Our land our nature

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

In the district of Ngorongoro, Maasai communities face a constant threat of eviction from their ancestral land in favor of the expansion of protected areas, dedicated to safari tourism and the super-elite big game. Forced immigration is nothing new to the Maasai. During the 1950s, the British administrators who had power in this African area forced the tribe into exile from the Serengeti Park in Ngorongoro to ensure that flora and fauna could grow freely, giving rise to the more famous National Park. Now history could repeat itself: in this case it seems that the desire to increase tourism revenues is the motivation of local politicians. The government of Tanzania has proposed a redevelopment plan for the Ngorongoro areas which, according to some activists, could lead to the displacement of 80,000 Maasai. Although their traditional lifestyle was based on raising cattle, today the Maasai also need to practice agriculture. They lead the cattle from one pasture to another, to give the grass a chance to grow back; once, these movements were guaranteed by a system of collective land ownership, which gave everyone the opportunity to share access to water and pastures. Now, they are also losing the only permitted alternative, livestock farming, as the land dedicated to grazing is becoming increasingly scarce while communities, which demographically are growing, are grouped in increasingly limited areas. The Masai thus find themselves confined to the most arid and sterile areas of the Country. The interference of the authorities is aimed at changing their system of community access to land with the excuse of giving more space to the protection of fauna, but in reality the goal is to intensify elite tourism. Today the natives are reduced to misery. Handmade huts are the only refuge of this ancient and proud people who traditionally follow a life of their own, with their own rules, and which have a strong bond with their ancestral land. An ecological question has therefore become a humanitarian question. Is it fair that more and more tourists visit the National Parks, while the natives are pushed to the margins in conditions of extreme poverty? (text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga).