• Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Tanzania does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples, even though Tanzania is home to 125-130 different ethnic groups.
  • Peoples

    125-130 ethnic groups, falling mainly into the four categories of Bantu, Cushite, Nilo-Hamite and San, live in Tanzania.
  • Current state

    2015: New government in Tanzania elected. A few months after indigenous peoples found themselves the victims of government actions.
    2016-17: Evictions of indigenous peoples in Kilosa, Mvomero and Morogoro Vijijini districts.
  • Rights

    There is no specific national policy or legislation on indigenous peoples.

Indigenous World 2019: Tanzania

Tanzania is estimated to have a total between 125 – 130 ethnic groups, falling mainly into the four categories of Bantu, Cushite, Nilo-Hamite and San. While there may be more ethnic groups that identify themselves as indigenous peoples, the hunter-gatherer Akie and Hadzabe, and the pastoralist Barabaig and the Maasai have organised themselves and their struggles around the concept and movement of indigenous peoples.

Accurate figures are difficult to capture, as ethnic groups are not included in the population census; however, population estimates1 put the Maasai in Tanzania at 430,000, the Datoga group to which the Barabaig belong at 87,978, the Hadzabe at 1,0002 and the Akie at 5,268. While the livelihoods of these groups are diverse, they all share a strong attachment to the land, distinct identities, vulnerabilities and marginalisation. They also experience similar problems in relation to land tenure insecurity, poverty and inadequate political representation.

Tanzania voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 but does not recognise the existence of any indigenous peoples in the country and there is no specific national policy or legislation on indigenous peoples per se. On the contrary, a number of policies, strategies and programmes that do not reflect the interests of the indigenous peoples in terms of access to land and natural resources, basic social services and justice are continuously being developed, resulting in a deteriorating and increasingly hostile political environment for both pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.

Shrinking civil society space

Tanzania continued to witness decreasing freedom of expression and shrinking civil society space in 2018, negatively affecting the situation of indigenous peoples in the country. The implementation of different oppressive legislation and policies has made it difficult for indigenous peoples and human right activists to operate freely and they are facing an environment characterised by impunity. There are generally undue influences over political power in relation to the rule of law; impunity; a failure to take due action against the perpetrators of human rights violations and the enactment of draconian laws that limit and restrict peoples’ freedom and access to information and justice. These laws include the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015; the Statistics Act of 2015; the Media Services Act of 2016; the Access to Information Act of 2016; the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Contents) Regulations of 2018; and the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009. All of these have a number of provisions that limit and deny the public’s right to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

The shrinking space for civil society has facilitated increasing challenges related to land grabbing, land conflicts, violations of human rights, gender-based violence as well as food insecurity. Many land-related conflicts were reported in 2018 and a lack of land tenure security continues to be a major problem for indigenous peoples (pastoralists and hunter/gatherers) in many parts of Tanzania.

The Maasai pastoralists in Mabwegere village of Morogoro Region

One such conflict relates to Mabwegere village in Morogoro Region. Maasai pastoralists maintain that they inhabited the area now legally known as Mabwegere village, in Kilosa District, Morogoro Region, prior to 1956 and they therefore call it their ancestral land. The government allegedly set the Mabwegere area aside for pastoralists in 1966.

Mabwegere became a pastoralist village in 1989 and, on 5 January 1990, the village obtained a title deed for 99 years covering a total area of 10,234 hectares. The village was registered on 16 June 1999. Pastoralists, on the one hand, and farmers supported by the Kilosa District authorities, on the other, have had a very poor relationship in the area ever since. With the passage of time, the situation has turned from bad to worse, and politicians in Kilosa District have been making increasing efforts to flush out the pastoralists from Mabwegere village. Farmers (supported by local government authorities) have tried, time and again, to invade Mabwegere village to cultivate it. The Mabwegere Village Council consequently went to court in 2006 and, in 2012, the Tanzania Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Mabwegere Village Council and ordered that the boundaries should be respected.

Since 2012, the state has categorically refused to implement the ruling. In 2018, and as if the Court of Appeal ruling did not exist, the Minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlement declared that the government was going to redraw the boundary of Mabwegere village. This was reported by the Mwananchi newspaper on 2 October 2018.3

The situation of indigenous peoples in Loliondo, Arusha Region

In Loliondo, Ngorongoro District, court contempt is manifested to an even greater extent than elsewhere. Since 1992, Maasai pastoralists have been struggling against the forced occupation of their ancestral land by a wildlife hunting company known as the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) from the United Arab Emirates. Working together with the Tanzanian state apparatus, in particular the police force, it attacked pastoralists in 2009 in an attempt to evict them from the area. A similar brutal attack followed in 2013 and, in 2017, the most recent assault followed, including burning of Maasai settlements, torture, humiliation, harassment as well as arrests and prosecution of people.4

The government is now adamantly trying, despite fierce opposition from the community, to grab 1,500 sq. km. of land that forms part of the village lands. Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area have revealed their wishes to have the Maasai pushed out of said area such that it can be turned into yet another wildlife conservation area.5

In 2018, the Prime Minister ordered the establishment of a socalled special management authority to manage the disputed area. He reiterated that the authority would consider the interests of all parties, including the community and OBC.

In September 2017, the pastoralist villagers from Loliondo filed a legal case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). Apart from filing the principal court case, the villagers also applied for a court injunction to stop ongoing evictions, harassment, intimidation and any sort of intervention that might interfere with the peace and harmony of the region while the case was being determined.

In March 2018, the government filed a preliminary objection challenging the legal capacity of villages to sue the central government. The EACJ rejected the preliminary objection. By so doing, it set the path for the main case to proceed. The government’s second strategy to technically impair the court case was the allegation that the minutes used to file the court case were forged, and it thus charged the village chairpersons who took the lead in filing the court case.

Finally, however, on 25 September 2018, the EACJ ruled in favour of the villagers. The court ordered the respondents to stop the eviction and to stop harassing and intimidating the applicants. The court ordered a temporary injunction based on the facts and evidence presented before it, which restrained the government from carrying out any eviction until the main lawsuit had been determined. In December 2018, two human rights activists from Loliondo, namely Supuk Maoi and Clinton Kairung, were detained for several days without bail for an alleged offence of sedition.6 They were released but detained once again in January 2019. This is a continuation of the endless intimidation suffered by the pastoralists of Loliondo.

The Parakuyo pastoralists of Kambala village in Mvomero District

There have been serious and violent conflicts in Kambala village in Mvomero District. This pastoralist village was registered in 1975 and had its 99-year title issued in 1989 with a survey plan clearly showing the village boundaries.

The Kambala villagers, who are mainly pastoralists, have been anxious to live and cooperate with the surrounding farmers. This is due to both sides needing to comply with the required procedures and standards, in order to maintain peace and harmony. Kambala village has thus been directing farmers to apply for land-use permits so that they would be allowed to cultivate on areas which are not open livestock routes in order to avoid land-use conflicts. To ensure this is done, in its various General Assemblies Kambala village passed resolutions to terminate all the permits that were issued prior to this decision, and informed the public, including farmers, that they should apply for new farming permits subject to conditions amenable to both farmers and pastoralists to ensure planning and sustainable land use.7 No farmer applied, and farmers have rejected the very existence of Kambala. The farmers have continuously, over the years, tried to invade Kambala village and grab the lands of the pastoralists.

Time and again, farmers have mobilised through gangs known as muano in the Kaguru language. Sometimes they seize cattle. When the animals’ owners show up they are forced to pay unlawful fines. Some other times, the muano mobs sell off the animals for slaughter.

In revenge, pastoralists mobilise in what often turn out to be fatal clashes. Over the decades, the conflict has claimed dozens of lives. People have been wounded. Houses have been set on fire. Livestock has been killed and stolen. Tensions raged throughout 2017. On 5 February 2018, muano invaded Kambala village once more, setting fire to three bomas8 of Maasai pastoralists. Miraculously no life was lost in the attack. An anonymous source notes that no one has been arrested in connection with this.

The situation of indigenous peoples in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) was established in 1959 and covers an area of 8,292 sq. km. It is a multiple land-use area with the purposes of: (1) conserving its natural resources, (2) promoting tourism, and (3) safeguarding and promoting the interests of the Maasai. However, the NCA authority (NCAA) disregards the obligation to “safeguard and promote the interests of the Maasai”. The Maasai and their livestock are increasingly restricted from accessing vital areas and, in 2018, the Maasai’s livestock were banned from entering three vital craters, namely Ngorongoro Crater, Olmoti and Embakaai and Lake Ndutu Basin, as well as the highlands. The ban has far-reaching implications for pastoralism in the area.

There is a fear that the government is planning major evictions of the Maasai pastoralists from Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In a recent article published in the Jamhuri newspaper, the Ngorongoro Conservator seems to confirm just that: that the government wants to overhaul the NCA’s legal set-up.9 Should this happen, the pastoralists will face dire consequences. The development of the revised General Management Plan (GMP), which was being forced through in 2018 in an unparticipatory manner, seems to have been halted. Four handpicked but supposedly community representatives were dismissed from the process in the very initial stages. So far, the GMP is allegedly waiting for a new Ngorongoro Conservation Area law. It is unclear if and when the law will be enacted. What is clear is that the indigenous resident community is simply being ignored.

Expansion of protected areas

Tanzania has allocated some 34% of its territory to 16 national parks – and these are continuously being expanded. The national parks have been created through the violent and forceful eviction of pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and others. The victims of this national park creation in Tanzania receive no compensation.

The expansion of national parks continued to be a serious problem in 2018 for indigenous communities who live around the edges of these in Tanzania. The Serengeti National Park, which is already the size of Belgium, continued to try to shift its boundaries in districts such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarime (Gibaso village is the largest victim of this expansion, which is costing the innocent lives of pastoralists) in order to further enlarge the park. Villages in Bunda District (Serengeti, Nyatwali and Tamau villages, in particular) in 2018 battled the expansion, allegedly meant to allow wildlife to reach Lake Victoria.

Threat of dispossession in Hai District for expansion of Kilimanjaro International Airport

Another serious land-induced conflict is taking place in Hai District, Kilimanjaro Region. It is between seven villages of mainly Maasai pastoralists, on the one hand (Sanya Station, Chemka, Mtakuja, Majengo, Samaria, Malula and Maroroni villages), and Kilimanjaro Airport, on the other.

The Maasai have been in the area since before recorded memory. The government neither sought nor received the free, prior and informed consent10 of the Maasai pastoralists to construct the airport on their ancestral land in the 1970s. The Maasai resisted the land grab – and managed to limit the fenced-off area allocated for the airport to 460 hectares.11

However, in the mid-1980s, the Ministry of Land Affairs arbitrarily set aside 110 sq. km. surrounding the airport in the name of development. This has been the source of many conflicts ever since. In 2018, the police arrested around 20 herdsmen for grazing livestock in a forest that was ironically planted by the community on its ancestral land. Intimidating patrols on the part of the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) staff have also been witnessed in the area. In the meantime, the General Secretary of the Ministry of Livestock Affairs visited the area. He said that he wanted to hear about the land-induced conflict from the pastoralists so that the government could act on it.

Final eviction of the Barabaig in Vilima Vitatu

On 13 September 2018, the 18 bomas belonging to Barabaig pastoralists of Maramboi in Vilimavitatu village, Babati District, were burnt to the ground. It was alleged that the Babati District Commissioner had ordered the burning to contain the spread of an outbreak of anthrax disease in that area. However, the government were in fact forcibly evicting the 18 families from the land to make way for a tourist company called UN Lodge en Afrique Ltd., which operates a tourist facility in the Burunge Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

These forced evictions took place despite the fact that the victims of the attack had won legal case number 77 of 2012 (Halmashauri ya Kijiji cha Vilima Vitatu na Jumuuiya ya Hifadhi ya Wanyamapori-Burunge vs Udaghwenga Bayay and 16 Others) at Tanzania’s Court of Appeal. Nearly 300 pastoralists, including the elderly and young children, have been rendered homeless. So far, they have not received any assistance from any party.

On 15 January 2019, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania spoke against expropriation of land in the name of wildlife preservation at the expense of pastoralists. He instructed the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism to stop the arbitrary planting of boundary demarcation beacons, which are sparking conflicts with villages. This is a ray of hope at the end of a long dark tunnel of human rights violations. However, this hope is only tentative, given the fact that local government elections are scheduled for the end of 2019, to be followed by general elections in 2020.

Notes and References:

  1. See answers.com/Maasai; www.answers.com/Datoga; www.answers.com/Hadza.
  2. Other sources estimate the Hadzabe at between 1,000 – 1,500 See, for instance, Madsen, Andrew, 2000: The Hadzabe of Tanzania. Land and Human Rights for a Hunter-Gatherer Community. Copenhagen: IWGIA.
  3. See IPP media, “Migogoro ya ardhi kutumbua vigogo” at http://bit.ly/2IBtEep
  4. See IWGIA Urgent Alert August 2017 “Forced evictions of Maasai people in Loliondo, Tanzania”
  5. See Conservation Watch, “KfW comments on its support to the Serengeti Ecosystem Development and Conservation Project, Tanzania” at http://bit.ly/2INgGu6
  6. See IPP media, “Arusha police admit case of mistaken identity in arrest of Belgian” at http://bit.ly/2IC6JQj
  7. See a letter from the Kambala Village Chairman to the District Commissioner dated 3 December 2000; minutes of Kambala Village General Assembly dated 18 December 2000 as well as the District Commissioner’s letter dated 24 October
  8. Bomas are homesteads each containing multiple houses
  9. See Gazeti la Jamhuri, “Ngorongoro: Haijapata kutokea” at http://bit.ly/2ID2QL4
  10. Article 19 of UNDRIP requires States “to consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous people concerned through their own representatives’ institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislat.ive or administrative measures that may affect ”
  11. The size of the fenced area was supplied by Mattijs Smith, pers. comm. 27 November 2014. At the time of the interview, Smith was KADCO Managing Director.

Edward Porokwa is a lawyer and advocate at the High Court of Tanzania. He is currently Executive Director of Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum (PINGOs Forum), an umbrella organization for pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law (LLB Hon) from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from ESAMI/Maastricht School of Management. He has 15 years’ experience of working with indigenous peoples’ organizations in the areas of human rights advocacy, policy analysis, constitutional issues and climate change.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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