Tanzania Evicting the Maasai “in violation of existing agreements”: Catholic Peace Entity

People from maasai tribe. Credit: Public Domain

The government of Tanzania has orchestrated the eviction of the Maasai from their ancestral land in a move that violates “existing agreements”, the leadership of the Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Director of DHPI, Johan Viljoen confirmed the existence of “treaties and agreements” that have given the Maasai the right to settle in the neighborhood of “a World Heritage site” and faulted the government of the East African nation for going as far as using “live ammunition” in the eviction process.

“In Tanzania, the Maasai live in the Ngorongoro district on the eastern edge of the Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage site, one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations. There are treaties and agreements and court orders with the previous government that have given them the right to their ancestral land”, Mr. Viljoen said during the Wednesday, June 29 interview.

Making reference to eye witness testimonies, the Director of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said there was a reported case of police brutality on defenseless Maasai who were attending a community meeting regarding their possible relocation.

He said, “What we hear from our sources on the ground is that on the 9th of June the army showed up in Maasai villages and shot people with live ammunition.”


“And what’s happening now is that the government of Tanzania is deploying the military to evict them off their lands, and this is being done in violation of existing agreements”, the Director of the SACBC’s peace entity that monitors the evolution of conflicts in a number of African countries told ACI Africa June 29.

“It’s a serious situation unfolding concerning the Maasai in Tanzania,” Mr. Viljoen went on to say, adding, in reference to the Maasai, “Many of them have fled to neighboring Kenya, and a number of their leaders have been arrested by the Tanzania security forces and remain in detention.”

In his considered view, the situation of the Maasai in the Ngorongoro area of Tanzania is a “litmus test for the land- and cultural rights of hundreds of indigenous communities across Africa being forcefully and violently driven off their ancestral lands to make way for hunting and safari operators.”

According to the official Maasai association, the Maasai in East Africa live in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania, occupying a total land area of 160,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 1.5 million people.

In the interview with ACI Africa, the DHPI leadership regretted the fact that despite calls from rights groups for the Tanzanian government to halt the ongoing evictions, the military were still attacking Maasai villages and killing their cattle in Ngorongoro district.

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“We have been informed that on the 24 of June, soldiers arrived in the middle of the night and evicted residents from Loliondo, demolished the homes and drove the Maasai with their cattle into a small distant area”, said Mr. Viljoen.

He added, “And on 27 June the military arrived at Arash, one of the eight villages in the demarcated 1500 square kilometer disputed land. After assaulting residents, they shot their cattle.”

“Globally the Maasai have iconic status; they are admired for their culture, for their way of life. They are basically pastoralist nomadic people and they've been living on both sides of the border, on the Kenyan side and on the Tanzanian side for decades”, the Director of the Catholic peace entity said.

At least 20 people have been reportedly arrested and many more injured. In a June 15 statement, the United Nations condemned the brutal attacks and forceful eviction of Maasai communities in Northern Tanzania.

In the June 29 interview with ACI Africa, Mr. Viljoen said the primary reason for the evictions is economic opportunity for a foreign business entity. 


He said, “Our sources on the ground told us that the Maasai are being driven off their land to give it to the Otterloo Business Corporation.”

“The President of Otterloo is Major General Mohammed Abdulrahim al Ali, the Deputy Minister of Defence of the United Arab Emirates”, Mr. Viljoen said, and added, “The company is going to use it for tourism development, probably for safaris.”

“It’s a developing situation and we are monitoring as it develops,” the Director of DHPI told ACI Africa during the June 29 interview.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.