Lessons for States in relocation of Loliondo people


Loliondo division, in the Ngorongoro District of Northern Tanzania, has been in the news lately. There’s been a flurry of protest notes and statements released across media outlets. The content is amazing and continues.

Non-State institutions, particularly civil society, have moved with speed to draw international attention to the matter. The government of Tanzania was reported to be evicting the Maasai of Loliondo from 1,500 square kilometres, just about 370,000 acres, of their ancestral land in disregard of their rights.

This is aimed at making way for a game reserve within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is said to be part of a Unesco World Heritage site. Allegedly, an international investor is interested in developing safari tourism within the subject site.

On the other hand, the government decries the misrepresentation and asserts that this is not an eviction, but the voluntary relocation of the affected to Handeni in Tanga Region. Handeni district is about 600km to the South of Ngorongoro.

At Handeni, some 400,000-acre swathe of land has been reserved for the relocated households. Given the possessory rights that inform the relationship between man and land in most of Africa, this matter could escalate and therefore calls for careful management.

Importantly, it comes with land governance lessons for States within the region, and for prospective investors targeting investments on customary land for which the conventional investor-proprietor negotiation models do not apply.

Some of the Maasai in Loliondo are reported to have just crossed over to the Kenyan side.

Effective land governance impacts transboundary owing to the natural resources and communities spread across national boundaries. Governments, therefore, find themselves drawn into bilateral discussions to address spillover effects whenever issues relating to human settlements, pasture, migration of animals or environmental degradation emerge.

Where issues of large-scale investments in sectors such as agriculture, mining, forestry, infrastructure development or tourism as in Loliondo arise, governments and investors must recognise a wide range of applicable instruments and principles.

The instruments may be at global, regional or national levels. They spell obligations to human rights, respect for indigenous land rights and provide guidance on the management of relationships and negotiations with communities.

Expert pre-consultations will, therefore, be necessary to plan suitable engagement approaches to ensure right decisions and processes are in place for community sensitisation, participation, buy-in and support.

This helps to forestall likely community-investor or even community-government confrontations. While quite demanding, such pre-engagements often define the success or failure of such investments around Africa.

In the Loliondo case, non-State voices have been most responsible for the escalation of divergent messages. If they had adequate information, perhaps they would have engaged differently.