Oakland, CA—On September 25, 2018, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) awarded a major victory to four Maasai villages fighting for their rights to their land in northern Tanzania. The case revolves around violent government-led evictions of Maasai villagers in Loliondo – which included burning their homes, arbitrary arrest, forced eviction from their villages, and confiscating their livestock – that took place in August 2017, as well as the ongoing harassment and arrest of villagers involved in the case by the Tanzanian police. The four villages named in the case are legally registered owners of their land.
The Court’s ruling grants an injunction that prohibits the Tanzanian government from evicting the Maasai communities from a vital 1,500km2 parcel of land. Furthermore, it prohibits the destruction of Maasai homesteads and the confiscation of livestock on said land, and bans the office of the Inspector General of Police from harassing and intimidating the plaintiffs, pending the full determination of their case. The injunction remains in effect until a ruling on the full case concerning the August 2017 evictions can be heard.
“In the result, having held as we have in this Ruling above, we do hereby allow the subsisting Application with the following Orders:
a. An interim order doth issue restraining the Respondent, and any persons or offices acting on his behalf, from evicting the Applicants’ residents from the disputed land, being the land comprised in the 1,500 sq km of land in the Wildlife Conservation Area bordering Serengeti National Park; destroying their homesteads or confiscating their livestock on that land, until the determination of Reference No. 10 of 2017.
b. An interim order doth issue against the Respondent, restraining the office of the Inspector General of Police from harassing or intimidating the Applicants in relation to Reference No. 10 of 2017 pending the determination thereof.
c. The costs hereof shall abide the outcome of the Reference. We direct that it be fixed for hearing forthwith.”
In their ruling, Justices Monica K. Mugenyi, Faustin Ntezilyayo, and Fakihi A. Jundu noted that the interim order and corresponding affidavit filed by the Maasai “paint[ed] a picture of widespread social upheaval in Ololosokwan village and an attempt to stifle village representatives’ and/or the affected persons’ access to justice.” They further ruled that the government’s argument that the evictions were in service of the protection of the local ecosystem “pales in the face of the social disruption and human suffering that would inevitably flow from the continued eviction of the Applicants’ residents.”
The Oakland Institute’s research has exposed internationally the ongoing plight and human rights violations of the Maasai villagers as their land rights are denied in the name of conservation and to the benefit of safari companies, such as Boston-based Thomson Safaris and the UAE-based Ortello Business Corporation, which runs hunting excursions for the Emirati royal family.
“The Court’s decision is a major win for the communities of Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash, particularly in light of the ongoing harassment and intimidation by the police and the recent wrongful arrests of local secondary school teacher Clinton Kairung and Belgian citizen Ingrid de Draeve, who was mistaken for a Swedish blogger who has written extensively on the issues facing the Maasai in the region,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.
“It is now vital for both the East African Court and the international community to ensure that the Tanzanian government abides by this ruling and immediately halts the harassment, intimidation, and violence it has waged against the villages involved in this case as well as the broader Maasai community in Loliondo. It is time for the Tanzanian government to stop colluding with game parks and safari companies and finally recognize the land rights of its Maasai population as well as their longstanding role as environmental stewards of the land,” she continued.
For more information on this case and larger issues regarding the Maasai’s struggles for their land and livelihoods in the region, please see Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that Was to Run Forever.