Loliondo evictions: bad for people, conservation and pastoralism

By Lucas Yamat and Pablo Manzano

Maasai people walking in a grassland
Maasai, Loliondo, Tanzania / Vince Smith / cc-by 2.0

On 7 June, a paramilitary group estimated to be around 700 people – mostly police, park rangers, military and other security forces – arrived in the Loliondo area of Ngorongoro, Tanzania. Violence followed, including the shooting and arrests of local residents protesting against the installation of beacons to demarcate a conservation area.  

The Government of Tanzania are proposing to relocate pastoralists out of the game control area, with the stated intention of conserving it. The decision is being made over the claims that the game control area is the main source of water for the Serengeti ecosystem. It is claimed to be at the threshold of ‘carrying capacity’, due to booming populations of people and livestock.

These discussions have created fears of eviction among Loliondo residents and remain a subject of much concern.

However, the threats and conflict are not new. They are part of a significant series of debates over land-based conflicts in Ngorongoro that have lasted for decades, dragging Tanzania into a national dilemma.

Background to the land disputes

Land disputes in the Ngorongoro district have a long history. On several occasions, the dispute has involved local communities, conservationists and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. Several efforts have been made to obtain a lasting solution, but they are yet to bear fruits.

Why is this the case? It seems there has not been a common ground to allow communities to discuss their decisions on land in order to achieve a win-win consensus and forge a long-lasting solution.

In the Loliondo area, the land dispute has now lasted for 30 years.

In 1992 the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) was given a hunting block in the Loliondo game control area. Since then, the residents have lived in constant fear of eviction from their land.

There have been repeated threats and attempts to evict people in the 1,500 km2 area, constituting a gross human rights violation. For instance, some people have had their homes set ablaze, people have lost their lives, livestock have been killed and other property has been destroyed.  

The latest phase of the land dispute emerged as the government began to demarcate 1,500 km2 of the game control area – a land bordering Serengeti national Park, where exclusive hunting activities take place. The area demarcated, however, is a part of the 4,000 km2 ‘village land’ that belongs to 14 villages.

The current crisis in the Ngorongoro points to an increasing tension between nature conservation and local livelihoods. While there is evidence that biodiversity and poverty eradication programmes can coexist and can provide a long-term strategy, this seems to be completely ignored in this case.

In too many places, national governments, private corporations and large conservation groups collude, in the name of conservation, not just to force indigenous groups off their land – but to force them out of existence.

What is happening now?

The arrival of the paramilitary group in Loliondo on 7 June sparked immediate unrest and public panic.

For some time, rumours had circulated that the government would deploy a military unit to demarcate the 1,500 km2. These rumours are borne out by some evidence. Earlier this year, in a session of the Tanzanian parliament, one parliamentarian advised the government to use military force, including tankers and bombs, to evict the Maasai of Ngorongoro division.

Despite submission of reports by the community to the government in May, the authorities are moving ahead to demarcate the long-contested area of 1,500 km2 of the Maasai ancestral lands that fall under the village land of Loliondo division, without the opportunity for local people to respond. When these community reports were submitted, the government (through the Prime Minister) assured these communities that it would consider their proposals and recommendations, to ensure that the interests of nature conservation and livelihoods are balanced.

On 9 June, more than 10 Maasai leaders were arrested and more than 30 men and women were wounded during violent clashes, as they protested against erection of beacons and eviction from their land to make way for a luxury game reserve.

On 17 June, the Maasai leaders and other community members who were arrested in Loliondo were maliciously charged with murder. The government announced the death of one police officer, but failed to mention civilians.

Several international agencies, including UN human rights experts, the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs and conservation agencies have already warned the Tanzania government about the ongoing clashes, and have requested the authorities to intervene, as well as stop the evictions as soon as possible. While it is evident that evictions are intended, the government has denied it was trying to evict anyone, and said it was trying to conserve the area.

In the meantime, on 22 June, the East African Court of Justice was due to issue a ruling on the case filed in 2017 by village councils on the same land. But this has now been postponed to September due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’.

Will evicting pastoralists help to conserve nature?

Evicting people isn’t the answer to conserving the environment. It should also be noted that wild ecosystems do not exist in isolation: people and nature can coexist. In some parts of Tanzania like the Tarangire ecosystem, around 60–80% of wildlife lives outside of national parks at any given time.

This means that denying pastoralists access to resources in order to create reserves will not offer a sustainable conservation model: wildlife have no boundaries. Even if wildlife exists in designated conservation areas, they will be affected by what happens outside of these areas, and the community can play a crucial role in conserving them.

The restriction of grazing within the 1,500 km2 is sure to affect the livelihoods of over 70,000 people in the Loliondo area, greatly disrupting local mobile pastoralism, which, as in many other areas worldwide, is highly productive. An eviction of pastoralists from their lands does not necessarily help biodiversity conservation. Rather, it will further fuel social conflicts within the local community, and lead to the emergence of new conservation challenges. More harmonious, longer-lasting solutions are important for people and nature to thrive together without generating gross human rights violations.

Finding alternatives

In too many places, national governments, private corporations and large conservation groups collude, in the name of conservation, not just to force indigenous groups off their land – but to force them out of existence. Pastoral evictions in other regions of the world are known to lead to further impoverishment of pastoral communities, while favoured groups benefit from conservation policies.

The government of Tanzania should not attempt a forceful eviction on favour of tourism and conservation over the Maasai. This will result into a violation of human rights and indigenous people’s land grabbing subsequently loss of livelihoods and extinction of the Maasai way of life.

Instead, more effort should be made to improve access to education and tackle poverty and unemployment if sound conservation policies are to be achieved.


What should the Tanzanian government do instead? If its rationale is to protect the environment, then it’s crucial to support communities that live with wildlife. This means six areas of action for the Tanzanian government:

  1. Abandon attempts for a forceful eviction in favour of tourism and conservation over the Maasai – this will result into a violation of human rights and indigenous people’s land grabbing, with subsequent losses of livelihoods and extinction of the Maasai way of life.
  2. Work with NGOs, conservationists and communities through intensive, open and inclusive dialogues to collectively envision a long-term plan for natural resource management and utilization in the Loliondo area.
  3. Promote pastoralism as a viable wildlife conservation model, rather than restricting pastoralists from access to water and pastures which are within the contested area of 1,500km2.
  4. Respect human rights and halt the ongoing forcible eviction of the affected Maasai community from their ancestral lands in the Loliondo Division.
  5. Urgently release the Maasai leaders who were arrested, and reopen the plan for the establishment of the Loliondo game control area with full consultation and participation of all stakeholders, including the affected members of the community.
  6. Consider community proposals and recommendations outlined in their reports, to ensure the interests of nature conservation and livelihoods are balanced.
  7. Put more effort to improve access to education and tackle poverty and unemployment if conflict is to be prevented, and sound development and conservation policies are to be achieved.

About the authors

Lucas Yamat is a Climate Change and Pastoralism Economist, with a wide experience on Tanzanian pastoral civil society, including conservation organizations. He is currently a Junior researcher with the Basque Centre for Climate Change – BC3 and a doctoral candidate at the University of the Basque Country. He is researching the sustainability of African land uses with focus on livestock, crops and wildlife economies.

Pablo Manzano is an Ikerbasque Research Fellow at the Basque Centre for Climate Change – BC3. With 10 years of Kenya-based research and practice experience, Manzano is a co-author of FAO’s ‘Making way. Developing national legal and policy frameworks for pastoral mobility’ and ‘The role of livestock in food security, poverty reduction and wealth creation in West Africa’, among several other publications on pastoralism and the environment.

Read more by the authors: Ngorongoro evictions a bad idea: people and nature can co-exist (The Elephant)