Tanzania’s Maasai relocation from ancestral lands shows elite tourism is still thriving

Skift grip

At a time when respecting local communities is more important than ever, Tanzania’s decisions with the Maasai seem beyond ignorance.

Harriet Akinyi

Tanzania’s eviction of Masaai families from their ancestral homes in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in a bid to create more space for safari tourism and trophy hunting, has sparked an international outcry over the inhumane treatment of its citizens, especially the government’s violent response to protests by Masaai herders.

Tanzanian authorities say the Masaai voluntarily agreed to leave the reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been their home for more than a century. But the government’s reasoning that the growing Maasai population is encroaching on wildlife simply exposes the true face of conservation in Africa and reveals that African nations still largely target wealthy and elite visitors.

“This violence we see in Tanzania is the reality of conservation in Africa and Asia – daily human rights abuses of indigenous and local communities so that the wealthy can hunt and go on safari,” said Fiore Longo, an agent research and advocacy. to Survival International, an organization that defends the interests of indigenous communities around the world.

“These abuses are systemic and part of the dominant model of conservation based on racism and colonialism. The theory is that humans – especially non-whites – in protected areas are a threat to the environment. But indigenous (communities) have lived there for generations. These territories are important nature conservation areas today precisely because the original inhabitants took such good care of their land and wildlife.

The government has set aside 400,000 areas of land for relocated Masaai households and unveiled plans to give each household up to 10 acres of land for grazing their herds and other agricultural needs. But the recent evictions, which are not the first in the Maasai’s home region of Loliondo, are also inappropriate, immoral and reprehensible in the eyes of Kenneth Vasquez Laya, director of Egypt Tourism USA and CEO of the travel company of luxury Vuitton Travel.

“From a tourist point of view, if you look at old maps, the area where (the reserves) Serengeti and Maasai Mara are located was known as Maasai land. This alone proves that they are the ancestors of the earth and lived in harmony with nature and wildlife,” said Vasquez Laya.

“Taking a century-old cultural breed of people who are nomadic, people of the land and who have historical value in this place and push them to make room for the 21st century greed that infuriates me.”

While Vasquez Laya sees the opportunity to meet Maasai people as an attraction for potential visitors to Tanzania, Judy Kepha-Gona, founder of the Kenyan company Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, believes that governments must involve local communities before to make any decision affecting their land.

“Tourism happens in places that communities call home. This means that communities are the co-creators of these experiences that are offered by tourism (organizations),” Kepha-Gona said.

“The resources they have protected and coexist with all their lives are what the tourism industry calls assets and attractions. So a destination like Tanzania must first and foremost ask itself what this tourism means for the communities before asking questions like how many tourists are we going to receive (here) or how much money are we going to ( generate) “.

Tourism officials believe that there are two types of tourists in Africa. One being elites that destinations are fighting to attract because of the money they are willing to spend on an experience. These visitors don’t care about conservation, but instead tend to focus on enjoying an experience, no matter the cost.

Then there are the sustainable tourists who are considered elite but also educated. They care about the environment and the people while having the money to support conservation. While the latter should be inclusive and promote equity and diversity, the truth is that in Africa, conservation-based tourism – primarily safari tourism – has long been associated with elite tourism. Indeed, historically, the history of safari tourism started with white people and was popularized by the movie Out of Africa, which helped boost the sector in countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

“The main character is white and for this reason our conservation tourism has been designed to cater to this market. A foreign white market. We don’t like to talk about it and be bold, but it’s a fact,” Kepha-Gona said.

“It is only after tourism has gone through a series of crises that we are now selling the places to domestic travellers. In places like the Masaai Mara where domestic travelers go, it’s the periphery of safari tourism and they (can’t) get to the best spots because they are the canned creme de la creme.”

Although these companies don’t say outright that they are aimed at a certain type of people, their prohibitive prices indicate that they are the preserve of the minority elite made up of a few residents, largely diplomats or international workers. .

“They have created a narrative that says they are involved in (the) protection of our biodiversity and our nature. And when you pay full price, you actually contribute to their good values,” Kepha-Gona said.

“While that’s true, there are plenty of others doing green washing and taking the opportunity to make money. Until we’re able to rationalize this, safari tourism in Africa will continue to be elitist.

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