Investors and Villagers as Allies against the State
In 1987, Dorobo Tours and Safaris (Dorobo Safaris), a relatively small travel company specializing in adventure tourism, including walking safaris in Tanzania, began bringing tourists to Loliondo. Before starting their safari business, the three expatriate Peterson brothers, who all studied ecology in college, had been involved in development projects in Tanzania. The two older brothers, David and Thad, had consulted for the Arusha Planning and Village Development Project in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The youngest brother, Mike, had worked on reforestation projects with the development agency of the Tanzanian Lutheran Diocese. Other than attending college in the United States, the three brothers grew up in Tanzania during the early years of independence (1960s and 1970s). Like many Tanzanians and expatriates during that time, they were taken with President Julius Nyerere and his vision for Ujamaa development based on an ideology of African communalism. Nyerere’s message, which resonated with that of the Lutheran Church in which the Petersons were raised, was to uplift all people but especially the poor.
Frustrated with government bureaucracy and the slow pace of the development industry, the brothers believed that they could better help Tanzanians by running a tourism business. They possessed an intimate knowledge of Tanzania’s wildlife and ecosystems, having traveled, camped, and hunted extensively with their missionary parents. With two old Land Rovers, they started Dorobo Safaris in 1983, named for the hunter-gatherer people collectively known as the Iltorobo, Ndorobo, or Dorobo. The Dorobo people exhibited a land ethic that appealed to the Petersons’ own curiosity about and awe for nature and natural settings in Tanzania. The Dorobo people were at home camping out under the stars and subsisting on tubers, fruits, and occasionally meat. Much as Nyerere saw villages as authentic representations of African culture, the Petersons saw the Dorobo people as embodying a primal, not pejoratively primitive, relationship to nature. “The fact that Dorobo is not one ethnic group but rather many unified by a common lifestyle, a lifestyle characterized by fitting in with and working as part of natural systems, was . . . a compelling reason [for choosing the name],” the Dorobo Safaris newsletter explained. “We hope in some small way [that] our name and philosophy of doing business has or will help some Dorobo folk to stand with dignity as Dorobo.”1 For the Petersons, Dorobo Safaris was not solely a money-making venture but also an investment in Tanzanian society and ecosystems.
Despite their interest in the Dorobo, the brothers worked largely with Maasai communities in the areas of the Simanjiro plains to the south of Arusha and the Loliondo plateau to the north. In the late 1980s, they worked with the Maasai in southern Maasailand to help them protect their lands from large-scale farming, which was taking hold in the area. The Petersons came to know many Maasai families and had both a scientific and a humanist appreciation for pastoralism and its compatibility with natural systems and wildlife habitat. One reason the brothers worked with the Maasai was because, unlike many hunter-gatherer groups, the Maasai lived in villages, with clearly defined membership, boundaries, and government-conferred land rights. These factors would turn out to be important elements for tourism partnerships. Legally incorporated villages with democratically elected village councils were ideal partners for the company in its mission to promote conservation of wildlife habitat and to sustain pastoralist and hunter-gatherer livelihoods.
In the early 1980s, when the Petersons started Dorobo Safaris, paying communities to protect their landscapes had not yet come into vogue as a conservation strategy.2 The brothers saw their business as a way to do what they loved, make a living, and get involved in conservation issues on the ground level. At the time, the Petersons also worked with international conservation agencies and rural communities to stop elephant poaching on the border of Tarangire National Park, another major tourist attraction on the “northern tourist circuit” of parks and conservation areas in Tanzania. They worked with an American supporter who provided funding for the project. Such initiatives showed the Petersons that they could draw on their positions as tour operators, their connections with community leaders, and their relationships with wealthy friends and clients to influence policy and ideas.
The founding of Dorobo Safaris in 1983 and its tours to Loliondo in the 1980s coincided with the country’s rapid transition from socialism (1964–85) to free-market or neoliberal capitalism (1985–present). The brothers were wary of reforms that called for the privatization of natural resources. They were, however, hopeful that market mechanisms could help recalibrate a national development agenda that in their eyes did little to help indigenous groups like the Maasai and the Dorobo and did not adequately protect nature and natural resources. Dorobo Safaris was part of a vanguard of investors who wanted to use markets to encourage conservation and sustainable land use. As a 1997 Dorobo Safaris newsletter explains, the company wanted to help protect wildlife-rich areas like those in Loliondo by helping to “transform” them into “a ‘modern’ economic resource option” that could “provide [indigenous people] a bridge allowing a dignified encounter with powerful forces which define today’s global culture and economy.”3
Direct Village Investment
In the early 1990s, the Petersons believed that paying communities to preserve critical rangelands for both livestock and wildlife would influence attitudes, behaviors, and interests in favor of valuing the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. In 1991, Dorobo Safaris formalized arrangements to bring tourists onto Maasai village lands, essentially creating a joint venture between the company and the village governments. After receiving tacit permission from the WD of the MNRT, the Petersons approached three Maasai village governments and proposed to pay the villages for exclusive access to their lands. Dorobo Safaris would pay an annual fee or rent of five thousand dollars and a bed-night fee of ten dollars per person per night to each of the three villages for exclusive use of village land for camping and walking safaris. “The exclusive clause,” explained the Petersons, “while controversial, is a critical project component from a marketing perspective. The ability to control tourist activity is essential in being able to guarantee a specific product that could be sold to prospective tourists i.e. an exclusive wilderness experience with an option of walking.”4
Under the agreement, villagers could continue using the 250-square-kilometer area adjacent to Serengeti National Park for seasonal grazing but promised not to build permanent structures or to allow agriculture in the designated tourism area. They also agreed to prohibit charcoal production, hunting, and live bird capture. These restrictions were primarily to deter external threats, as the Maasai did not typically engage in these activities. Dorobo Safaris would not build permanent structures or develop any infrastructure either, “other than access tracks and campsites.” The company would use temporary tent camps “that left little trace after each tour group finished.” Addressing a common concern among the Maasai that investors wanted to control their land in order to exploit other resources, like gemstones, the company clarified that its activities were “limited solely to those related to tourism and natural resource conservation.”5 The contract with each village was for five years, at which point the two parties would decide whether to renew, renegotiate, or cancel their agreement.
As foreign investors, the Petersons depended on the Tanzanian state for business licenses as well as residency permits for themselves and their families. Experimenting with new political economic arrangements carried risks. The Petersons had to find a way to pursue their interests while maintaining good relations with a variety of state and nonstate actors. As they wrote in their project summary paper, to succeed the company needed the WD’s approval together with the central government’s recognition of village property rights: “The official and legal basis for establishment of the projects was dependent on two primary conditions being met—approval and support from the Wildlife Division and the procurement by the concerned villages of legal title deeds for 99 years to their respective traditional areas.”6
Villages in Loliondo obtained title deeds in 1990 after a several-year-long project funded by the Arusha Catholic Diocese Development Office and the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy. Prior to this effort, village property rights were established under the national program of villagization. Notwithstanding the state resources spent on demarcating and establishing villages in the 1970s and 1980s, very few villages had official title deeds. In the 1980s, several development and conservation organizations believed that stronger and legally recognized titles could help the Maasai protect their land from external pressures, including large-scale agricultural schemes and settler immigration by peasant farmers. Elected district officials also hoped that the title deeds would mitigate border disputes with the neighboring agricultural Batemi people.
As of 1991, the Maasai had yet to apply their new legal standing to a real political context. As with all rights, their meaning and usefulness would not be known until tested. The Dorobo Safaris proposal to sign legal contracts with village governments rested largely on the villages being legal rights-bearing “owners” of village land. Having the titles reassured the village governments that the Maasai would retain all rights to land when they signed a tourism contract. Without acknowledging as much at the time, the Dorobo Safaris agreements effectively leased village land for tourism. This was a radical departure from how the Maasai had previously understood and related to their territory.
Skeptical observers might conclude that Dorobo Safaris took advantage of village leaders to gain access to a lucrative area for tourism. However, gaining the trust of village leaders and defending its approach to work directly with village governments to national government officials was not a simple affair. It took both creativity and risk. First, the company had to get permission from the WD. As discussed in chapter 3, at the time of the Dorobo Safaris agreements the WD had only recently taken control of trophy hunting throughout the country. It was reluctant to cede its authority over wildlife to nonhunting tourism. Nevertheless, WD officials were under pressure from foreign donors, specifically the USAID and the WWF, to pursue policies that incorporated rural people into conservation management.7 On April 30, 1991, the WD’s director of wildlife finally replied to Dorobo Safaris’ multiple contact attempts about its “proposal to establish village wildlife wilderness areas adjacent to the Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks.” The letter indicated support for the tour operator’s projects:
The venture you are about to engage in is in keeping with departmental policy objectives, i.e. enhancing the value of wildlife to the immediate local community through fees paid to the village councils. In due course the beneficiaries will appreciate the value of wildlife to them and therefore be responsive to and responsible for its conservation. Over time the villagers will engage in anti-poaching patrols and stop harassment of the game. Secondly, the country stands to gain through this expanded utilization of the environment and its teaming wildlife. . . . Please be informed that your intended operation has the support of the Department of Wildlife.8
The letter came just as national leaders and officials overseeing wildlife in Tanzania were beginning to address community participation in conservation (see chapter 3). The letter indicates that WD officials hoped that private-sector investment such as the Dorobo Safaris project would not only expand markets for wildlife but also acculturate local people to conservation, a process that served their own interests in promoting conservation as a Tanzanian value.
Even with the support of the WD, Dorobo Safaris still had to convince village leaders that the company’s business model had the interests of villagers in mind. The company needed to demonstrate that it was not allied with either international conservation organizations that were responsible for the creation and enforcement of Serengeti National Park and the NCA, nor was it the typical investor who made “deals” in the capital city of Dar es Salaam or in district headquarters.9 Approaching the villages as primary partners and recognizing village rights to resources went a long way in convincing Maasai leaders that Dorobo Safaris was a trustworthy partner.
The Maasai have entered into plenty of alliances in the past.10 Many Maasai leaders are well aware of the competing interests and agendas within such relationships. In 2003, I asked Thomas Lekuton, a Maasai political leader from Loliondo, about such partnerships. He told me that history mattered, pointing to the FZS as an example.11 This international NGO was intimately involved in funding and supporting the management of Serengeti National Park, and like many influential conservation organizations, the FZS was beginning to promote CBC projects. Lekuton said, “Frankfurt [FZS] took Serengeti from us. They moved us to the NCA. They give millions to national parks for cars and enforcement.” He explained that to work with the FZS now “just because they say they are interested in the community does not seem right.” History says that the FZS should not be trusted: “All work relies on faith. If people trust you or not will determine the outcome of the work,” Lekuton told me. “People might refuse our work simply because Frankfurt is involved.” He ended with a familiar metaphor: “If a lion enters a livestock pen, even if it has lost its teeth, cows will run.” In contrast to groups like the FZS, Lekuton said, “these tourism investors [like Dorobo Safaris] share many of our concerns.” Among these he listed preserving rangelands, generating income for local people, and defending Maasai land rights. Although the promise of the village tourism contracts and joint ventures were yet to be fully realized, Lekuton expressed his belief that they protected Maasai interests. This was significant in soliciting local support by many Maasai leaders for the village tourism projects and in creating the understanding of the village contracts as a useful political tactic.
The Loliondo Maasai have a history of challenging investment schemes and of skepticism toward investors who have aligned themselves with the state to exploit Maasai land and culture.12 But for many leaders in Loliondo, working directly with foreign investors of a different type, whom they perceive as partially unmoored from state interests and imperatives, presents interesting possibilities. Maasai leaders and activists in Loliondo have come to understand neoliberalism—specifically, their ability to negotiate directly with foreign investors—as an attractive option to overcoming long-standing and habitual resource appropriation by state institutions. Maasai leaders in Loliondo recognize the inherent contradictions of market-driven relationships with foreign investors. On one hand, they provide the possibility of recognition for Maasai land rights; on the other hand, they present a threat of enclosure and resource appropriation. Perhaps due to their limited room for maneuver, or maybe their genuine enthusiasm for these new joint ventures, a large number of Maasai leaders and citizens have embraced village-based tourism contracts despite such agreements’ uncertain and unfulfilled promises.
These village-based joint ventures are best explored in the context of CBC and the idea of the green economy in general as they have developed over the past three decades in Tanzania. In that milieu, the Maasai, investors, and the state are remaking spaces for safari tourism and conservation. This new spatiality of conservation in Loliondo rests on an articulation of the village as a rights-bearing entity (with clear geographic boundaries and legal standing), grounded in historical, culturally based territorial rights. Through this new understanding, the village has become a meaningful social and spatial unit of rights and belonging. Market tools and ideologies have generated new value and profit while also being used to defend land rights. The process has created new meanings of both market and society. The Maasai have come to understand the potential of the market and the possible benefits of their alliances with investors as a way to remake their social and political relationships with state institutions. This new discursive framing of market-led land-rights claims has come to centrally inform Maasai land struggles in Loliondo today.
Perhaps the biggest trend in global environmentalism in the 1990s, embraced by the public and private sectors alike, was the widespread belief that the best way to protect nature was to make it a more tangible commodity by more explicitly identifying its monetary value. Economists argued that people did not protect or sustainably manage their environment because they did not monetarily benefit from such practices. The answer to this problem was to use capitalist markets to create new values, or to more efficiently capture existing values, and to make them evident as part of a new global accounting of natural resources. The market approach was embraced by many quarters, including the private sector, international financial and development institutions, and the nonprofit sector. The idea that nature should be valued as a commodity that provides specific environmental goods and services has become a hegemonic idea in global conservation thinking and practice.13
Many important environmental institutions have adopted some form of market-based environmental policy. For example, the IUCN has encouraged using market incentives by promoting “payment for environmental services” programs. As economist Lucy Emerton, head of the IUCN’s Global Economics and the Environment Programme, describes it, “Payments for environmental services are something which we are increasingly using in conservation to give normal people incentives to save the environment.”14
Other market-based conservation approaches include initiatives such as the European Union sponsored Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity and the United Nations research initiative Towards a Green Economy.15 It is worth noting that the idea of using markets to promote conservation and sustainable resource management is not exclusive to the past few decades. Many scholars studying the history of conservation have shown how the protection of nature has been integral to the expansion of capitalism.16 Still, the market-oriented reforms applied in the late 1980s were a direct reaction to what was widely regarded as overbearing and inefficient state involvement in conservation planning and management. Critics of state-led development attacked government bureaucracies for disrupting market forces, creating perverse incentives, promoting bad policies, misallocating funds, and allowing environmental harms to go unchecked. The solution, these critics said, was to more closely link environmental conservation initiatives with market mechanisms to determine the appropriate value of nature and how to most effectively allocate these goods and services. This included many elements, but one central tenet was to clarify property rights over nature in order to better understand who owned what aspect of nature. Neoliberalization had delegitimated the state as a credible owner. By identifying owners, policy makers could create specific incentives and encourage the values and practices desired in a new global balance sheet for nature. “Neoliberal conservation, then,” writes Bram Büscher, “is the contemporary push to make environmental conservation not only compatible with capitalism but also a source for economic growth.”17
Making Wildlife a Commodity
In Tanzania, wildlife is the property of the state. Wherever wild animals roam, including on village lands, the central government is responsible for their management and for determining the most appropriate use of this “national-natural resource.” Both the colonial government and the independent Tanzanian state worked hard to transform wildlife from a common resource with important local-use values to a private commodity with an internationally recognized exchange value. Capturing the value of wildlife became essential for generating the all-important foreign exchange. Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, famously summarized Tanzania’s interest in protecting wildlife: “I personally am not very interested in animals. I do not want to spend my holidays watching crocodiles. Nevertheless, I am entirely in favor of their survival. I believe that after diamonds and sisal, wild animals will provide Tanganyika [Tanzania] with its greatest source of income. Thousands of Americans and Europeans have the strange urge to see these animals.”18
No matter the various political and economic ideas and systems in place (imperialism, colonialism, national socialism, neoliberalism), controlling wildlife in Tanzania has remained central to accumulating state wealth and maintaining authority. Neoliberal reforms starting in the late 1980s took hold in a context also shaped by concerns about the coercive history of centralized conservation.19 Policy makers, international donors and organizations, and a number of interested experts began searching for new approaches to conservation that combined poverty reduction, social justice concerns, and new ideas for the sustainable management of biodiversity.
This new approach includes actively incorporating local people into conservation, and it gained influence and legitimacy in the early 1990s. Schemes that embraced these goals went by various names, including integrated conservation and development projects, CBC, and community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). Successful practitioners of such projects sought to “make nature and natural products meaningful to rural communities.”20 And the main methodology for cultivating meaningful relationships between people and nature was “through markets.” The major goal behind these initiatives was to develop markets to deliver more benefits to more “stakeholders.”21 Project planners saw the concerns of social justice and livelihood security as following naturally from this profit-motive orientation. The belief that CBC was a way for communities to “regain control over natural resources for livelihood security and conservation” quickly became a lesser focus of most projects, which could more easily promote the benefits of a new source of income.22 In Tanzania, this meant leveraging safari tourism to fund CBC and CBNRM projects. Increasing overall tourism revenue, in part by creating new markets for community-based tourism, was central to fulfilling the promise of these efforts in Tanzania.
The emergence of CBC in the early 1990s in Tanzania occurred simultaneously with widespread support for and interest in market-led conservation. Funders like the USAID, international conservation organizations like the AWF and the WWF, and smaller NGOs like the SCF played important roles in fostering market-led approaches to conservation on community lands in Tanzania. While these groups needed to convince government agencies and leaders that devolving authority to local communities was ultimately in the best interests of the state, they also needed investors and communities to get on board with the idea that direct investment projects were the future of conservation in Tanzania. By the early 1990s, the USAID-funded CAMPFIRE project in Zimbabwe provided the primary model for CBC in African rural areas.23 CAMPFIRE encouraged government wildlife officials, many of them white Zimbabweans, to switch from centralized control of wildlife management and hunting to decentralized oversight in which communities participated in management decisions and benefited directly from hunting revenues. CAMPFIRE was praised as a way to overcome the legacies of colonial development by returning local rights and authority over land and natural resources. Project backers believed that local attitudes toward wildlife would change if communities themselves became stakeholders in wildlife management. This would in turn lead to the development of new institutions and to practices promoting conservation of communal land.
CAMPFIRE devolved partial authority over wildlife management to newly created district councils. In Zimbabwe, district councils were the most local unit of government. With new powers to direct wildlife use, district councils coordinated with “producer communities” regarding both the management of and the distribution of benefits from wildlife use. As discussed in chapter 2, the smallest unit of local government in Tanzania was the village, not the district. Devolving “appropriate authority” to villages involved a greater commitment to decentralized management. Eventually the question of scale would become central to all CBC stakeholders in Tanzania. For Dorobo Safaris, working directly with villages made the most sense, because as legal entities, villages held property rights and governmental authority. Villages could also enter into direct contracts with investors like Dorobo Safaris.
Critics of neoliberal conservation say that using markets to “free nature” does not protect ecosystems, livelihoods, or other collective benefits that might be difficult to monetize or that might not attract investment. Rather, markets primarily make nature available for capital accumulation and exploitation with scant regard for questions of equity, sustainability, or accountability. While they may be good at making new resources available for investment, they do not effectively value “many aspects of environmental transformation and degradation, particularly those that impact mainly the poor or the non-human.”24 Nature is intimately entangled with social life, and critics of neoliberal conservation fear that market discourses will dominate other values and interests. But when markets are used to free nature for capital, other forces can be set in motion too. In Tanzania, the hopes of many groups like the Maasai include attaching their own social and cultural agendas to the “freeing forces” of neoliberal globalization. In addition to investors and powerful elites, more marginalized social groups also hope that they might harness neoliberal forces to express their own agendas.25
Social groups like the Maasai may not share the same goals as some of their partners, either of saving nature for its own sake or for maximizing profit from nature. Perhaps, as some Maasai believe, their best chance to secure land rights for pastoralism will be achieved as an unintended consequence of the problematic quest for total market integration. David Harvey sees the ever-expanding logic of capital as part of a “spatial fix” through which “capitalism solves its contradictions merely by bringing them to higher levels and scales, or displacing them geographically and/or temporally.”26 The Maasai in Loliondo have tried to upend the logic of the spatial fix, displacing the diverse efforts to universalize the meaning of nature, and instead use the forces of capital to help reveal how nature is an unambiguously locally produced commodity. By demonstrating the central role of pastoralism in creating Tanzanian nature, the Maasai hope to support their rights both to use and to benefit from it.
The Maasai in Loliondo are likely to challenge the conclusions of scholars like James McCarthy, who argues that “reliance on market logics and mechanisms in a context of severe economic inequality guarantees [that] environmental inequities and injustices undermine the very categories of public goods and collective rights.”27 McCarthy’s overall argument is one that many political ecologists would agree with. Markets are not “inherently good or the (only) realistic option for policy making.”28 However, this academic position fails to account for the ways that market ideologies inform contemporary understandings about collective rights. In their efforts to “free nature” from state control, the Maasai are attempting to remake their landscapes. In the end, McCarthy’s warnings may yet come to pass. Questions of how the Maasai might achieve equity and justice by engaging directly with markets remain speculative.
The Petersons are clear that their safari business is not a philanthropic operation. They are passionate about what they believe is the inherent value of wilderness and see adventure travel as one of the best ways to introduce tourists to the beauty of Tanzania’s natural landscapes and to the complex relationship that people like the Dorobo and the Maasai have with their land. The brothers offer walking and camping safaris, and they arrange cultural encounters that introduce tourists to the ways that indigenous people interact with their land. In neighboring Kenya, a tourist can independently visit the parks and conservation areas by renting a vehicle or using the elaborate public transportation network. In contrast, when Dorobo Safaris began operating in the early 1980s, Tanzania presented many challenges to the independent traveler. There was little infrastructure for travelers. The roads were largely in disrepair or nonexistent, and there was limited public transport outside large cities and towns. Travelers who wanted to visit Tanzania off the main tourist circuit had very few options. A few tour operators began to fill a niche that the Tanzanian tourism sector was sorely missing. And Dorobo Safaris quickly developed a reputation as one of the leading adventure and ecotourism companies specializing in tourism outside core parks and protected areas in Tanzania.
The company was well aware that the area it favored for tourism overlapped with the Loliondo hunting blocks controlled by the WD. From the mid-1980s, Dorobo Safaris operated tours in the area without formal agreements with either local villages or central government authorities such as the WD; the company directors believed that they could conduct their walking and camping activities without interfering with trophy hunting. At that time, the government-managed TAWICO still controlled the hunting rights in Loliondo and concentrated its activities in locations to the north and the south of the area preferred by Dorobo Safaris. By concentrating their activities in these seldom-used areas, the Petersons believed they could help maximize the value of Loliondo’s landscape for both consumptive and nonconsumptive tourism. With private- and public-sector actors embracing the basic idea of CBC, the Petersons felt empowered to develop new tourism enterprises that generated revenue for local communities and, in their estimation, created real incentives for the Maasai in Loliondo to embrace conservation.
Despite the new room for maneuver created by the emergent discourse of CBC, Dorobo Safaris’ directors also understood that their efforts might ruffle some feathers in the central government, especially in the WD, which had exclusive control of all wildlife-related activities throughout the country. In part, Dorobo Safaris approached village governments directly because it was initially unable to gain official permission from the WD to conduct tourism on community lands. Only after Dorobo Safaris began its village joint ventures did the WD indicate some support for its efforts. The Petersons believed that the Maasai were better stewards of the environment than the state agencies entrusted with their management. With their in-depth understanding of pastoralism and range ecology, they were able to grasp a more nuanced view of nature, one that was produced in relation to Maasai livelihoods. They drew on former president Nyerere’s original vision for Ujamaa socialism, which considered the village the building block of Tanzanian society. They were also buoyed by a growing global consensus that indigenous people should be given more rights to land and natural resources. Principle 22 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states, “Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.”29
For the Petersons, the village was the logical site of the community in Tanzania. The Local Government Act of 1982 had enabled village governments “to manage village lands and to determine the uses and users therein.”30 The Petersons decided that contracts between Dorobo Safaris and village governments would link the international discourse of CBC and indigenous rights to a legitimate and state-recognized institution in Tanzania.
The village contracts gave exclusive use of a specified area to Dorobo Safaris and stipulated a number of land-use restrictions, including a ban on permanent settlements and agriculture and limitations on cattle grazing. Although these land-use restrictions echoed well-worn and controversial strategies of fashioning pastoral landscapes to conform to a specific conservation aesthetic, Maasai village leaders saw the village-based tourism contracts as a new way to mark their landscape as simultaneously valuable for tourism and pastoralism. In the tour operators’ eyes, recognition of Maasai land rights in accordance with international principles lent legitimacy to the village-based joint ventures. For the communities, the contracts represented recognition from relatively powerful transnational actors and became one tactic in a new arsenal to assert Maasai land rights.
Off the Beaten Path: Adventure Tourism in Loliondo
Dorobo Safaris specialized in organizing tourist safaris off the beaten path, primarily to southern and northern Maasailand. In Loliondo, the company was drawn to Soit Orgoss, an area of mixed savannah Acacia woodland dotted with mammoth rock kopjes. The kopjes provided a picturesque backdrop for campsites nestled between the massive rock formations. Close to the border with Serengeti National Park, the Soit Orgoss area teems with wildlife for much of the year. The Maasai use the region for grazing during dry seasons and times of prolonged droughts, but due to wildlife disease vectors, risks of predation, and cattle theft, they had few permanent settlements in the area.
In exchange for access to the Soit Orgoss area, Dorobo Safaris offered financial assistance to the three villages that shared rights to the area. Initially, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company helped pay to maintain village infrastructure including maintenance costs for village vehicles as well as providing scholarships for Maasai children in each village. Clients offered to help too, and the company directed some of this money into a fund for school fees and other village needs. After a few years of hosting camping and walking safaris in Loliondo, the Peterson brothers wanted to find a way to “make the benefits of tourism visible to everyone in the community.”31 They approached villages they had been doing tourism in about the possibility of formalizing the arrangement with the village council.32 Munkakìllerai, the company’s financial administrator, and a Maasai man from Loliondo helped facilitate these agreements. The council agreed to let the company set up campsites on village land, and Dorobo Safaris hired young men from the village to accompany their tours.
In 1994, CBC advocates asked Dorobo Safaris to present its model of tourism at a CBC workshop in Arusha, Tanzania. There the Peterson brothers explained that subsistence pastoral economies were vulnerable to threats, including land loss and population increase. They argued that pastoralists would be increasingly pushed into agriculture or forced to migrate for work. The brothers did not believe that subsistence farming was viable in the drought-prone semiarid environment, and they also argued that widespread agriculture would limit future possibilities for pastoralism, as well as for wildlife habitat. The Dorobo Safaris project set out to create incentives for pastoralists to maintain their landscapes for grazing and to resist the short-term temptation of increasing agricultural production.33 The resource crunch presented the Maasai with limited options: intensify pastoralism or embrace more agriculture, which would place further limits on pastoral production. The Petersons and other CBC advocates in Tanzania posed ecotourism as a third way. The Petersons saw their brand of safari tourism as a way to create added value to subsidize pastoralism and help sustain it as a long-term livelihood strategy in the region.
Before signing the contracts with villages in 1991, Dorobo Safaris received approval from the WD to “initiate community-based conservation projects in areas adjacent to Serengeti National Park.” The company directors hoped that this initial endorsement would lead to more substantial support. “For the projects to succeed,” the Petersons wrote, “it would be necessary for the Wildlife Division to excise these areas from the hunting concessions as the non-consumptive type of tourism we were proposing directly conflicted with hunting. Because the proposed areas were small in relation to the entire hunting concessions, it was expected that the revenues generated from tourist hunting would not be significantly reduced.”34
Throughout most of the 1990s, the WD left the village-based joint ventures alone, as the agency worked on developing a national policy to integrate local communities into conservation and wildlife management on village lands. During that time, other tour companies followed Dorobo Safaris’ lead and negotiated directly with village governments in Loliondo. By 2000, seven Maasai villages had signed contracts with private tourism companies. Each village government had leased access to its titled land to at least one ecotourism company. By this time, it was becoming clear that the WD would no longer sanction the projects or embrace Dorobo Safaris’ vision for using portions of hunting blocks for high-value nonconsumptive tourism. With state support for this alternative model looking less and less likely, the tour operators opted to stay the course and try to demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach of village-based joint ventures.
Coordinating their efforts for the greatest impact, the tour operators founded their own umbrella organization, the Loliondo Tour Operators Forum (LTOF). Although small in size and influence compared to either the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators or the Tanzania Hunting Operators Association, the LTOF was able to advocate for the village-based joint-venture model at the national level. The group laid out the following agenda:
The Loliondo Operators Forum is a private sector initiative made up of nine companies in Loliondo that have agreements with villages bringing in over 100 million Tanzanian shillings of revenue to villages. It is a forum to exchange ideas and set where to go. We are worried in Loliondo, that after we have worked for 4 or 5 years with villages, that others will come in and move us out. Also, we are concerned with how to maintain wildlife. The objectives of the group include:
1) To control input into photographic tourism in Loliondo;
2) To prevent someone from putting up a hotel, which would destroy the nine companies’ market. We want visual experience, no main roads, no construction of large buildings or phone lines; and
3) We want some official license from the government.
Forming the LTOF was an explicit attempt to manage nonconsumptive tourism in Loliondo. If the government would not recognize the tour operators’ projects, the companies wanted to regulate themselves in ways that would most effectively allow them to achieve their goals. As new national policies for CBC emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the village-based joint ventures were increasingly marginalized. Policy makers saw the existing model as hostile to the conservation and tourism policy direction in the country. The tour operators hoped that the LTOF could assist in legitimizing their approach of working directly with villages as partners. The safari companies also needed to attract tourists to this brand of tourism and to show them the value added of their particular approach. To that end, rather than focusing on their relationships with specific villages, the tour companies concentrated marketing efforts on representing Loliondo as a specific and unique CBC destination.
Loliondo: A Park with Pastoralists?
A British tourism consultant promoting high-end wilderness travel to Africa describes the appeal of Loliondo to potential travelers:
Loliondo could perhaps be described as the Serengeti with fewer rules, offering as it does excellent walking safaris, night drives and for much of the year rewarding game viewing. Spanning the entire eastern edge of the Serengeti National Park, it’s a critical part of the whole ecosystem—yet visited by remarkably few tourists. Loliondo is actually a huge Maasai community area but in our opinion is worth treating as a separate park because the range of safari activities on offer here is significantly greater than those within the Serengeti National Park boundaries.35
Loliondo’s value as a tourist destination rests largely on its representation as an alternative to Serengeti National Park. A tour company can tell its clients that they will view the same wildlife as they would in the park—including four of Tanzania’s famous “big five”: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino—but without the crowds of people and vehicles.36 Safari customers are promised a more authentic wilderness experience, with “fewer rules” than if they traveled solely through the famous northern circuit of national parks.37
Part of the allure of a place like Loliondo is that it satisfies the demand for travel experiences that combine leisure with a sense of adventure or even “risk” while also appearing to contribute to sustainability. This budding market is well illustrated in a consultant’s report commissioned by the FZS on how best to promote high-end tourism in the Serengeti region. The report specifically targets high-net-worth individuals, of whom the authors estimate there were close to ten million worldwide in 2006.38 These people, defined as having more than one million dollars in liquid assets, represent a vital consumer base for high-end tourism. Specifically the report declares that these individuals desire tourism experiences that “uphold the three principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability—the ‘triple bottom line.’” The report continues, “If governments, investors, and developers wish to cater to the needs of HNWIs [high-net-worth individuals], they must incorporate the values of this demographic group into the production of their products. Increasingly, these values are oriented towards sustainability of the ‘triple bottom line.’”39 Though the report specifically addresses tourism experiences within Serengeti Park, a close reading indicates that a place like Loliondo can also offer experiences that meet this idea of the elusive triple bottom line.
Tourism investors in Loliondo understand the scarcity of Loliondo’s qualities as an adventure safari destination. Perhaps better than the hoteliers and companies investing within national parks, they understand the stakes outlined in the report: “Successfully creating products that meet this triple bottom line will dictate the winners and losers in the increasingly competitive high end market.”40 Along with an outstanding vacation experience, investors can make a case to their clients that tourism on community lands in Loliondo provides benefits to local people. While most tourists traveling to Loliondo do not understand the complex history of conservation or the details of community tourism arrangements, they are made aware that their ability to enjoy African nature in a place like Loliondo is supported by local people and that a portion of their payment goes to the community rather than the park authorities.41
The companies attracted to working in Loliondo specialize in small, private, relatively low-environmental-impact adventure camping and walking safaris. All these companies also use the national park system extensively, but they have cultivated a niche for trips outside of Tanzania’s main system of government-managed protected areas. While not all tourists want an off-the-beaten path experience or can afford it, for those with the longing and the means, many tour operators see Loliondo as a safari tourism Mecca. As described by one tour operator,
The Alamana Reserve [in Loliondo] is undoubtedly one of the few sanctuaries left in northern Tanzania where our guests can discover the true essence of safari-exclusivity, remoteness and a true reflection on just how good the wilderness can be. Because the Alamana Reserve is an exclusive use area under our own management, we have complete freedom to Game Drive by day and by night and also to outfit Game Walks and overnight Non-Traditional Fly Camps across over 300 square kilometers of true wilderness.42
Although a small sector of the overall tourism industry in Tanzania, the handful of companies that organize such trips provide an important outlet for the growing international market for ecotourism. Not only are these companies helping to create and promote new forms of tourism in Tanzania; most believe that their business models can contribute to conservation and sustainable livelihoods by promoting CBC. These often high-end safari companies attract tourists who are willing to pay extra for an exclusive experience that they believe has a positive impact on the environment and the local communities.
As CBC policies became more widespread, communal areas like Loliondo are valuable spaces in the overall conservation landscape in Tanzania. For many conservationists, these areas are critical because they are not under the protection and management of government conservation authorities. For safari companies hoping to influence conservation policy through their business practices, communal lands are appealing sites for intervention. These companies create market incentives, hoping to secure their own access and business success and to promote conservation values and attitudes among local people. From their position within the business and conservation communities, these companies have become an important constituency for the emerging coalition of organizations in Tanzania promoting market-led CBC.
Seen through the lens of these companies’ marketing materials, the Loliondo landscape is a contiguous area of natural wonder and cultural heritage. But as the history and geography of Loliondo shows, presenting Loliondo as a place where pastoralism and tourism could coexist depended on it having been spatially divided into separate villages, each with its own boundaries and property rights. Without these locally and nationally recognized property rights, tour companies would have no foundation for their contracts and access. The very ability to present Loliondo as an unfragmented natural African landscape rests on the activist history of Maasai villages in the region.
Placing Nature within Village Boundaries
Where is nature located? What is the relationship between nature and geographical, cultural, and political boundaries? These are important questions in trying to understand the changing relationships between the meaning and value of nature and natural resources, social relations, and political economic power. One important lesson from the joint ventures in Loliondo is that the village-based contracts were seen by tourism companies and the Maasai as a way to free nature from national control and to situate it within locally meaningful boundaries, namely, within the village.
As discussed in chapter 3, the Maasai had few ways to benefit from tourism on their lands. All of Loliondo was a designated game controlled area, enabling the WD to lease the area as a hunting concession. After the national hunting corporation (TAWICO) stopped using the area in 1987, the government subleased the hunting rights to two foreign-owned companies. The hunting companies rarely interacted with the Maasai residents. When they did run into each other, the hunters acted as if they “owned the place.”43 Although a few Maasai leaders were invited to the hunting camps and were provided “benefits,” like crates of beer or diesel fuel, most of the Maasai I spoke with resented the hunting companies. Many Maasai associated the hunters with the larger conservation bureaucracy, which they saw as a direct threat to Maasai land rights and sovereignty in Loliondo.
As expatriates and conservationists, the Petersons appeared to have more in common with the foreign hunting companies and the rest of the conservation bureaucracy than with the Maasai. However, they presented themselves and their ideas differently. Rather than working through a central government agency or with an influential conservation NGO, Dorobo Safaris went directly to the village governments with its idea. It continued to try to convince central government officials to support its project but faced significant resistance at every turn. The Petersons’ personal connections and relationship of trust built over the years made direct negotiations with the villages both appealing and possible. The Tanzanian wildlife management structure made no space for adventure-oriented ecotourism on village lands. Dorobo Safaris hoped to show how this kind of tourism could create local incentives for conservation and be a win-win situation for villages and the state. It was convinced that helping to make tourism more valuable for villages would ultimately lead to more collective interest in conservation, as well as increased revenue for local and national institutions.
The Petersons believed in the idea of villagization, even if they were suspicious of much of its implementation. Conservationists and development agencies had previously collaborated in Loliondo to register villages for title deeds (see chapter 3). In October 1990, nine villages in Loliondo gained legal certificates of occupancy valid for ninety-nine years, the first pastoralist villages in Tanzania to gain such certificates. The 1990 demarcation and village certification process reinforced village boundaries as discrete territories following the initial villagization process in the mid-1970s. It was the first formal program allowing local residents to participate in describing and defining their village boundaries. Supporters of the village-titling effort believed that the clearly demarcated boundaries would help Loliondo villages protect their land from outside interests.
The village titles showed the area of Soit Orgoss spanning the three villages of Losoito/Maaloni, Olorien/Magaiduru, and Oloipiri. While Dorobo Safaris had started its relationship with only one village, Losoito/Maaloni, the company decided to work with all three villages. It wanted exclusive access to the entire Soit Orgoss area and wanted to encourage conservation among all the villages with rights over the land. Not only did the village title deeds make clear which villages contained the coveted Soit Orgoss area; they also made clear who the beneficiaries of the Dorobo Safaris project would be. The company would pay village governments, which would distribute the benefits of tourism to all village residents. A seemingly simple business decision turned out to produce a new configuration of Maasai community. Linking village boundaries with village membership to tourism revenue was a novel way of formulating the social and spatial relationships that constituted resource rights and cultural belonging in Loliondo.
Tanzanian villages are modern institutions, developed as part of a strategy to combat the impoverishing forces of colonialism and its methods for incorporating peripheral agrarian societies like Tanzania into the global commodity trade. Based on the dominant development theory of the day, comparative advantage, the Tanzanian village was to be the center of rebuilding an independent agrarian nation and the engine that connected rural production with national development. Critics have charged that villagization was an example of an overly zealous interpretation of state planning and power forcing an ideology ill suited to the realities of rural agrarian life. The implementation of villagization was uneven, and the national program had different effects depending on local social and ecological conditions as well as the resources and attitudes of regional officials. Despite its mixed results, villagization was a deliberate tactic to overcome Tanzania’s disadvantage as a peasant society within the structure of the emerging postcolonial global economy (see chapter 2 for a more thorough discussion of villagization). This policy did end up remaking Tanzanian society, if not in the ways originally imagined by its planners.
As an instrument of state power, the village in Maasailand was in many cases rather inept at promoting collective forms of labor or consciousness in the manner envisioned by national leaders and international consultants. However, early resistance to the Maasai village as a representation of a meaningful Maasai community was turned on its head in the 1990s. When Maasai communities in Loliondo entered into contractual agreements with ecotourism companies, the history of the village as a marginally functional site of community articulated with an emerging idea of the Maasai as members of a transnational indigenous community.44 Through the land struggles over tourism and conservation, the Loliondo Maasai came to see the village as a legitimate form of local-state authority. Within the neoliberal rules of engagement, the village was a legible form of community that just might guarantee local rights and access to resources. In this way the village-state vied for authority with the nation-state in Loliondo. By drawing on the material and symbolic legacies of the village as an idealized African community under socialism, the Maasai turned the village into their own idealized Maasai community.
Village-based tourism in Loliondo posed several challenges to dominant ideas about how foreign investment for tourism should be organized in Tanzania. Centralized ownership of resources was one of the main targets of structural adjustment policies and neoliberal reforms. Yet the pressure from international institutions and Tanzanian civil-society organizations to decentralize ownership and oversight of economic activities constantly rubbed against state institutions and bureaucracies that were often founded on the very notion of centralized management of wildlife and other natural resources.
In the late 1990s, villages in Loliondo for the first time became a significant factor in shaping Maasai social relations and territoriality. In large part because villages were legally recognized by the state as rights-bearing communities, the Loliondo Maasai used villages as sites for organizing Maasai political claims. By asserting the primacy of villages for representing Maasai interests, the Loliondo Maasai were able to negotiate directly with investors, to resist the government’s proposed WMA and to force all investors, regardless of their influence with national elites, to deal directly with Maasai village leaders on questions of tourism on village land. By using the village to represent their Maasai interests in resisting national and international projects from transforming rangelands into farms, parks, and buffer zones, the Maasai transformed the village from a site of state-led development and encompassment to a local territorial claim to land and belonging.45
The village-based joint ventures were based on the idea that the village was a legitimate political-economic entity that also represented culturally accepted Maasai values, institutions, and practices. Authenticating the village empowered the Maasai to participate in the new struggle over tourism. As the actions of the Loliondo Maasai show, however, building a village representative of Maasai social and economic relations was not an easy undertaking. Turning the village from an externally imposed idea into a locally meaningful community took a series of political acts in which the village became an instrument to advocate for Maasai land and cultural rights.
The desire of investors to gain access to land adjacent to national parks for wildlife viewing and the ability of Maasai communities to at least partially regulate access to those lands rested on the belief of village sovereignty over land use, if not completely over wildlife management. From the mid-1990s into the twenty-first century, the Loliondo Maasai resisted land alienation under neoliberal economic policies by commodifying their land and culture through the joint-venture agreements with ecotourism companies. The durability of these joint ventures turned on the discursive production of the village as a legitimate site of belonging in the eyes of local, national, and international groups. The village was a source of rights for the Maasai and a means to gain access to desirable tourism sites for relatively small tourism investors. The parties were drawn together by their mutual conviction that the state would not otherwise recognize either groups right to “use” wildlife—the main resource in question—on village lands.
If the nation-state would not recognize the right of villagers or ecotourism investors to access wildlife outside national parks and game reserves, then the two groups believed that their mutual relationship was an effective way to stake their respective claims to nonconsumptive wildlife viewing. Ultimately, one of the ways that ecotourism investors were able to exploit wildlife on village lands was by physically going where few state officials ever did: the village itself.
Initially, the Maasai were able to use their village land rights to defend local rangelands from external interests, such as state and private agricultural schemes, the spread of peasant farmers, and the implementation of conservation buffer zones. However, under neoliberal economic conditions in the 1990s, defending pastoralist village land claims increasingly hinged on the ability of Maasai to attract, not repel, investors. To assure investors of their access to local resources, village leaders had to demonstrate local sovereignty or authority over their village territories. Clearly recognized village boundaries were important for investors, who not only hoped to gain national recognition for their business ventures but also needed to defend their exclusive rights to use an area against competing companies. Without fences or any clear markers dividing one village from the next, it was largely through local knowledge and regulation that village boundaries were made meaningful and enforceable.
Neoliberal Natures and Maasai Knowledge Production
As disenchantment with the socialist project was mounting in the early 1980s, Maasai leaders such as Lazaro Parkipuny reiterated their claim that the Serengeti and its surrounding areas had been taken illegally by the state. In the process, they advanced an argument that Maasai landscapes were distinct territories within the boundaries of the nation-state.46 For Dorobo Safaris and other ecotourism investors, the belief in indigenous landscapes and the role that cultural and ecotourism could play in supporting sustainable land use and conservation was integral to their personal and business philosophies. By working directly with village leaders, the assemblage of ecotourism operators symbolically embraced the locality over the nation-state as the site of legitimate property rights to nature.47 The village tourism contracts were an essential part of constructing a narrative about local rights to resources based on historical land-use patterns and Maasai ethnic belonging.
In June 1991, Parkipuny published the article “Pastoralism, Conservation and Development in the Greater Serengeti Region.” In it he summarized how conventional wildlife protection policies were used to evict people to create parks and protected areas. With this as his starting point, he evaluated how local communities benefited from wildlife throughout the region. He pointed to several projects in neighboring Kenya, which weren’t ideal but which granted the Maasai both monetary benefits from wildlife and important concessions for access to grazing lands in times of drought. Despite its “progressive image,” Parkipuny argued, the Tanzanian state had “persistently toed the old conservation line” and “refused to concede recognition of even the most fundamental grievances of local communities.”48 Conservation had been used to dominate the Maasai and their landscapes: “Local communities . . . have been forced by the authorities to perceive wildlife enclaves as exotic entities, imposed against their will and at their expense.”49 Just as market reforms were taking hold in Tanzania, with his writings and speeches Parkipuny helped lay the ideological foundation for turning CBC into a struggle for Maasai liberation. He illustrated how national wildlife management policies and practices were attacks on Maasai citizenship, a people who “have persistently been denied their rights.”50 He cited the government’s monopoly on tourism revenue as an affront to the Maasai people, who have been “denied the opportunity to participate in the decision making processes on issues located in their homelands.”51
Neoliberal reforms took hold during a time when marginalized social groups like the Maasai were expressing their aspirations for political and economic change. The emergence of community conservation in the 1990s was a decidedly market-oriented development strategy. And yet this policy that embraced free-market ideas and ideologies also resonated with Maasai ambitions to be recognized as environmental stewards and to share in the management of and revenue from tourism and conservation. CBC provided tourism investors and Maasai communities an opportunity to remake conservation in ways that both groups, for different reasons, had been calling for.
Demand for ecotourism on Maasai village lands presented new possibilities to reimagine and remake landscapes that would generate revenue for local communities. By appealing to the transnational discourse that positioned indigenous people as close to nature and politically marginalized, village-based tourism contracts provided an alternative to national regulation as the only means of gaining access to wildlife. Articulating their claims to land as indigenous people with the recognition provided by joint ventures with international ecotourism investors, the Loliondo Maasai attached their ongoing land claims to market ideas and ideologies. The historical struggles between the Maasai and the state produced the landscapes of the current struggle over conservation and tourism, which in turn shape the meanings of identity and rule in Tanzanian Maasailand. The struggle over the meaning of nature and its relationship to property rights turned on the ability of the Maasai to claim wildlife as a village commodity over and against its status as a national commodity. From an initial relationship of convenience and mutual dependence, the joint ventures came to represent a new way to understand property rights and brought the potential for greater local control of resources.
As the Maasai continued to struggle to control tourism revenues on their lands, the time and energy invested in the village-based joint ventures informed their tactics. As discussed in chapters 4 and 5, the Maasai in Loliondo fought against several state-led and state-supported efforts to commodify their land for hunting and ecotourism. Time and again, Maasai leaders refused to accept policies and projects that they believed limited their opportunities to use the idea of the market to support their interests. The Maasai eschewed conservation efforts that separated economic from political benefits. The village-based joint ventures gave hope to the Maasai that market-based relationships could provide both revenue and rights.
Regulating the Market, Controlling Space
As the central government repeatedly failed to gain the support of Loliondo leaders, it took direct action to influence the ecotourism investors. The Non-consumptive Tourism Regulations released in 2007 effectively forced tourism companies using village lands to pay fees directly to the central government. The government began to formally regulate all tourism activities on village lands by establishing a fee schedule for different activities, including a wildlife activity fee of ten dollars per adult; a camping fee of twenty dollars per adult; vehicle entry fees ranging from five to thirty dollars per night; and miscellaneous fees for, among other things, night drives, fly camps, filming, and sport fishing. On top of these charges, each company operating in a game controlled area was now required to pay the WD an annual concession fee of twenty-five thousand dollars. These rules were the latest in a series of attempts to reassert national control over wildlife and tourism outside protected areas. Earlier attempts to regulate tourism on village lands had been difficult to enforce, and the Maasai had strongly resisted. These new regulations claimed national territorial control and circumvented local Maasai authority by forcing ecotourism companies to pay significant fees directly to the central government. This undermined village property rights and the village role in authorizing tourism on Maasai land. As one elected village leader explained to me,
For a while up until the government crackdown in 2008, companies with contracts [with villages] were not paying the government. You could go to the Serengeti without going into the park and paying park fees. You could get everything in Loliondo that you would get in the park; you could even get animals like wild dogs that you don’t see in the park. Now [after a new policy cracking down on such cogovernance arrangements] the money has to pass through the government treasury. It is hard to resist. Companies are nervous and afraid of the government.52
He went on to explain that companies that had “their own land” or that had managed to obtain a direct lease or title were in a better position than companies that had chosen to work directly with villages. Companies working with villages were now being “asked” to pay twice, whereas companies that “had land” did not have to pay the new government fee. As another resident of this leader’s village explained, “These companies [that had land] were already paying rents on the land [to the government],” whereas the village-based tourism projects were paying rents directly to the communities.
The Loliondo Tour Operators Forum, which included all the companies with village-based contracts, tried to organize against the new directive. The coalition arranged a meeting with the minister of tourism and natural resources in Dar es Salaam. According to one of the tour operators present, the minister gave them five minutes, telling them, “I don’t understand what you are worried about. This will be much simpler for you. You won’t have to meet or negotiate with the community.” Since the government’s enforcement of this new policy, ecotourism companies have responded differently. Some companies now pay the state exclusively; some pay the state and the village, although less; and some companies continue to honor their original contracts. Loliondo Maasai leaders and ecotourism companies have had ongoing discussions about possible alternatives, but the regulatory reforms and the government’s commitment to enforcing them have dealt a major blow to the ability of village-based joint ventures to challenge state territoriality. At the same time, the experience and history of the joint ventures have left a lasting impression on Maasai leaders in Loliondo. Just as Parkipuny and other Maasai leaders had earlier tried to remake socialism to fit the needs of pastoralists, they are now engaged in trying to refashion neoliberalism to address their interests. Their new experience and knowledge of what markets look and feel like informs their ideas and practices. The market remains a contingent site of engagement. As one of the Oloipiri village leaders told me, our lengo (goal) is to “lease our land for tourism to save it for pastoralism.” The village is not a tool easily wielded, but in an era of market-driven development, in which property ownership is central to the idea of a rights-bearing subject, it is one of the few institutions the Maasai have to work with.
In this chapter I have argued that ecotourism joint ventures have refashioned the village into a site for regulating people’s claims on and access to resources, as well as a meaningful representation of Maasai communities. Through their joint ventures with ecotourism operators, the Maasai in Loliondo have re-presented the meaning of their landscapes as a place for both pastoralist production and wildlife conservation. In the process, commodifying their land and identity has changed how the Maasai understand their land and themselves. The Maasai in Loliondo have relied on their partnerships with foreign tourism investors to demonstrate that they are capable of governing nature. By framing nature as a local commodity, the Maasai themselves are helping to position market-derived property rights at the center of Maasai identity in Loliondo.
The Loliondo Maasai have challenged state sovereignty by negotiating directly with investors. This process was contingent on a number of factors, including the status of some ecotourism investors, who were situated outside the state-NGO-conservation complex and were themselves dependent on the village partnerships to secure access to desirable areas for ecotourism safaris. For these ecotourism investors, Maasai villages represented a legible indigenous community recognized by the state as a property-owning community with which they could form quasi-legal partnerships. The legitimacy of these arrangements depended on the ability of village and regional Maasai leaders to represent the village as concurrently a local and transnational place. The ability to create new political openings, although often fleeting, has emboldened the communities in Loliondo to collectively organize within and across villages to resist government efforts to centralize control over Maasai landscapes. As the village became more important to defining claims of indigenous belonging and rights over natural resources, the communities in Loliondo increasingly depended on village institutions as sites to advocate for their rights.