Land Is Our Life

For the Maasai, land is literally life. As indigenous pastoralists, their entire livelihood depends on herding livestock (cattle, goats and sheep). They move their livestock from one area to the next, following annual patterns of rain and greener pastures. It is a system that has evolved for centuries in harmony with the African savanna. Their livestock provide the meat, milk and income that families depend on. Without adequate land and pastures, livestock do not survive and the health of families decline dramatically as a result. No land really means no life.

The Land Is Our Life project aims to protect traditional uses and management of land. It intends to educate and mobilize Maasai residents of Longido District, Tanzania in order to have their voices and interests heard in the face of many recent changes to land use and governance.

(For quick access to the Land Is Our Life fundraising campaign page, click here)

The Challenge:

In the past, Longido communities managed land relatively autonomously via traditional systems and village authorities. These self-reliant systems are now changing due to international pressures related to wildlife conservation and global tourism. Recently, major changes in how land is managed and used have been pushed ahead by government authorities, international NGOs and big tourism businesses.

The recent reforms that are of most concern in Longido are called Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). WMAs now encompass the whole of Longido District, where Sauti Moja Tanzania is based. A WMA is effectively a new conservation area, designated for the protection of wildlife on the one hand and to expand tourism on the other. Effectively, it means new boundaries and restrictions on how the Maasai have always used, and effectively managed, their land. In Longido, the Enduimet WMA has already started and another, the Lake Natron WMA, is expected to become operational very soon.

Wildlife Management Areas offer some opportunity for communities. They promise to share tourism revenue. Historically, tourism revenue has been mostly retained by the central government and, of course, foreign tourism companies. Rural communities have often been left feeling exploited by what they perceive as a repressive government and greedy tourism industry. Consequently, many rural communities are eager to join WMAs, hoping to finally benefit from a global tourism industry that has often disregarded them.

Beyond this economic opportunity though, WMAs simultaneously pose much risk to the land security of rural communities. Rural communities are often being displaced by WMAs, losing access to ancestral lands and jeopardizing household economies.  What Sauti Moja has witnessed elsewhere in Tanzania is that the interests of big tourism companies and international conservation organizations get favored over the needs of local communities. Traditional systems of conservation, land management and use are displaced as a result. Local communities have often been pushed aside. In fact, displacement is happening in most WMAs in Tanzania. Too often, big business interests trump local community interests.

On a hopeful note, the WMAs are governed, at least to some degree, by elected community representatives. Informed representation at this level offers important ways for communities to participate, influence decision-making and hold WMA leaders to account.  In the past, the Maasai have often been excluded from such political discussions and decision-making. WMAs, therefore, have created an important, unprecedented avenue for indigenous voices, for Maasai voices.

That is, of course, if people are equipped to participate…

Thus far, WMAs have been imposed  and rapidly pushed ahead without effective consultation and participation by the affected communities. As Sauti Moja Tanzania has watched WMAs unfold across Longido’s landscape, it has become clear that the average community member, and even most local leaders, know little about them. They know little about how they are meant to function, how they can be influenced and the threat they can represent to their land security and traditional way of life.

This is a situation that can lead to exploitation and land dispossession. Indeed, many critics believe that WMAs are merely a new tool to benefit tourism investors and central government authorities while evicting communities from their land. Essentially, communities are convinced to join WMAs via the promises of big tourism profits while ominous forces begin to concurrently erode their land rights. This is not always the case. For example, due to strong leaders in some WMAs, like Enduimet, community interests have maintained priority. But, in many cases across Tanzania, displacement and dispossession seems to be what is most commonly unfolding.

Thus far, no one is helping communities confront this threat. Many big NGOs have been offering funds to strengthen WMA management and protect wildlife. These are all important matters, but what’s missing is essential support to equip communities to effectively participate in WMA governance. No one is ensuring that community voices are well heard. Ultimately, throughout Tanzania, communities are often getting left aside, marginalizing them from the matters that most affect them.

As  a community-based organization led by Maasai leaders and with long-standing relationships with Longido communities, Sauti Moja Tanzania wants to change all this…

DSC_0824Residents of Enduimet WMA, discussing the opportunities and challenges of the WMA

What can be done?

WMAs are here to stay. If they are to be successful, a balance must be found between the various interests involved. Wildlife must be conserved. Tourism revenues should be generated and fairly shared. But, within all this, the land rights of local communities must be protected. Local communities are the custodians of these lands. They always have been. There’s abundant wildlife in these lands because communities have preserved them. Their custodianship must be respected and restored.

The aim of Land Is Our Life project is to empower local communities. We believe that the best way forward relies on a well-equipped community that understands the recent land reforms, understands the policies that underpin them, makes their voices heard and holds respective leaders to account. It’s a matter of strengthening, what some call, “active citizenship”.

Sauti Moja Tanzania has been piloting a project to achieve this for over a year now. Lots has been learned. An evaluation in August by researchers from University College Utrecht (Netherlands) confirmed the project’s achievements: community members have begun to understand the WMA’s protocols and institutions; they’ve begun generating critical discussions in their community; and they’ve begun raising their voices. Word has spread. Communities across Longido are now requesting a similar project in their own villages.

The Land Is Our Life project aims to build on the lessons learned from this experience. We want to meet the growing requests from Longido communities. The funding for the pilot project ended in August. Now, we want to ramp up the project again. It has become one of Sauti Moja’s priorities in Longido.

DSC_0015Project Leader, Oshumu Shuaka, educating and mobilizing women in Longido, Northern Tanzania

What are we doing?

It starts by getting information into the hands of the people through workshops and discussion groups. This is the first step of the plan: educate people about WMAs, their policies, decision making structures and the avenues that are available to influence decision-making. Sauti Moja Tanzania wants to see a well-informed community and the emergence of strong leaders that will champion land rights.

It also requires broader community discussions that make government and WMA leaders more accountable to community needs and interests. This is the second part of the project plan: create and facilitate public forums where voices are heard, discussions are sparked, transparency fostered and ultimately, leaders pressured to ensure that the community’s interests reach key decision-makers. Whenever new maps are drawn, new boundaries made and new land use rules created, the communities’ needs and interests must be well integrated and reflected.

Finally, it requires mobilizing a critical mass to participate in WMA-related meetings and other relevant government meetings. There needs to be champions for land rights at every stage and place.

We believe that, through all of this, the land policies, which comprise WMAs, can be made from the “bottom-up”…

What can you do?

Join the Land Is Our Life campaign. Learn. Share. Give.

Education. Mobilization. Political change. It costs money. We need financial support to move forward with educating, training and mobilizing communities. We need compensation for a project leader in Longido. A Maasai from Longido, Oshumu Shuaka, has been championing this cause with Sauti Moja Tanzania for a few years now. We want to get behind him and support his vision of empowered communities. We also need allowances for a team of community facilitators and educators. We need fuel in our truck to get out to rural communities. We need money for transport to get to relevant government meetings in urban centers. We need supplies to run community meetings. Venues for public forms. These are basic things. Not extravagant. But, they do cost. By giving what you can, you are showing solidarity with Longido communities and building an important alliance for Maasai land rights.

If you would like to help us continue this work, click on the donate button below!

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