• 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 2020: Tanzania

Tanzania is estimated to have a total of 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, four groups have been organising themselves and their struggles around the concept and movement of Indigenous Peoples.

The four groups are the hunter-gatherer Akie and Hadzabe, and the pastoralist Barabaig and Maasai. Although accurate figures are hard to determine, since ethnic groups are not included in the population census, population estimates1 put the Maasai in Tanzania at 430,000, the Datoga group to which the Barabaig belongs 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, vulnerability 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 space for civil society

In 2019 the situation of Indigenous Peoples continued to be challenging given the general situation in Tanzania with decreased freedom of expression and a shrinking space for civil society. Two major human rights institutions: Amnesty International3 and Human Rights Watch4 jointly released their reports on Tanzania which documented a serious closure of civic space and freedom of expression as well as violations of human rights including disappearances and prosecution of journalists and different activists. The situation has resulted into reduced reporting on and exposure of human rights violations and reduced intervention by civil society on issues of human rights.

Climate change and land conflicts

2019 saw continued challenges of climate change, land grabbing, land conflicts, violations of human rights, gender-based violence as well as food insecurity observed in different parts of the Indigenous Peoples’ territories. The year 2019 was a year with reported drought in many areas in northern Tanzania resulting in conflicts between Indigenous Peoples and the conservation authorities in Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park and Ngorongro Conservation Area. From the end of October to the end of the year, heavy rain was reported in almost the whole country saving the livestock, which were exhausted by the drought. However, livestock diseases have been reported following these rains. In 2019, Indigenous Peoples’ civil society organisations organised themselves around the issue of climate change by empowering the communities and engaging the policy makers in different dialogues on laws and policies with a view to securing grazing rights for Indigenous Peoples.

The Simiyu climate resilience project

On 12 December 2018, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) signed a funding agreement with Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) (Germany’s development bank, a GCF Accredited Entity) for a climate resilience project aimed at making communities in northern Tanzania more resilient to water pressures caused by climate change. It is a five-year project with a total budget of €143.4 million.

The GCF grant amounts to €102.7 million. It is the largest single grant ever awarded by the GCF. The KfW will co-finance the project to the tune of over €26 million while the Government of Tanzania covers the balance. The project is designed in such a way that water will be extracted from Lake Victoria, pumped to Ngasamo Hill and then flow by gravity until Bariadi and Itilima districts. There will be a main pipeline, and along it, smaller outlets for 12 km on either side of the pipeline. Also, there will be a water distribution system in three towns including Bariadi and Lagangabilili. The water supply is only meant for drinking, it was not foreseen for irrigation purposes, cattle or anything else. According to the KfW project document, the project has the potential to substantially increase the climate resilience of rural and urban households, particularly small-scale farmers.

The project has two phases. In phase I, water will be made available in three districts namely Busega, Bariadi and Itilima in Simiyu Region. In phase II, the beneficiaries will be Maswa District and Meatu District in Simiyu Region. There are Indigenous Peoples living in Meatu District. These are the Datoga pastoralists and the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers who live in remote areas outside Mwanhuzi, the Meatu District headquarters. However, the pastoralists feel they will not benefit from the project and that they have been discriminated against because the project will not provide water for livestock, which is essential for the pastoralists. Although the marginalised Hadzabe hunter gatherers live just two kilometres from the project site, they will not benefit from it. So, the Indigenous Peoples’ rights-related issue in this project is not one of eviction from their ancestral land, but rather one of being denied much needed benefits of the project. According to PINGOs Forum, this goes against the GCF policy on Indigenous Peoples.

The Great Ruaha River issue as an emerging challenge to Indigenous Peoples

In December 1993 the Great Ruaha River running through the Usangu and Mbarali district stopped flowing for the first time in living memory. In 1995, this became a matter of national concern when electricity shortages in Dar es Salaam were blamed on the continuing drying up of the river, which again was partly blamed on pastoralists. In 2006-2007 the Government of Tanzania, expelled pastoralists and their cattle from Usangu and Mbarali Districts, large parts of which were to be incorporated in an expanded Ruaha National Park.

In 2019 the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, launched a special taskforce to rescue the Great Ruaha River ecology from rampant environmental degradation and drying up. A few months later the Vice President launched a report with the findings of the taskforce. However, the launching was ceremonial as the report was never made available to the public. During a fact-finding mission undertaken by the Indigenous Peoples’ umbrella organization “PINGOs Forum” in mid-2019, the report was, however, leaked. The document, among other things, perpetuates the propaganda against Indigenous Peoples and pastoralists claiming they are a threat to the conservation of the Great Ruaha River.5 Given the growing challenges that the Great Ruaha River is facing, the government has announced it will preserve the Ruaha River catchment at any cost including by further evicting Indigenous Peoples from the area.

Tanzania cancels SAGCOT loan from the World Bank

In December 2018, the Tanzanian Government cancelled a project that was to avail over 100 billion Tanzania Shillings in funding to smallholder farmers under the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). This is a huge agribusiness corridor project that was to be supported by the World Bank, and the cancellation follows the failure to agree with the World Bank on the modalities for doling out USD$47million in Matching Grant Funds.6 Furthermore, the Tanzania Government had come to an uneasy conclusion that the development objective of the project would not be achieved as intended.

In January 2019 the Deputy Minister for Agriculture stated that SAGCOT has reached out to many peasants in the corridor. It is still believed it will bring about an agricultural revolution in the country and the government is looking for serious partners for the SAGCOT investment project. It seems that the cancellation does not mean the government has ultimately shelved the project, and many of the well-placed officers in the SAGCOT establishment hope other development partners might fill the gap created by the departure of the World Bank. So even if the SAGCOT project remained shelved in 2019, it could very well be re-activated in the future – and all the many associated risks of land grabbing of Indigenous Peoples’ lands in the areas covered by SAGCOT could reemerge.

Suffering of Indigenous residents in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area worsens

Conservation and wildlife protection continued to be a major driver of land dispossession, forced evictions and human rights violations towards Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania in 2019. The year was a very hard one for the Maasai, Barabaig and Hadza hunter-gatherers living in the world famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Northern Tanzania. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), the state corporation responsible for the management of the area, has been expressing concerns of the deterioration of the NCA. The NCA is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a multiple land use area designated to promote the conservation of natural resources, safeguard the interests of the Indigenous residents and promote tourism. NCA is to be a unique protected area in the whole of Africa where conservation of natural resources is closely integrated with human development and the protection of the welfare of the Indigenous residents. However, over the years the NCAA has tried, time and again, to limit the rights of the Indigenous residents and to arrange for the departure of residents from NCA.7

From February 2019, the livestock of the Indigenous residents/ pastoralists were banned from entering the Ngorongoro Crater, Olmoti Valley, Embakaai Valley, Lake Ndutu, Masek Forest and Northern Forest Reserve. The livestock can now only enter 25% of the areas in the NCA and they are left with a very small portion of the total grazing area. The same small and poor area is also used by the wildlife. More than 200,000 livestock depend on this small area for grazing where also more than 2,000,000 wild animals live. This overdependence on a small area leads to shortage of pastures and water. Only the wild animals can move on to the Serengeti National Park when pastures and water become scarce – the pastoralists have to stay.8

Making grazing illegal and banning farming activities have caused many Indigenous people to remain very poor within the NCA. The reports of the National Bureau of Statistics of 2017 and that of the Ngorongoro Multiple Land Use Commission of 2019 have admitted that there is persistent and acute famine in the NCA. This is a paradox in a top-end tourist area that generates billions of Tanzania Shillings annually for the government of Tanzania. Moreover, there is a serious shortage of clean and safe water for human beings and animals in the NCA, while big hotels and tourist camps continued in 2019 to tap water from the water catchment areas in Ngorongoro.

In 2019, two important commissions were established by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism namely The Multiple Land Use Commission9 and the Law Reform Commission which both suggested eviction of the Maasai from nine villages within the NCA.10 The proposed eviction will force the Maasai and their livestock into very small and extremely marginal areas. This will seriously reduce the grazing areas and constrain the mobility of the pastoralists in the area and it will seriously impact the livelihood of Indigenous Peoples in Ngorongoro.

Civil society and the residents have tried to engage with the commissions but there has been limited willingness of the part of the commissions to accept these attempts of engagement and to share their recommendations. There have been initiatives by the civil society to support the residents in meeting the President of Tanzania and coordinate the communities, however, this has not yet brought any meaningful results.

Impacts of expansion of Tarangire National Park

In 2004 the Tarangire National Park, situated in northern Tanzania, started a process of defining its boundaries. As a result, the park was expanded from 2,600 km2 to 2,850 km2.11 This expansion of the park was a severe blow to various neighbouring villages inhabited by many pastoralists. Still today, villagers are very uncertain about the fate of their village land as they are crowded into a small area making it difficult to maintain their livelihood and adopt mechanisms for climate change resilience.

In 2019 a committee of seven  ministers  chaired  by  the  Minister for Lands Affairs using a helicopter hopped into Kimotorok Village (one of the neighbouring villages to the park) following the directives of the President, where it hastily listened to opinions of local authorities of Kimotorok village and some leaders of neighbouring villages like Irkiushiooibor. Throughout the year both Tarangire National Park and Mkungunero Game Reserve continued to attack Indigenous Peoples in Kimotorok village.

Land grabbing in the name of wildlife preservation

Throughout Tanzania, Indigenous Peoples have for many years suffered from land grabbing, forced evictions and associated human rights violations in the name of wildlife preservation. One example is the Vilima Vitatu Village, which is situated about 40 km north of the Babati District Headquarters in Manyara Region. The village is inhabited predominantly by Mbugwe agro-pastoralists and the minority Barabaig pastoralists. Vilima Vitatu Village is situated between the Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks. In 1999 a huge part of the village (64%) was annexed in order to create a wildlife management area called Burunge Wildlife Management Area.

The Barabaig pastoralists took the case to court, and on 15 March 2013 the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Barabaig pastoralists declaring that the Wildlife Management Area had been established without the free, prior and informed consent of the pastoralists in the village and the land should be returned promptly. However, the government evicted the Barabaig pastoralists from the village, burning down 44 of their houses and ordering them to leave the area. In September 2018 the Babati District Commissioner ordered eviction of the remaining families from the area and burned 23 homesteads. The Member of Parliament for Babati Rural and the Councillor of Ngaiti Ward provided tents for the homeless Barabaig pastoralists. However, game scouts moved in and burned the temporary shelters that were erected. In 2019, there have been unsuccessful attempts to inform the Vice President about the sufferings of the Barabaig pastoralists. Repeatedly, the wildlife preservation agencies from the Burunge Wildlife Management Area have impounded livestock and extorted fines from the pastoralists.

From 7-9 July 2019 the Babati District Commissioner ordered the eviction of Barabaig and Maasai pastoralists and fisher folks from Maramboi, Villima Vitatu and Minjingu Villages as well as from Jangwani area along the eastern shores of Lake Manyara. In total, over 300 houses of pastoralists and fisher folks were burnt to ashes. The attack rendered even more people, including women and children, homeless.

On 15 January 2019 the President of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli, issued a statement against land grabbing in the name of wildlife preservation in the country. He intimated that eviction of pastoralists should stop countrywide until there is a participatory resolution of boundaries between protected areas and pastoralist villages. This gave hope for Indigenous Peoples, however, up until the end of 2019 most of these conflicts remained unresolved.


Notes and references

  1. Data from com, searching for Maasai; Datoga; Hadza. https://www. answers.com/
  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. Amnesty International. Tanzania 2017/2018. Accessed 25 February 2020: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/
  4. Human Rights Watch. Tanzania – Events of 2018. Accessed 25 February 2020: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/tanzania-and- zanzibar
  5. “Restoration for Ruaha Basin AS VP Orders Removal of Invaders”. DailyNews, 20 May 2017: https://www.dailynews.co.tz/news/restoration-for-ruaha-basin-as- vp-orders-removal-of-invaders.aspx
  6. “Tanzania government cancels Sh100bn Sagcot scheme”. The Citizen, 17 May 2019: https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/Tanzania-government-cancels- Sh100bn-Sagcot-scheme/1840340-5119582-hwx1fuz/index.html
  7. UNESCO, World Heritage Convention. “The Ngorongoro Declaration: A major breakthrough for African World Heritage and sustainable development”. 6 June 2016: https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1506
  8. Parkipuny, S. (1991). Pastoralism, Conservation and Development in the Greater Serengeti Region, London: IIED.
  9. Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, “The Multiple Land Use Model of Ngorongoro Conservation Area: Achievements and Lessons Learnt, Challenges and Options for the Future”. Accessed 25 February 2020: https:// www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/pdfpreview/got- mlum-review-clean.pdf
  10. Gwandu, Abraham“Ngorongoro kugawanywa”. Rai, 26 September 2019: http://rai.co.tz/ngorongoro-kugawanywa/ 
  11. Tantravel Magazine. 4th Quarter 2010:43.


Edward Porokwa is a lawyer and an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania. He is currently the Executive Director of Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum (PINGOs Forum), an umbrella organisation 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’ organisations in the areas of human rights advocacy, policy analysis, constitutional issues and climate change


This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here



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

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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