TANZANIA, Africa (eTN) – Grazing their cattle in the barren land of the wildlife-rich Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, the Maasai pastoralists are still living a desperate life after a prolonged drought spell that has hit most parts of northern Tanzania with more than 65,000 cattle in the district dead.
Rich in tourism, the Ngorongoro district is the home of the famous Ngorongoro Crater and Olduvai Gorge, the Cradle of mankind, a place where the skull of the oldest man was discovered by Dr. Louis Leakey and his wife Mary some 51 years ago.
Tourism is the leading business in the Ngorongoro district, mostly in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where the Maasai pastoralists graze their cattle, sharing pastures with wildlife, while running cultural tourism programs in their traditional homesteads or bomas where tourists pay courtesy visits and pay a token of a few dollars ranging between US$10 to US$30 per cultural entertainment by Maasai performers.
Ngorongoro district comprises three divisions, all occupied by pastoralists and wildlife. Loliondo and Sale divisions have been the center of land conflicts between the pastoralists, the government of Tanzania, and tourist companies operating in the area.
Three tourist companies are operating in wildlife-rich Loliondo division, the area which is totally isolated from other parts of Tanzania, without all weather road communication and news flow from the local media, except for mobile phone reception.
The district of Ngorongoro incorporates a significant part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem and is one of the few remaining areas in East Africa where Maasai are still able to pursue a traditional pastoralist lifestyle.
The annual wildebeest migration of the Serengeti also utilizes this area as grazing grounds during the wet season when calving and lactation take place. Shorter grass, lack of water, and very hostile volcanic ash soil make life among the Maasai very difficult and is one of the hardships facing pastoralists in northern Tanzania.
Over 70 percent of the Maasai people live below the poverty line, and 15 percent of their children do not survive past the age of 5.
Ngorongoro division, the third one, is fully under control of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) and pastoralists living here can breathe a sigh of relief as they share and enjoy tourist incomes from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.
Maasai pastoralists living inside the conservation area are getting support in social services and training on modern livestock keeping, along with profitable pastoralism through seminars, veterinary service,s and awareness campaigns focusing on better cattle-rearing practices.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been attracting thousands of conservative and non-educated Maasai people who are taking advantage of free social services offered by the conservation authority, because no kind of family business and land-use activities are allowed inside the conservation area except for sanctioned tourist businesses.
Only livestock keeping is allowed inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but a big number of conservative Maasai tribesmen have been hibernating in the area looking for cash from hundreds of tourists visiting the area each day.
But the chairman of the Ngorongoro Maasai Pastoralists Council, Mr. Metui ole-Shaudo, said the Maasai lifestyle has to change from the current situation in order to match with modern world. Most important is to educate this pastoralist community so that they may know better ways of livestock keeping for commercial benefits.
Mr. Ole-Shaudo, also a Maasai, said education to the Maasai people was the most needed tool to help them change from outdated means of livestock grazing to a more appropriate means, taking quality than quantity into account.
During a tour of the Ngorongoro district last year, Tanzanian President Mr. Jakaya Kikwete organized a study tour for a group of Maasai livestock herders to go to Uganda to learn better methods of caring for their cattle.
“I have discussed this with the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, and he has agreed to receive the Maasai community elders and take them around to see how their fellow Ankole nomadic pastoralists are doing it,” Kikwete told the Maasai herdsmen.
Pastoralists in Uganda used to suffer heavy losses due to drought, but now have learned from their mistakes and have adopted profitable ways of animal husbandry. Many of them are now well-off and others are extremely rich.
Poverty, ignorance, and the lack of knowledge of the modern world have been serious factors which affects the daily lives of the Maasai pastoralists, resulting in permanent conflicts between the government, tourist companies, and land developers.
Scramble for pastureland in the Loliondo division has attracted international human rights activists, journalists, and a section of campaigners for the minorities’ rights to visit this area to assess the situation.
The Tanzania government has decided to give villages in the Ngorongoro district the legal right to own the land, but under laws governing wildlife protection. In such a respect, village governments will get full rights to attract tourist investments and other businesses under stipulated legislations.
Villages to enjoy such benefits and legislations are those in the Loliondo and Sale divisions only. Those in the Ngorongoro division remain under full control of the 1959 laws, which established the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Mr. Ole-Shaudo is looking for more support from Non-Government Organizations in educating the Maasai through modern education, other than funding them to fight for their land rights and unnecessary conflicts with their Tanzanian government.