Book ID 572
Odhiambo, Nicodemus Maasai Up Against Arabs Destroying Their Environment, 2000 April 24
Extract Author: Nicodemus Odhiambo
Extract Date: 2000 April 24
Panafrican News Agency
A land dispute at the heart of which are environmental concerns is brewing in the northern Tanzanian region of Arusha.
Maasai Pastoralists who inhabit the region are up in arms against an Arab company licensed by the government to carry out hunting activities in the area.
Thirteen elders of the Maasai people have been in Dar es Salaam to press the government for action against Ortello Business Company of the United Arab Emirates.
They accuse the company of environmental degradation and plundering natural resources in the range land where their herds of cattle graze.
However, Arusha regional commissioner Daniel ole Njoolay has denied the furore raised by residents of three villages of Sambu, Oloosoito-Maaloni and Arash against the Arab firm. He says their claims of environment degradation may be politically-motivated. But the Maasai insist that they will not accept anything less than government intervention, according to Sandet ole Reya, spokesperson of the elders group.
Should the government fail to intervene, the Maasai will institute litigation against the state and the company, ole Reya said. The Tanzanian association of environmental journalists, JET, has strongly condemned the company and appealed to other national and international environmentalists to intervene in the dispute.
'JET is informed that there is haphazard killing of wild animals in the area by using remote sensing techniques at night,' JET chair Balinangwe Mwambungu has said in a statement.
Accusations raised by the Maasai, Mwambungu said, should be treated with authenticity because the group 'is not affiliated to any political party and, therefore, had no reason to lie to the world.'
Ortello was licensed in 1993 to carry out hunting activities and allocated hunting blocks in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area by the government of former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi.
At that time it was widely believed that corruption oiled the wheels of government to get the licence. The Maasai Pastoralists expressed their concern at that time, saying the land, being their common property, was allocated to the Arab company without their consent.
The company has over the years tried to placate the villagers by giving them what the Maasai elders have described as empty promises to improve local infrastructure.
Part of the unfulfilled promises include construction of schools and installation of other social amenities.
A more recent pledge the villagers anxiously await is the promise by Ortello's general manager, Ahmed Saaed, to sink 32 boreholes in order to alleviate water shortage in the semi-arid range land.
The company has built mosques in the area and had embarked on a campaign to convert the Maasai into Moslems, a move the villagers considered as despicable.
Standing their ground, the Maasai Pastoralists who usually move from place to place in search of pasture for their cattle herds, say they will not be placated easily this time.
'We cannot just sit and watch the Arabs take our land. If necessary, we will wipe out all animals in the area to keep the Arabs out of our land,' said ole Reya, explaining retaliatory actions his people were likely to take in case the government does not respond to their demands.
He also said that they could even migrate en masse across the border into neighbouring Kenya where the same people live on a pastoral economy.
According to the Maasai elders, the Arab company was constructing a three- kilometre airstrip in the game controlled area. They said the project would disturb wild animals during seasonal migration.
Ole Reya said that military cargo planes from the United Arab Emirates frequently landed at the unfinished airstrip without following international aviation rules.
In addition, ole Reya said, Ortello company was completing a mansion within the game area and a warehouse at the source of River Olosai to facilitate the carting off of massive amounts of trophy.
'This is truly land alienation and we are prepared not to let it pass,' ole Reya said, recalling the arrest of scores of villagers when 20,000 of them marched on the site to block construction of the mansion.
Ole Reya also alleges that an unnamed Arab prince, notoriously referred to as 'brigadier,' could be seen carting off live wild animals from the area to his country.
'This is despicable and shameful not only to Tanzanians but also to people all over the world who care for wildlife and the environment,' JET said.
The journalists' association has questioned the motive behind the construction of an airstrip in Loliondo and wondered why the government was not monitoring flights in and out of the area.
'We are concerned with the issue because Loliondo is an important wildlife dispersal area for migratory species from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya to the great Serengeti plains in Arusha region,' Mwambungu added.
Tanzania's minister for natural resources and tourism, Zakia Meghji, has said that the government would send experts to the area to determine the allegations.
She said the experts would conduct an environmental audit to ascertain whether the activities of Ortello company were jeorpadising wildlife.
Professional hunting in Tanzania has been on the rise since the country adopted liberal economic policies in the early 1990s.
Hunting blocks were set aside, rising from 47 in 1965 to 140 by 1997.
The Ortello saga is only the latest hoopla in a series of allegations concerning flaws in the granting of hunting licences and hunting blocks in Tanzania.
According to an environmental lawyers association here, issuance of presidential hunting licences had been constantly abused through corruption and nepotism in a manner likely to jeorpadise wildlife conservation in Tanzania.