The long-running land dispute which began some 20 years ago over the use of the grazing areas in the 4,000 sq km Game Controlled Area at Loliondo may be moving towards a resolution, following the announce­ment of a compromise plan by the government.

During the last few weeks there have been several new developments in the saga: The government first announced that Maasai herders were to be expelled so that the agreement between the government and promi­nent hunters in the United Arab Emirates, notably the Othello Business Corporation (OBC), would continue. The Maasai protested vigorously about this loss of their ancestral lands and gained strong support from campaigners and others in Tanzania and around the world.

Then in April the government announced a compromise solution, involving a division of the disputed area into two parts. Announcing the new policy to international media representatives, Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki was quoted in the Daily News as saying that the government had decided to allocate 2,500 sq kms of the Game Controlled Area to village communi­ties in Loliondo. The remaining 1,500 sq kms would be retained as the Game Controlled Area for a number of reasons, including protection of wildlife breeding areas and to allow a corridor for the iconic great migration of wildebeest. He said that the government made the deci­sion to parcel out the land to Maasai communities to support landless families in the area.

The Minister stressed that there would be no human activities which might destroy the environment in the 1,500 sq km piece of land. It was a malicious misrepresentation of facts for a section of people both in and outside the Loliondo Game Controlled Area to claim that the government was grabbing land from the local communities. This was not correct, the Minister said, since the people had been living in the area illegally because the 4,000 sq kms had been a national resource throughout history and the land had never been allocated to the Maasai communities under any government arrangement. The Minister noted further that the OBC had the rights to certain hunting blocks in the area, which they could use to generate income if they pleased. It is under­stood that OBC pays very heavy fees for its hunting licenses. Although OBC had a contract ending in 2018, the government could still revoke it if need be.

STOP PRESS: As this issue goes to the press there are reports that, fol­lowing a meeting in Arusha, thirteen civil and land rights organisations have strongly opposed the government plan, arguing that the entire Game Controlled Area is within legal village boundaries and that the plan therefore still represents a significant reduction in the villagers’ land. There are also concerns that the water catchments and good pas­ture are largely within the proposed Game Controlled Area and much of the land allocated to the communities is dry plains unsuitable for grazing.

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