobilization on these developments is imperative to help stop this disastrous and illegal move.”

Tension rises

Despite Mr Majaliwa’s insistence that there is no fighting going on in Loliondo, tragic photos and videos circulated on social media on Friday, showing the Maasai people injured by what is believed to be live bullets.

Some videos showed Maasai people running from what appeared to be the firing of tear gas canisters, all of which have received condemnation from a number of actors, including Survival International, a global movement for tribal people.

Mr Majaliwa said that already the Ngorongoro district commissioner Raymond Mangwala has “summoned” a number of leaders from the Ololosokwan village, including councillors, village chairpersons and customary leaders.

Joseph Oleshangay, an activist, reported that a total of eight ward councillors, two women representatives and a CCM district chairperson were under detention in Ngorongoro.

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