Our recent legal action against Thomson Safaris is not only ERI's first foray into challenging the phenomenon of “conservation refugees,” it is also a case that has great personal meaning for me.
Ten years ago, before I went to law school, I traveled to a remote Northwest region of Tanzania near Serengeti National park to study the balance between conservation efforts and indigenous peoples. In the Loliondo Division, the low line where the blue sky meets the ground is broken only by the bright red shuka of a Maasai warrior. We were unmistakably in the heart of Tanzania. I turned on my local phone. First message: Welcome to the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s the OBC people. They have brought their cellphone towers here,” explained a local Maasai guide. The “OBC people” were big-game hunters from the UAE who had government permission to hunt on ancestral Maasai land—land that generations of Maasai relied on for sustenance. Permission was allegedly given without the consent of the Maasai themselves.
That was only the beginning. During my time there, I became familiar with the threats faced by the Maasai communities of SoitSambu, Monorosi and Sukenya were facing to their customary rights to use and occupy their traditional land. The irony: many of those threats came with words like “conservation” and “eco-tourism.”
According to the government of Tanzania, at least 40% of the land in Tanzania comes under some form of environmental protection. But few people realize that the world famous Serengeti National Park was established at a high cost: the eviction of the Maasai and their animals into the nearby Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the late 1950s. In the ensuing years, as increasing numbers of Westerners flock to Northwestern Tanzania on luxury safaris and tours, the Maasai herders have . . .