Dar es Salaam. A representative suit was filed at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) by members of the Ngorongoro Maasai community in an attempt to force the government of Tanzania to respect their right to property, right to life and livelihood and cultural and spiritual rights by abandoning its plan to “forcefully evict” them from their “ancestral land” of Ngorongoro.
A representative suit is a suit that is filed by one or more persons on behalf of themselves and others having the same interest in the suit. In this case, the suit was filed by Mr Thadeus Clamian, a Tanzanian national of Maasai origin.
The news of the suit comes at a time when authorities are determined to move the remaining people from Ngorongoro to the designated area of Msomera, a village within the district of Handeni, Tanga region.
The government says the exercise is a voluntary one and a family “relocating” to Msomera is paid compensation for the house that is being left; a three-bedroom modern house that has been constructed by the government; mattresses and other important domestic equipment.
As of June 9, 2022, about 293 households with 1,497 persons had already registered for the “voluntary relocation,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told the parliament on June 30, 2022, when moving a motion to postpone the parliamentary budget session.
But in the suit the native people of Ngorongoro have slammed the exercise as “forceful,” citing the lack of participation of the local communities as well as the transferring of development projects from Ngorongoro to Handeni.
In their suit against Tanzania’s Attorney General, the Maasai people explain that Ngorongoro is their “only home, seasonal and cyclic use for their livelihoods, cultural and spiritual purposes.”
They say their ancestors from time immemorial have used Ngorongoro to lead a pastoral way of life, using the available natural resources, taking care of their cattle and the area of land to practice a nomadic lifestyle, living in balance with nature “without breaching any of the provisions of environmental law.”
The government’s “relocation” exercise is based on the argument that increased human and pastoral activities within Ngorongoro risk destroying the UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site, seeing moving people from the land as the only way to prevent that from happening.
The government also says that the exercise will serve the best interests of the Maasai by ensuring that they no longer risk their own lives by living side-by-side with wild animals that conservationists have claimed of being responsible for a number of fatalities.
But the Maasai, in their EACJ suit, claim that these arguments fail to convince them to get out of the land that they have for centuries used to practice cultural and religious activities, including rites of passage ceremonies and communicate to their God.
Contested here is a land measuring 8,292 square kilometres, named the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), situated in the district of Ngorongoro, Arusha region, northern Tanzania.