Maasai evictions

September 13, 2022

From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Franklin Dmitryev

The Tanzanian state is evicting thousands of Maasai, an Indigenous people in Kenya and Tanzania with a semi-nomadic pastoralist way of life based on their land and cattle, to make a game preserve for United Arab Emirates royalty. UAE’s Otterlo Business Corporation is calling for the “clearance” of 70,000 Maasai and about 200,000 livestock from Loliondo.

Maasai protests have been suppressed. They have been shot at, beaten, teargassed, arrested. Hundreds have been wounded. Livestock have been shot, and hundreds of cattle have been seized and held for ransom by police forces. Hundreds of homesteads have been burned. Thousands of Maasai were driven across the border to Kenya. Kenyan Maasai have shown great solidarity.

The East African Court of Justice issued an injunction in 2018 to halt the evictions, but has repeatedly postponed a final ruling while ignoring the government’s flagrant violations.

The government has labeled Maasai using their traditional lands “illegal immigrants” and, along with some international conservation agencies, blamed their population growth for environmental degradation. In reality, scientific research has shown that Indigenous peoples have in general protected environments more effectively than any government, NGO or conservation agency.

Today’s evictions, echoed globally, continue colonial practices. In 1959, the British evicted the Maasai from the Serengeti, which is now Tanzania’s premier national park. Many of them were pushed to the land from which they are now being pushed. One of the aims of capitalist colonialism was to break down traditional ways of life so that the “inferior races” would be forced into wage labor. Destruction of Indigenous cultures is a form of genocide.

Since the 1990s more than 70% of ancestral Maasai land was snatched for “conservation.” This has sparked a movement to restore traditional communal rights. Maasai women activists are seeking ways to resist the capitalist-colonial onslaught while attacking traditional patriarchal relations.

As in Tanzania, across the world Indigenous and other people are being thrown off the land and even killed in the name of capitalist “development” and/or “conservation.” Indigenous groups oppose the concept of conservation that prevails in settings like the Africa Protected Areas Congress and the UN’s “30 by 30” plan to “protect” 30% of land and sea areas.

Nature protection has almost always meant violently evicting people like the Maasai, ever since Yellowstone became the world’s first national park. Environmental protection must not be separated from solidarity with Indigenous peoples, decolonization and liberation, including women’s liberation.

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