Vol. 24, #5
May and June, 2009
Cultivation at Ngorongoro under threat,
The important news these days is the yet to be resolve issue of cultivation here at Ngorongoro. Our member of parliament held a meeting some time ago to announce that pressure from the UN and conservationists was moving the debate in the direction of forbidding all cultivation in the Conservation area. In fact, there are indications that the United Nations may remove Ngorongoro from the list of heritage sites because of the cultivation and other issues…heavy ammunition.
The Maasai are deeply troubled about the pending decision of Conservation to forbid the Maasai even their very small plots of corn and beans. The plots are small, under an acre, but provide food some way into the dry season. If the decision goes against people and all cultivation is outlawed, it will be very hard on the local Maasai people. They are collecting funds to hire a lawyer and send a delegation for protest to parliament in Dar es Salaam.
Our Christians from many of our Maasai Christian communities gathered and made a traditional pilgrimage to the cattle camp of Ashumu, a Maasai prophet. Ashumu is also one of our Christians. They camped there overnight (close to a thousand strong), praying and singing till dawn, asking the help of God in turning aside the threatened calamity of no more maize and bean plots.
Chris, a graduate student from Canada doing medical research at Endulen Hospital contributes the following,
In June of 2009, Maasai men and women assembled in at Endulen to share their concerns on the apparent will of the Tanzanian government to suppress the activity of small farming subsistence. The issue regarding small farms in Ngorongoro is a political one, and it stands to cause grave harm to the Maasai way of life. The problem, as stated at the assembly, was simple: the government believes that small farms are threatening the environmental integrity of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and hence, this practice should end.
The perception of environmental threat arose from the conclusion of a survey conducted by the government. It had been reported to the community, that a team by government sanction, had gone to Nainokanoka and conducted an assessment of human and livestock populations, and concluded a corresponding increase in the number of small farms throughout the Ngorongoro region. Because the government is dedicated to upholding the environmental integrity of this land, and because they viewed the expansion of farms, livestock, and people to pose a threat to environmental integrity, a plan had ostensibly been devised to end this subsistence practice and to subsequently encourage the Maasai people to leave Ngorongoro.
Some of the salient points discussed at the assembly included: where is the evidence that underpins the case of the government; who among the community shall represent the interests of the Maasai and present these to President Kikwete; strategies by which a legal case can be assembled and argued; and the moral duty of the government to respect and protect the human right for Maasai to practice their culture and to direct the fate of their own cultural identity.
The collective response of the community to the position of the government was: small farming is not expanding, livestock are not expanding, and food insecurity is a profound threat to the lives of all those who currently reside in Ngorongoro; the survey is flawed and its conclusions are entirely incorrect. Furthermore, doubts loomed as to whether the survey had ever occurred. Upon requests to study the data for themselves, actual survey data seemed to continuously elude such requests by the community, thereby warranting a challenge to its veracity.
As mentioned, food insecurity looms constant for the Maasai, and hence the paradox was articulated that the proliferation of small farms ought to correlate with a reduction in food insecurity. Clearly, this correlation is absent from Ngorongoro, and so, how is it possible to have an increase in both farming activity and food insecurity? In attempting to resolve this paradox, one suggestion was to consider that the survey never actually occurred. And, that this issue stems, not from President Kikwete, but rather from those within the community who seek to undermine the current political station of certain Maasai leaders. The suggestion went, that if people were forced to cease farming activities, thus exacerbating hunger, current political leaders would be faced with the intractable situation of breaking laws in order to feed the people they were elected to protect. Dissatisfied with the outcome, people may elect others into political leadership in hopes that food insecurity would be overcome through some alternative political plan. The suggestion then concluded by issuing a clarion call to those who would put the lives and welfare of their own people in harms way, only to effect some malicious political agenda; that they should, Go to Hell! Accordingly, one of the primary tasks at hand is to reveal the credibility of this rumor by simply asking President Kikwete if the survey was done, and hearing the answer from his own lips.
The need to organize a contingent to speak on behalf of the community was discussed. There was emphasis on including Maasai who have attained advanced education because this is fundamentally a legal matter requiring commanding knowledge of current and historical legislation. The legal aspect of this crisis was first articulated in 1959, when Maasai were pushed from the Serengeti to Ngorongoro with a promise of settlement and no further disruption to their community. Maasai would relocate to the highland, and to encourage their compliance, the government initiated efforts to locate and harness water supplies. By including educated people among the contingent to meet with President Kikwete, it was thought that these laws, promising Maasai the right to maintain their cultural identity as indigenous peoples, could be adduced.
Furthermore, if recent laws were invoked that should prevail those of 1959, then intense legal discussions should ensue and come to embody a spirit of the law that observes and respects the cannons of ethics. In so, the shape of new legislation would be dictated by the moral spirit it enshrines and be thus more in compliance with the laws of God. For it is only divine law that is immutable, and therefore, laws of man are subject to reflect the rights of the people and not the will of political agents who, afar from the land they seek to expropriate, are likely to never know the injury they may exact.
As for the alarming drop in indigenous species in Ngorongoro, iIaiguenak weighed in on this matter with great affect. Animals have been apart of the Maasai world since the beginnings of both animals and Maasai. It has always been that where Maasai have lived, so too have indigenous animals. It was observed that true declines in animal populations occur in places where the Maasai are not. Historically, the community, their livestock, and indigenous species have cohabitated without issue; but on the eve of increasing government interference, animals began to disappear. Therefore, it was asserted that it is the federal sphere of politics, bent on tightening its grip on land and people that has squeezed indigenous species from Ngorongoro. It was stated that a terrible irony has been cast, which reveals that intensified conservation, enacted by people and policies far removed from this area, has brought decimation to the local wildlife. Perhaps also, to the very people who have lived and thrived in harmony with this land and all its creatures.
Another important point was made with respect to building alliances between the Maasai and nation states that would bolster the efforts of Maasai to defend their cultural legacy. That this monumental crisis be brought to the global stage would be done so in recognition of the universality of Human Rights, and in recognition of those who would advocate for the Maasai cause.
Finally, the role of women in this assembly cannot be overstated. It was evident from the words and tone of delivery that Maasai woman have grown tremendously impatient with what many see as a lack of temerity on behalf of their political leadership. Perhaps by raising her voice, and speaking candidly on this matter, the collective voice of all Maasai will become resonant. The plea was simple: we gave birth to presidents, to lawyers, to leaders, and teachers. What more do you want from us? Because you are from us, we know that you are leaders that we can stand proudly behind. We want desperately to support you, so give us great cause to support you greatly. A closing note on the role played by women on this day and for this assembly is that women from throughout the conservation area were instrumental in contributing to the gathering of people for this meeting. Without the efforts of these women in raising community awareness about these concerns, as well as encouraging people to gather and attend this assembly, it very likely would not have gathered such momentum.
In the end, the attendees decided to elect a contingent to represent their interests with the government, and it would be comprised of traditional leaders, both men and women, and educated Maasai. Together, they would travel to Dar es Salaam and put forth their case to the President.
Till next month,