Safari Tourism, Pastoralism, and Land Rights in Tanzania
On August 9, 2012, Avaaz.org, a self-described “global web movement” bringing “people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere,” organized an online petition titled “Stop the Serengeti Sell-Off.” The appeal highlighted the injustice of wealthy trophy hunters buying an area adjacent to Serengeti National Park for use as their own personal playground. The statement read: “At any moment, a big-game hunting corporation could sign a deal which would force up to 48,000 members of Africa’s famous Maasai tribe from their land to make way for wealthy Middle Eastern kings and princes to hunt lions and leopards.”1 Avaaz was referring to the Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), a hunting company established by businessman and member of the Dubai royal family Mohammed Abdulrahim al-Ali, and the Tanzanian government’s proposed plan to create a new protected area for trophy hunting, which would dispossess the Maasai people of over 37 percent of their land.2
Within twenty-four hours, over 400,000 people had signed the Avaaz petition, and after one week there were over 850,000 signatures. Together with local direct action including over 1,500 women turning in their CCM cards, the campaign seemed to work temporarily, putting pressure on the Tanzanian government to listen to the concerns of Maasai activists who claimed it was taking their land simply to appease the interests of powerful foreign investors. The reprieve was short-lived, as less than a year later, in April 2013, the government declared a new protected area that would split the Maasai people’s land, creating a 1,500-square-kilometer protected area for hunting and leaving the Maasai pastoralists with the remaining 2,500 square kilometers. Local leaders and activists protested the action, calling on the president to intervene. The government eventually relented and called for a process to address conservation and tourism in Loliondo.
This remote part of Tanzania was quickly becoming a laboratory for how conservation and tourism were to be managed within a neoliberal context. Efforts to convert Maasai village land into a conservation area in Loliondo were not new. On the eastern edge of Serengeti National Park, conservationists had long wished to resettle the residents, move the villages and incorporate the area into the park. But Maasai leaders had repeatedly resisted efforts to do so, in the process organizing not only a regional social movement but also a new political understanding of the state, international conservation, and what it meant to be a Maasai living in Loliondo. The persistent political resistance shown by Loliondo residents is a direct effect of this legacy. Whether the increased global attention will mark a turn for Maasai activists fighting against this “land grab” is still uncertain. The fact that the remote Maasai area of Loliondo was now a critical site in a global struggle for the future meanings of conservation, pastoralism, and communal land rights was, however, coming clearly into view.
In 1992 the Tanzanian government had controversially granted the OBC exclusive hunting rights to Loliondo division, including the area made up of six villages that share a border with Serengeti National Park (map 1).3 The OBC’s continued presence in Loliondo over the past twenty years and its substantial influence with government officials have been a significant story line for critics of neoliberal globalization in Tanzania. Local journalists named the OBC’s unparalleled influence over government officials “Loliondogate.”4 Examples were cited in the press that included the construction of a private international airstrip in the remote location, lax oversight of hunting quotas, state police working as private security whenever the OBC is hunting in the area, and allegations of illegal live animal capture and transport to Dubai.5 Perhaps the most telling illustration of what journalists called “the privatization of Tanzania” was the OBC’s supposed “hijacking” of the country’s telecommunications system. When a cell phone is turned on near the OBC hunting camp, a message from the Abu Dhabi–based telecommunications corporation Etisalat greets you, “Welcome to the United Arab Emirates.”6
National and international media exploited the ethnic and religious background of the OBC directors, commonly referring to them as “the Arabs.”7 Daily papers suggested that their extreme wealth and opulence distinguished their transnational political power and enabled a callous lack of ethics. As the sole leaseholder for both of Loliondo’s designated hunting areas, the company garnered similar privileges granted to other foreign investors. The OBC was one of sixty registered companies, mostly foreign owned, that were granted a concession to one of the country’s 140 designated hunting areas by Tanzania’s Wildlife Division. While some of those hunting blocks, as they are called, are in game reserves with no permanent populations, the majority of hunting concessions in Tanzania overlap with established village land in either game-controlled areas or designated open areas (see chapter 3).
Between 1992 and 2009, local Maasai communities protested the OBC’s rights to hunt on their lands (see chapter 4). But despite media representations that depicted the OBC as the worst of the worst, many Maasai in Loliondo had come to see the OBC as a marginally better option than other hunting investors with their own reputations as entitled foreigners and for harassing local communities. As long as the OBC’s activities did not interfere with the Maasai pastoralist land-use system that depended on the same designated hunting area for dry-season grazing, they were generally tolerated. However, the fear that the OBC could wield extraordinary influence with the government if it chose to do so was substantiated on July 4, 2009. On that day Tanzanian police, using OBC vehicles, evicted thousands of Maasai people and tens of thousands of livestock from village land. The evictions were justified in the name of protecting the environment and maintaining the OBC’s state-sanctioned right to hunt in the area.8
The Avaaz campaign came two years after the evictions, on the heels of the government-proposed solution to the conflict. A new protected area put forward by state wildlife authorities and district officials would permanently create a new space for conservation and big-game trophy hunting, essentially expanding the boundaries of Serengeti National Park (map 2). If successful, the state plan would build on past efforts to separate important wildlife habitat from populated village areas.9 According to officials, this was necessary to prevent future conflicts between “people and nature” in Loliondo. The rub was that the Maasai would lose 1,500 out of 4,000 square kilometers of communal grazing land that until then had been shared by wildlife and livestock. This was the worst possible outcome for the Maasai living in Loliondo, who had already surrendered much land, first when colonial powers placed the international boundary dividing Kenya and Tanzania through the middle of Maasai land and communities and then with the creation of Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in 1959.10
MAP 2. Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo Division in northeast Tanzania. XNR Productions.
I was drawn to Loliondo in the early 1990s to study the relationship between Maasai livelihoods, conservation, and tourism. I came to appreciate how the history of land dispossession in the name of conservation, first by colonial authorities and then by the newly independent national government of Tanzania, had led many Maasai leaders and residents to embrace the promises of neoliberal political and economic reforms as a way to gain recognition for long sought-after land and human rights. Neoliberalization is a term used by geographers and other scholars to describe the set of policies and discourses that promote economic liberalization as a solution to global poverty and underdevelopment. Neoliberalism generally entails promoting free trade, privatization, deregulation, and opening new markets. Invoking neoliberalization as a theory, as well as a set of policy reforms, its advocates call for increasing the role of the private sector and limiting the role of the state to create investment and economic growth.11 Like most people and social groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Maasai were thrown into the new political economic context of neoliberalism that came to dominate the world capitalist system in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
Throughout the colonial period (1891–1961) and under the socialist developmental state (1961–85), the Maasai had consistently struggled against the government to defend pastoralist livelihoods and protect their land rights. The pressure to take Maasai land for wildlife conservation and large-scale agriculture was supported by a developmental ideology that saw pastoralism as a pre-modern social and economic system. Ideas for efficient and market-oriented range management based on private-property rights, popularized by ecologist Garret Hardin’s (1968) “Tragedy of the Commons” thesis, gave government officials and development experts the conviction they needed to justify massive interventions in pastoralist communities.
Market-oriented reforms arrived in Tanzania in the late 1980s at the same time that a crisis occurred in the “fortress conservation” model of wildlife protection, which called for the separation of people and wildlife (see chapter 3).12 Despite Tanzania’s extraordinary commitment to wildlife conservation, which entailed dedicating close to 35 percent of its land to protected status, the 1980s saw the rapid conversion of land bordering parks from rangelands to farmlands. The same period also saw an unprecedented rise in poaching activities within core-protected areas.13 A lack of resources, as well as hostile relations with bordering communities, put pressure on the conservation community of donors, NGOs, scientists, and state agencies to reimagine conservation by including a role for rural communities. Range ecologists at this time began to push back against Hardin’s thesis, arguing that pastoralism was in fact a highly productive system of land use that was more compatible with wildlife conservation than other rural production systems.14 Presented with opportunities to commoditize their lands for tourism, the Maasai actively adopted market-based community conservation arrangements. The promise of devolved rights to land and natural resources led many Maasai, searching for a tactical advantage in their struggle for land rights, to embrace many of the neoliberal ideas and ideologies that underpinned these projects. Seeing possible benefits such as a path to securing long-term property rights, Maasai leaders in Loliondo often became vocal supporters of policies that enabled direct foreign investment for tourism on village lands. At the same time, they opposed the state’s signature effort to manage tourism investment on village lands, the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) policy.
The recent evictions to create a lucrative hunting reserve and another controversial land deal in Loliondo to establish a private nature refuge expose the contingent practices through which the meanings of neoliberalism are produced. The Maasai in Loliondo have learned that trying to harness capitalism’s power to make claims for collective rights is a politically fraught undertaking. Neoliberalism provided new opportunities for both Tanzanians and foreigners to exploit their land and labor. A market approach to development also meant fewer state resources devoted to public services and basic state functions. How Tanzanians view neoliberal reforms depends largely on their identities and where they are situated within the nation-state. The Maasai people in Loliondo had rarely enjoyed the benefits and protections of the Tanzanian state. Because of this marginalized position, they often viewed neoliberal reforms differently than did many other Tanzanians. Informed by this history of state-society relationships, Maasai leaders have attempted to use their ability to negotiate directly with foreign investors, participating in commoditizing their landscapes, to create openings that they believe will help them realize the level of autonomous development for which they have long strived. Such independence or freedom from the state is often seen as a key aspect of neoliberal reforms. For many Maasai people in Loliondo, pursuing economic and political freedom turned on their ability to advance their status within the nation-state. I argue in this book that the Maasai have attempted to achieve these new forms of recognition by reimaging the village as a legitimate site of community belonging and rights and representing this image of the village to different audiences including tourism investors, state officials, and their fellow Maasai citizens. As I describe in the following chapters, this process has opened up political spaces as well as presented challenges.
Safari Tourism as a Site of Meaning and Profit
This book is an ethnographic study that examines how tourism investment in the Loliondo area of northern Tanzania remakes the ideas and meanings of economic markets, land rights, and political struggle. I consider three tourism arrangements in Loliondo: village-based tourism joint ventures in which foreign-owned ecotourism companies lease access to land from Maasai villages; a “private nature refuge” established by Thomson Safaris, a U.S.-owned tourism company that purchased 12,617 acres of village land in 2006; and a government hunting concession on village land managed by the OBC.15 I examine these projects to explain how state authority depends on articulating national agendas with the interests of private foreign investors (chapter 4); how the context of neoliberal development remakes social and spatial relationships, animating a new cultural politics of ethnic difference (chapter 5); and why Maasai activists have embraced some forms of investment as a way to assert their rights and defend their lands (chapter 6).
I contend that the context of neoliberalism has reshaped the meanings and values of Maasai landscapes and communities. This reshaping has altered the political tactics available to marginalized social groups like the Maasai. I argue neither for nor against the fairness of markets. Instead, I attempt to show that communities like the Maasai in Loliondo have little choice but to work within the discursive context of neoliberalism and attempt to use the techniques afforded by markets, such as contracts with investors and village land-use plans, as tactics in defending their right to land and access to natural resources. These tools were part and parcel of a development policy based on private property and the rights of landowners. History would tell the Maasai that such cadastral practices have rarely if ever promoted the interests of farmers and herders who depend largely on customary and collective rights that were dismissed under colonial rule. However, the promise of securing communal land through the market rationale of proof of ownership has appealed to many Maasai who have spent decades trying other strategies to defend their land. In doing so they open themselves up to risks, including deepening capitalist social relationships, enabling state interests to claim resources in the name of maximizing value and efficiency, and increased ethnic conflict based on new meanings of land as private property. I am especially interested in the cultural dimensions of neoliberalism and how incorporating market logic and relationships to pressure the state for recognition simultaneously transform landscapes and subjects, and the social relationships that reproduce them. My main argument in the book is that in the context of these entanglements between nature, capitalism, state authority, and social movements, historically marginalized communities such as the Maasai actively participate in commodifying their land and identity with the desire to fulfill long-standing aspirations for what they see as economically and socially just opportunities to secure their pastoralist livelihoods. For these reasons what we see as resistance to the current framework of neoliberal development might include acts that embrace commodification with the goal of gaining long-sought and long-denied land and citizenship rights. This seemingly contradictory practice of challenging some market ideologies while embracing others is an increasingly common practice of marginalized social groups and movements around the world. This book examines what such contradictory resistance looks like in practice.
A Happy Place for Tourism?
The same week of the August 2012 Avaaz.org petition, a group of European and Tanzanian activists launched their own online campaign through the social media sites Weebly and Facebook to boycott a U.S. safari company for illegally purchasing land near the OBC concession and for taking critical grazing land from Maasai communities. Their campaign was titled “Boycott Thomson Safaris and Stop Them Land Grabbing from the Maasai People!” Unlike the OBC, Thomson Safaris was not a big-game hunting company. It was a niche tour operator from the United States that specialized in adventure camping and family safaris, ecotourism, and philanthropic travel tourism in Tanzania.16 Unlike many larger companies, Thomson Safaris operated only in Tanzania, and working from its office in Watertown, Massachusetts, it marketed its tours largely to United States clients. The company has won several prestigious awards, including being honored by Travel + Leisure as “World’s Best” in the category of top safari outfitter, and as one of the “best adventure travel companies on earth” by National Geographic Adventure magazine. The company markets itself as a leader in sustainable travel and provides a guide with eleven green and sustainable travel tips on its website.17 In 2008 the company was a finalist for Condé Nast Traveler’s “World Savers Awards,” which are given to socially responsible tour companies.18 And in 2009 the company received the Tanzania Conservation Award for “their community-based conservation project at their private nature refuge” in Loliondo, the project that I describe in this book.
MAP 3. Loliondo villages, including the contested land at Sukenya/Enashiva Nature Refuge. XNR Productions.
In 2006 the owners of Thomson Safaris had purchased a defunct farm, known locally as Sukenya, in the middle of Soitsambu village in Loliondo (map 3). The land had a brief history, from 1987 to 1989 as a national farm for the state-owned Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL). The farm was one of several areas identified by government-employed consultants as prime properties to nationalize. The consultants saw the relatively large communal grazing land with few permanent settlements as a great opportunity to grow large amounts of barley for the rapidly expanding beer industry. However, the remote location far from major cities and towns coupled with the lack of all-season roads proved costly. The unreliable rainfall and a two-year drought signaled the project’s demise. After cultivating only seven hundred out of ten thousand acres over the first three years, the government abandoned the scheme in 1989. With few physical changes and no more government resources directed at the farm, the property reverted to communal grazing land used by Maasai pastoralists.19 Questions remained about the property status of the land, but from 1989 through 2006, local Maasai residents exclusively used the area for grazing and watering their livestock.
In February 2006, to the surprise of Maasai leaders who had strongly challenged the initial TBL project and the government’s claim that the land was not being effectively utilized, local newspapers advertised the land for sale. Mike Saningo, a Maasai man about thirty six-years old at the time, showed me a tattered copy of the announcement, posted in the Arusha Times on January 21, 2006.20 It stated, “The farm comprises 10,000 acres” with “a labor camp and boreholes, for water supply.” Potential developers and investors were told that “the farm is suitable for barley cultivation or eco-tourism undertakings.”21
The Thomson Safaris owners, who lived part time in Tanzania and part time near Boston, Massachusetts, heard about the property and saw it as an opportunity to create a landmark community conservation project.22 They created Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), a subsidiary of Thomson Safaris’ parent company, Wineland-Thomson Adventures Inc., in order to purchase the farm.23 Thomson Safaris/TCL was the highest bidder in an auction process, paying $1.2 million for a ninety-six-year lease for 12,617 acres. In one of their first acts, the new owners renamed the area Enashiva, a Maasai word for happiness. In its publicity material, the company states that it adopted the name from that of a creek running through the middle of the property.24 Few people I interviewed knew the important seasonal watercourse by that name. Without any supporting documentation, the company explained that Enashiva was the name the Maasai had “long ago” called the creek. Thomson’s rechristening of the property was seen by many local Maasai as an attempt to brand the area and to promote itself as a preservationist and restorer of the land.25 For many Maasai this was just the latest episode in a history of conservation as dispossession.
When Maasai leaders learned of Thomson Safaris/TCL’s imminent arrival, they wondered who had sold their land. Village leaders learned that the brewery, now a subsidiary company under the global corporation SABMiller was granted a title deed to the property in 2003, seventeen years after TBL first obtained the farm and fourteen years after abandoning the area.26 The history of the transaction included forged minutes from a supposed village meeting where villagers willfully granted the land to TBL.27 The title deed for 12,617 acres was significantly more land than the initial farm size of 10,000 acres. Nonetheless, and despite opposition to the sale by many village leaders Thomson Safaris/TCL was granted a sublease from TBL for the remaining ninety-six years. Given the suspect nature of the lease, Maasai village leaders demanded that Thomson Safaris/TCL immediately return the land to the village. As the state-authorized titleholders of 12,617 acres of land, Thomson Safaris/TCL refused to bow to community pressure to return the land. The Thomson Safaris/TCL owners believed that a few “jealous individuals” and “corrupt” NGOs had organized opposition to the sale.28 Mass protests of up to twelve hundred Maasai and several high-profile attempts to meet with national officials and political leaders, including the prime minister and the president of Tanzania, that led to an official government inquiry made clear that opposition to the project was far reaching.29
Soon after taking possession of the land, Thomson Safaris/TCL staff began restricting access to grazing land, encouraging local police to arrest trespassers, and confiscating or detaining livestock. Local residents also accused the company employees of burning permanent homesteads and shooting a Maasai herder.30 The company directors vociferously denied these allegations, saying that they only burned vacated structures and that the shooting was entirely unrelated.31
The online petition against the Thomson Safaris/TCL land deal called for tourists to boycott Thomson Safaris and to spread the word about its abusive and self-serving practices. The activists highlighted the dire stakes of the deal: “The land . . . provides vital grazing and access to water for the local Maasai people who have co-existed with, and safeguarded, the ecosystem for hundreds of years. Without access to this land, which they say they have never knowingly sold, they cannot survive.”32
Hunting Reserves and Nature Refuges: Deadly Deals?
These two land deals represented what Maasai residents and civil-society organizations alleged were unjust appropriations of village land by private investors interested in capitalizing on Loliondo’s spectacular landscape for safari hunting and tourism.33 Local leaders worked hard to get the word out and used their connections with international organizations and national journalists to prevent these land deals from taking place outside public view, an all too common practice. The activist campaigns and numerous media reports on Loliondo represented these transactions between investors and government agencies as “deadly deals” for the Maasai people. Local activists were successful in getting their message out that Loliondo’s market value as a hunting and ecotourism destination could create the conditions to justify government violence and efforts to remove the Maasai people from their land to further promote conservation. The Maasai activists were all too aware of the history of evictions and land dispossession associated with protected areas in Africa. Scholars like Rod Neumann (1998), Mark Dowie (2009), Dan Brockington (2002), and Brockington and James Igoe (2006), Paige West (2006), and Nancy Peluso (1993) have documented how the creation of parks and protected areas was commonly used to dispossess rural land users and enclose communal land for nature preservation and national development. Such scholarship has made the connection between demarcating lands for conservation and securing the foundations of modern nation-states around the globe. This is especially true in eastern and southern Africa.34 In Tanzania almost 35 percent of the entire land base is under state protection and control as either a national park, a game reserve, a forest reserve, or a hunting concession.35
Maasai leaders and activists welcomed the international attention that the campaigns against the OBC and Thomson Safaris/TCL raised regarding the social costs of safari tourism and the threats posed to pastoral livelihoods and land rights in northern Tanzania. On August 31, 2012, a group of Tanzanian civil-society organizations circulated a press release supporting the Avaaz campaign. The organizations—Tanzania Land Alliance, Feminist Activist Coalition, Ngorongoro Non-Government Organization Network, and the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Government Organization Forum—concluded their statement with several demands addressed to the government. The fifth and final request was “to immediately stop the use of excessive powers in handling conflicts between investors and villagers in Loliondo and elsewhere in the country.”36 Rather than asking the state to intervene and protect the rights of its citizens from the growing threat of foreign ownership and interests, the civil-society organizations bade the state to stop interfering in their lives. In many ways this response makes sense coming from Maasai organizations in Loliondo, where state projects and the interests of pastoralists have rarely been aligned. However, it is also a curious request given the tremendous stakes of the conflicts, the disproportionate power of foreign investors, and the ultimate role of the state as the enforcer of rights and arbiter of justice within the national boundaries of Tanzania.
In the past, states like Tanzania have justified evictions in the name of protecting African wildlife and wilderness as a world heritage and the basic duty of a modern nation-state. The public narrative surrounding the Tanzanian state’s defense of the OBC hunting concession and the Thomson Safaris/TCL nature refuge were different and made no such scientific or nationalistic appeal. The new rationale was more pragmatic and more market-driven and held that Loliondo was too valuable a commodity to be left under the control of “backward,” corrupt, or naive villagers. Tanzania’s minister of tourism and natural resources, Shamsa Mwangunga, commented, “We cannot allow villagers to control such important activities [tourism and hunting] because some dishonest businesspeople will utilise that as a loophole to unlawfully exploit our resources.”37 The statement raised important questions: Was the state’s role in wildlife management on village lands motivated by the need to protect its vulnerable citizens from unscrupulous business people? Or did state officials act to prevent the possibility that villagers would work directly with foreign investors, creating their own public-private partnerships at the local level? Regardless of motive, the political maneuvering over who has the right to represent African nature and to form partnerships with investors indicate the state’s and the villagers’ orientation to global capital. What becomes clear in such political struggles is that investors play a key role in shaping the discourse of conservation and helping to determine at which scale environmental governance is legitimated.
Village Joint Ventures: A Different Deal?
In 1997 I attended a meeting between the directors of another foreign-owned tour company, Dorobo Tours and Safaris (Dorobo Safaris), and the elected government representatives of Losoito/Maaloni village in Loliondo. Dorobo Safaris was the first company to sign tourism contracts with Maasai villages in Tanzania. In exchange for exclusive access to village land for walking and camping safaris, Dorobo Safaris paid the village government an annual rent, as well as usage fees for each visitor per day. Despite the obvious international value of gaining access to the greater Serengeti ecosystem for tourism outside Serengeti National Park, for the first time in Loliondo these contracts assigned a specific monetary value to tourism on village lands.
The meeting was to renegotiate a five-year contract between the tour company and the village. It was scheduled for noon but started about four hours later. Company representatives, including two of the three expatriate owners from the United States and their Maasai manager, waited outside the village office, a small room with a desk, chair, and bookcase with several black file folders arranged neatly on the shelves. After a quorum of village government representatives arrived, we entered one of the nearby primary-school classrooms and took our seats on the wood benches usually occupied by school students clad in their blue uniforms.
A Maasai man named Christopher Tipat stood in front of the room and welcomed everyone to the meeting, including the company directors and me, their “guest from America.”38 He said that the village had received many benefits from the arrangement with Dorobo Safaris, and he recommended moving forward by signing another contract. After Tipat finished, several other village government representatives rose, one by one, and took center stage in front of the classroom’s cracked chalkboard. Each of the next five speakers gave lengthy preambles about the importance of their relationship with the company. They then all proceeded to say that they wanted higher payments in exchange for the company’s exclusive access to their village land for tourism.
After several hours of deliberations, the Dorobo Safaris directors and manager agreed to increase the fees paid to the village. Between 1992 and 1997, three villages working directly with Dorobo Safaris—Olorien/Magaiduru, Losoito/Maaloni, and Oloipiri—had each earned approximately ten thousand dollars a year. Under the new contract they were likely to bring in about twice that amount. The money is either a lot or a little depending on your position in the global tourism commodity chain and what you think is a fair distribution of profits within the historically and geographically unequal system of transnational capitalism. Nevertheless, the village income represented a profound departure from the way that tourism revenue typically flowed in Tanzania. Rather than going directly to state-controlled parks and conservation areas, to private-property owners, or to the networks of organizations, consultants, researchers and state agencies responsible for promoting conservation interests and values, some portion of the money paid by tourists went directly to village governments and their members.
This was the first significant tourism revenue earned directly by villages in Loliondo. The money assisted Maasai residents to build school classrooms, rent lorries or tractors to transport maize and beans to market, excavate water sources, and pay student school fees, among other things. The annual income was important and gave Maasai villages some minimal level of autonomy from central government authorities. The profits earned from ecotourism on village lands was contrasted directly with the money paid by the OBC to the national Wildlife Division (WD) and other state agencies for trophy hunting. To the Maasai communities in Loliondo, state interest in controlling hunting and tourism on village lands was a way to earn significant revenue. The village joint ventures were their attempt to benefit from wildlife on their land.39 Beyond profit, village joint-venture partnerships were also becoming an important aspect of demonstrating a visible challenge to the history of state-controlled tourism and conservation governance and oversight.
In the face of evictions from both the OBC hunting concession and the Thomson Safaris/TCL nature refuge, Maasai activists and leaders lobbied government representatives to intervene on their behalf. But while they have not abandoned the state as an important site for voicing their interests and securing their rights, they have increasingly understood the market, embodied in their direct relationships with tourism investors, as a local-state space in which to pursue their agendas and to influence national policy and culture. Throughout the struggles over the various land deals in Loliondo, Maasai communities have reasserted a long-held belief that they, and not the state, have the right to make Loliondo’s natural resources available for investors. In the process they hope to intervene in the ways that conservation discourse has historically worked to empower centralized authorities and transnational conservation networks.
As I discuss throughout this book, communities in Loliondo believed that based on their recent history of attracting and negotiating directly with foreign investors, they could handle these land deals “on their own” without “government intervention.”40 Their direct experiences with transnational tourism investors, who through their contracts recognized the villages as legitimate owners of land, created a new paradigm for Maasai land politics. Tourism presented Maasai communities in Loliondo with a way to commoditize their lands without, they believed, compromising their land-tenure rights. They saw ecotourism on village lands as a way to maximize the value of their territories without altering the material qualities of the land and to bolster their claims as owners. With the growing emphasis on foreign investment throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, the Maasai in Loliondo trusted that contracts with tourism investors helped to make the value of their village lands for both livestock and wildlife legible in new and more meaningful ways.
A strong conviction about local land ownership is nothing new. These beliefs have been most frequently grounded in appeals to indigeneity or a special cultural status that entitles a social group to unique rights based on its relationship with the land and allows it to exclude other citizens and communities from access based on the idea that it is the best steward of the land.41 Anthropologists Dorothy Hodgson and James Igoe have shown how the Maasai represent their history as pastoralists in an agrarian nation to align their claims over land and resources with other indigenous groups and first peoples across the globe.42 The Maasai creatively used their status as members of a transnational indigenous community to contextualize their position within the Tanzanian nation and carve out a distinct relationship with foreign NGOs, government agencies, and investors to shift their status within the nation-state. Nonetheless, appeals to indigeneity have been markedly absent in the current struggles. In opposing the OBC and Thomson Safaris/TCL, the Maasai did not assert their rights as a unique ethnic group or as indigenous people. Rather, they expressed their claims as rights-bearing villages and villagers: as state-sanctioned local authorities with specific territorial jurisdiction. By relying on the village as the embodied community, the Maasai are reworking how identity articulates with space and place in their society.43 The question remains, however, whether Maasai communities can exploit their own land and natural resources as village territories to preserve collective ownership and control over them. Can they use global markets to pressure the state to finally recognize their rights as Maasai, as pastoralists, and as Tanzanians?
As a historical and geographical process, neoliberalism is not a singular formation that can be entirely resisted. Rather it is a force that acts on the actions of others.44 I agree with anthropologist James Ferguson (2010), who argues that a simple oppositional stance to neoliberalism is neither an effective political strategy to create social change and justice nor a compelling analytical approach to understand contemporary politics.45 If we, as scholars, hope to contribute politically and analytically, “we have to come up with something more interesting to say about [neoliberal policies] than just that we’re against them.”46 More than a set of economic policies and beliefs that promote privatization and free enterprise, rolling back the state, and deregulating currencies, neoliberalism should also be understood as a broad cultural force shaping how states and societies understand their roles and interact, as well as the ways in which subjects understand their lives and possible futures. For reasons I had not anticipated when I first arrived in Tanzania in 1992, contemporary Maasai land struggles offer scholars like myself a rich context to explore the everyday way that neoliberalism shapes people’s beliefs, values, and interests, and in turn the meaning of places like the Serengeti.
Building a Modern African Nation
To understand the dimensions of neoliberalism in Tanzania, it is necessary to briefly consider the history of Tanzanian nationalism and the relationship between state-led agrarian reform and pastoralism. After independence in 1961, Tanzania adopted a socialist system of government. The first president of the new country, Julius Nyerere, was revered across Africa and around the world as a postcolonial visionary. For many radicals and left-leaning politicians, activists, and academics, Tanzania presented one of the best places to build a new socialist society based on principles of collective work and mutual self-reliance. Tanzania was a Mecca of sorts, attracting a pilgrimage of students, scholars, and donors hoping to build and document this grand new experiment: a truly progressive state that would counter the ingrained racial and class privilege of colonialism and replace it with a society based on a unified national identity, collective rural labor, and centralized national development.47 Tanzanian nationalism meant strong solidarity with peasant and pan-African social movements and a deep suspicion of capitalism.
On the eve of independence, Nyerere gave a speech titled “National Property,” in which he laid out the dangers of the so-called free market for a newly independent country like Tanganyika that had been systematically “underdeveloped” during colonial rule. “In a country such as this, where generally speaking, the Africans are poor and the foreigners are rich, it is quite possible that, within eighty or a hundred years, if the poor African were allowed to sell his land, all the land in Tanganyika would belong to wealthy immigrants, and the local people would be tenants.”48
Despite his prescient words, the results of his alternative direction of state-led national development were mixed. Progressive reforms were commingled with authoritarian edicts.49 Peasant empowerment rubbed up against the need for urban labor and industrial production. Political nonalignment met global tariffs and trade barriers. And the concerted effort to constitute a postcolonial national identity left some groups, specifically pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, well outside the normative image of a modern Tanzanian citizen.50 Several prominent Maasai leaders were initially supportive of Tanzania’s socialist path, believing it could best address the intense marginalization wrought by colonial policies.51 But the techniques employed by the Tanzanian government to modernize the Maasai were seen as generally hostile to their pastoral mode of production and way of life.
Specifically, the independent government intensified colonial efforts to create national parks, dispossessing peasants and pastoralists in the name of wildlife preservation.52 More than other cultural groups, pastoralists lost access to large territories integral to their system of migratory seasonal grazing, known as transhumance. Along with their assault on pastoral lands, government officials and development experts also attempted to change the Maasai and other pastoralists into ranchers with clear private-property rights. The early efforts to modernize and transform the Maasai in the 1960s and early 1970s focused on creating group ranches and pushing for the marketing and sale of livestock, over subsistence practices. Maasai critics pointed out that the project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was “not in the spirit of socialist development.”53 Although collective farms and ranches were at the core of socialist and Marxist policies across the globe, Maasai leaders identified an underlying tension in Tanzanian state socialism. They believed that African socialism should respond to historical and geographical circumstances and not universal models. Although group ranches were one way to address collective labor and marketing of livestock, they also undermined the flexible land-use system that enabled pastoralists to subsist in semiarid areas. The Maasai linked these early efforts to integrate them into a modern economy and society based on agriculture and other policies to the larger context of Tanzanian socialism, in which they felt culturally marginalized. In what many Maasai believed was a display of utter contempt for their culture, the state also created policies to regulate Maasai dress, essentially stating, “Maasai must wear pants.”54
Within the first decade of independence (1961–71), many Maasai leaders considered the Nyerere government and its large state bureaucracy as directly hostile to their interests and values. Unlike the majority of Tanzanians, who could recite Nyerere’s warnings on the evils of capitalism by heart, the Maasai did not share in the deep-seated belief that they were being oppressed by global capitalism.55 For some Maasai, especially in Loliondo, it was instead clear that their oppressor was none other than their own government and its universal ideas about modernization and development. Lazaro Parkipuny was one of the most influential Maasai leaders in Tanzania and a prominent Maasai intellectual from Loliondo. In his article “Some Crucial Aspects of the Maasai Predicament,” Parkipuny asserts, “the people should not be made to sit back and let the government do whatever it wants. Since the well-being of the people must be the purpose of development, they must take control of the situation by creating their own socialist institutions for local management of the process of production, without being overpowered by the centre’s requirements of uniformity.”56
Maasai leaders’ unfailing focus on state power and interests as the driving force behind Maasai marginalization and dispossession suggests an ideological disposition toward alternative “rights talk” that displaces the state as the sovereign space of economic, political, and cultural citizenship.57 To better understand the current politics in Loliondo and places like it around the world, it is useful to go beyond oppositional frameworks, and as Ferguson suggests look for “new and better ways of thinking about practices of government” and “how they might be linked in new ways to the aspirations and demands of the economically and socially marginalized people who constitute the majority of the population in much of the world.”58 This is not a view that sympathizes with the current direction of global politics and the trend toward the accumulation of property and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Rather, it is an attempt to take seriously the lived experiences, ideas, and desires of people like the Maasai in Loliondo as they literally fight for their future. It is also to add complexity to our understanding of “rights.” For here rights are not individual nor are they sought exclusively through the state. Instead rights accrue to collective groups like villagers and are pursued in a global marketplace that decenters the state as the only site of guaranteeing and adjudicating rights. Whether transnational relationships based on economic interests are capable of guaranteeing rights or putting pressure on the state to do so becomes one of the most fraught and contingent questions for the Maasai and other groups like them.
Economic Growth or Land Grab?
For many of the Maasai residents I interviewed, the OBC and the Thomson Safaris/TCL land deals were considered a “government effort to complete the ‘land grab’ started under colonial rule” in the late 1800s, and that continues through today.59 It is not unreasonable to read the history of the Maasai in East Africa as one long land grab in the name of global conservation and national development. George Monbiot’s popular book No Man’s Land: An Investigative Journey through Kenya and Tanzania (1994), highlights the brutal history of pastoral land dispossession. The Maasai often compare their experiences to Native Americans and First Peoples in North and South America, whose land-use systems were misunderstood, disrupted, and in many cases destroyed in the name of progress.60
Whenever he had the chance, Parkipuny reminded his audience that the locations of the world-famous Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are also home to tens of thousands of indigenous people.61 The systematic erasure of these people and their histories from the landscape in the name of wildlife preservation has seeded “deep rooted feelings of antagonism towards conservation.” For Parkipuny, a critical reading of protected-area maps in East Africa reveals a simple truth: “Most of the protected areas have been carved out of the once large commonlands, used jointly by wildlife and pastoralists. . . . It is not by mere accident of history that many of the most spectacular wildlife protection areas in East Africa were carved out in territories previously part of Maasailand.” (map 4).62
The history of conservation and Maasai land dispossession is well known throughout Loliondo. The regional collective memory in Loliondo holds that the government—be it under German (1891–1914), British (1914–61), or Tanzanian (1961–present) rule—unjustly took land from the Maasai to promote both conservation and state interests. This history of national territorial ambition in the name of state building and modernization has been central to constituting the Maasai in Loliondo as a “collective subject.” At a time in the 1990s when social movements throughout the world were concerned with the negative effects of neoliberal reforms that appeared to speed up the process of accumulation by dispossession, especially for marginal and indigenous people, Maasai leaders in Loliondo saw neoliberalism as offering new openings and prospects for political and social change. The Maasai sought to exploit the inherent contradictions of neoliberalization, trying to use the new playing field to challenge their position vis-à-vis the postcolonial state.
Despite the dangers posed by foreign investors like the OBC and Thomson Safaris/TCL, Maasai leaders and activist organizations saw private investment as a contingent practice that offered the possibility of benefiting them as well as hurting them. Rather than a one-way relation of domination, Maasai saw some investors as potential partners in their struggle for land rights and political freedoms.63 According to many Maasai leaders and activists I have spoken with, it is not foreign investment itself that has dispossessed them of resources and rights but rather what they see as the “skewed rules of capitalism” and the state’s efforts to monopolize market opportunities and seek rents at the scale of the nation-state.64 A string of political victories in support of their joint-venture partnerships with tourism investors in the 1990s and 2000s emboldened many Maasai in Loliondo to believe that they could rewrite those rules to promote their political aims for a future when pastoralism would be a viable cultural and economic system.
In a presentation to the Travelers Philanthropy Conference in Arusha in 2008 about the current conflicts in Loliondo, Maasai activist David Methau said, “What we need are real private sector partnerships that empower us.”65 He contrasted these “real partnerships” that were based on “contracts between investors and villages” to investments in which the Tanzanian state “sold or leased” land rights directly to foreign investors.66 For Methau and many other Loliondo leaders, remaking the social relations of investment presented one of the few possible paths for the Maasai to reshape their landscape, their relationship to the state, and ultimately control of their futures.
Are Methau’s comments an example of false consciousness?67 Do Maasai leaders have no other choice than to embrace market policies and opportunities, even as they may seed their demise? Or are activists such as Methau not naive but rather drawing on their historically and geographically situated experiences to analyze and act? Rather than dismissing Maasai people’s interest in using market-based relationships as a way to challenge some of the features of global capitalism, I view them as emerging political tactics within a constrained neoliberal context. Again, I agree with Ferguson (2010) that if we are to understand contemporary social and political struggle in postcolonial countries today, we must “be willing at least to imagine the possibility of a truly progressive politics that would also draw on governmental mechanisms that we have become used to terming ‘neoliberal.’”68
This book describes the history of recent Maasai efforts to engage shifting strategies to protect access to their resources and livelihoods within a complicated network of actors that include the state, hunting companies, ecotourism companies, and others. Understanding these efforts in a historical and geographical context provides valuable lessons and contributions for discussions and debates within political ecology, development studies, and neoliberal conservation.69 Working alongside many Maasai activists and leaders over the past twenty years, I have been struck by how they artfully navigate the tricky political landscape of neoliberal development. On one hand, many leaders in Loliondo are wary of foreign investors who can use their money to influence state policies and officials to further dispossess and marginalize Maasai of their land and rights. On the other hand, many of the people I have interviewed and worked with express more faith in market relationships, with specific investors seen as allies against the bureaucratic state, as a way to force the state into making concessions to Maasai interests. From the trenches of political struggles, one can more clearly see the reasons for these seemingly contradictory positions.
Beyond telling an important story about tourism, conservation, and land struggles in Tanzania, this book engages three concepts important to contemporary understandings of development: neoliberalism and nature; the global land grab; and the social production of “the local” as the meaningful site of community interests. There is a robust literature challenging the market-led development paradigm and illustrating the costly social, political, and economic effects of neoliberalization.70 Much of this literature critiques both the economics and the discursive power of neoliberalism or neoliberalization, showing how the new common sense toward market-oriented development and governance puts private profit over broader social benefits. One implicit assumption in much of this literature is that revealing the flaws in the hegemonic neoliberal consensus can help generate new discourses and mobilize new constituencies to advocate for alternatives. Such thinking often assumes that those groups and individuals subjected to the consequences of neoliberal development are naturally inclined against market values and that they will embrace alternatives if given the opportunity.
What much of this literature fails to consider or glosses over is how neoliberalization works as a cultural discourse. Political ecology provides a framework to understand culture as a dynamic process through which identities, values, and interests are produced in relation to changing political economic conditions. What I demonstrate in this book is that many communities that are threatened by neoliberal policies and ideologies also believe that market reforms and market relationships offer possibilities for political, economic, and social gains. Maasai community leaders and activists in Loliondo do not see investors simply as drivers of resource appropriation. Rather, they view them as potential collaborators in an ongoing historical struggle between a nationalist development project and one in which different marginalized groups, like the Maasai, can determine their own development trajectory. Such ideas are based on the hope of articulating local and global agendas as a way to challenge state-led planning.
The “global land grab” is shorthand for an emergent assessment and critique of current economic and political policies that advocate for the privatization of land and resources in the name of economic growth, job creation, and food security. Advocates of neoliberal economic policies describe these strategies as creating new value where an absence of capital, expertise, or “modern” management techniques have presented a barrier to the commodification and marketing of resources, goods, and services. Although certain groups and individuals are benefiting from this massive transfer of wealth and resources, the majority of residents in formerly colonized countries is losing access to resources and is more vulnerable as a consequence.71 Much of the literature and debate about the global land grab has revolved around large tracts of arable land being acquired in underdeveloped countries and regions to grow crops to feed distant populations.72 Another area of concern is the accumulation of land for biofuel production or climate-change mitigation that restricts local access to vital land and resources for essential food and livelihood production. Much less attention has been paid to the role of tourism and conservation as a site of resource concentration and dispossession in this context. This is especially true of community conservation, which depends on a large degree of consent and collaboration as opposed to earlier modes of conservation that relied almost exclusively on enclosure and dispossession.
The current trends to accumulate land primarily for gain by distant populations or private individuals pose a great risk to myriad peoples and production systems that do not easily conform to neoliberal capitalist production, distribution, and consumption. By resisting these processes, Loliondo leaders and activists provide an important example of the possibilities and limits when a group chooses to challenge the current articulation of global capital and national interests. Understanding how neoliberal policies and ideologies transform the political economic context of land use and development is a critical task of scholars. Many commentators and researchers studying globalization argue that national boundaries are no longer relevant or play a severely diminished role in economic investment and development. My research shows that for groups like the Maasai global development is always articulated to national boundaries and projects.
Any analysis of neoliberalization and its effects must take seriously how histories of postcolonial nationalism and state-building efforts interact with current economic thinking.73 For the Maasai in Loliondo, the central feature distinguishing the political meanings and possibilities of neoliberalism in terms of privatization, investment, and political reorganization is how the “global legitimacy” of foreign investment determines the scale of struggle.74 Rather than thinking about local power as always “nested” within a spatial hierarchy where the nation-state subsumes all other cultural and political groups, Maasai leaders and activists have come to understand their ability to negotiate directly with foreign investors, as well as other transnational actors and organizations, as a way to challenge the scale of development and the primacy of the state as the organizing principle of society.75
Using Villages to Reorganize the Social Relations of the State
In Tanzania, the village is not an inherently local institution. Maasai villages in Loliondo were created in the context of African nationalism and decolonization. They were shaped during a period of fierce nationalism, when Julius Nyerere and his Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) government of anti-imperialists attempted to create a new African institution to combat the forces of global capitalism and the cold war. Struggles over the meaning and character of the village and the state would play out largely within the boundaries of the nation of Tanzania, but they were born from a cold-war paradigm, in which newly independent nations like Tanzania were forced to demonstrate their economic vitality and perform development strategies that would give them standing in the community of modern nations. With the introduction of SAPs and austerity measures in the late 1980s, powerful global actors, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, challenged the centrality of the nation-state as the focal point of society. One of the aims of decentralization policies was to identify the actual owners and stakeholders of resources in order to foster public-private partnerships to more efficiently and equitably exploit natural resources.
In Loliondo, the commodification of land and conservation hinge on a series of discursive tactics that attempt to link the globally determined value of nature with a clear owner of the resource. Whereas the state has maintained its hegemonic position as proprietor of national resources, the remaking of Loliondo turns on an assumption that the value of nature is produced by the activities of local stewards and their ongoing ability to practice forms of resource management compatible with conservation. As Neumann (1998) has shown, the state has used the commonsense idea of biodiversity as a universal value to exclude local claims and assert its territorial and political control over its subjects.
The current scramble to reorganize the Tanzanian landscape can be partly understood as an attempt by Maasai leaders and some tourism investors to harness the narrative of conservation and African nature as a global good and firmly attach it to local histories, resource management, and sustainable land use. Without Maasai stewardship, for example, much of the current wildlife habitat in many of the country’s national parks, as well as in adjacent areas like Loliondo, would not exist. Once vilified as a destructive land use, since the late 1980s pastoralism has come to be understood as the livelihood system most compatible with wildlife. Unlike agriculturalists, who directly compete with wildlife habitat for productive land, pastoralists typically manage their rangelands in ways that support both wildlife and livestock. Community conservation projects that did not rely on enclosing pastoralist land created the possibility for disseminating this view of nature, in which Maasai interests could coexist with wildlife. This approach contrasted with the OBC hunting corridor and the Thomson Safaris/TCL lease, which both relied on the direct appropriation of Maasai village land and positioned Maasai pastoralists in direct conflict with authentic African nature.
Through these encounters, the village has become an increasingly meaningful instrument for representing the interests of Maasai communities in northern Tanzania. The emergence of the village as an important institution for regulating transnational investors as well as local livelihoods emerged out of the articulation of village rights as a way to defend Maasai rangelands from “development” in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1990 villages in Loliondo had participated in a village-titling program to help them shore up their collective land rights through village governance (see chapter 3). In the 1990s, those legacies were mobilized to assure ecotourism investors of the legitimacy of local land rights. The village is an elusive and shifting site. The Maasai organized their cultural understandings and identities through their villages. Treating their land as a commodity to be rented provided not only revenue to the village but also the political and ecological rationale for protecting a lifestyle and culture threatened by the state and certain types of outside capital investment. The cooperation of the ecotourism companies in this process provided an unanticipated mechanism to legitimize local control of village land.
Questions, Methods, and Stakes of the Research
Throughout this book I raise important questions about the politics of representation and commodification that characterize contemporary development and neoliberalization of nature in Africa. For example, who gets to represent the meanings and values associated with transnational exchanges, and how do those function simultaneously as sites of exploitation and opportunity? Specifically, I ask the following questions: (1) What happens when the state, which depends on the image of Maasai people and their “indigenous landscapes” to promote Tanzania’s unique value in a crowded tourist marketplace, pursues policies and practices that threaten the very existence of Maasai people? (2) How do the Maasai people use their iconic status to challenge global patterns of accumulation and dispossession? (3) In what ways does the global tourist economy present opportunities for communities to resist and confront dominant representations that have historically been used against them? These questions all turn on one overarching question: Does the dominant neoliberal discourse of decentralization and discrete property rights create openings to challenge the political economic structure of tourism that relies on the framing of African nature as a global commodity that can best be managed by national and international experts?
I combine ethnographic research methods, including participant observation, interviews, attendance at policy-making meetings, textual and image analysis, and oral history with archival research, to illuminate the deep connections between resource struggles, landscapes, and the changing meanings of community. I argue that contemporary resource struggles like the ones in Loliondo reshape space and society and produce lasting cultural-political transformations in ways that are not readily apparent. I am not interested in simply reinterpreting meanings and demonstrating that there are multiple modernities or ways of being. I am concerned with how these altered meanings inform and redirect material political struggles. The key question is not whether global markets for tourism are good or bad, but how they are restructuring meanings of place, community, and rights.76 I argue that the crucible for these encounters in the Loliondo area is the Maasai village.
I have been traveling to Tanzania for the past twenty years working closely with Maasai individuals and organizations, studying their relationships with NGOs, the state, and foreign investors. My research was carried out primarily over thirty months, from May 2000 to November 2004 and then again in June and July 2010. I have followed the unfolding events in Loliondo through regular correspondence with area leaders and residents. Many of my questions grow out of my longer history of tracing this complex relationship between communities, the state, and investors throughout the 1990s. During my research trips, I divided my time between Arusha town, where many of the Maasai NGOs, tourism investors, and regional government offices are located, and Loliondo, the main site of my research.
My research involved long periods of living in Loliondo, where I observed and interviewed residents, elected officials, NGO staff, tour operators, students, and some of the leading activists on the front lines of struggles over tourism and conservation. I was constantly struck by my informants’ critique of conservation and development, on the one hand, and, on the other, the hope and promise associated with direct village-based investment as a path to radical social change. From the start of my research, I was skeptical that market relationships between the Maasai and private investors could be used as a long-term solution to land insecurity and political marginalization. To my surprise, over the past twenty years, and despite some obvious setbacks, Maasai leaders have continued to express their faith in market relationships over state policy prescriptions. One of the interesting findings of this study is that more often than not the Maasai in Loliondo believed that they shared more in common with foreign tourism investors than they did with Tanzanian government officials and institutions.
Persistent Questions about Tourism Geographies
As a scholar and practitioner working in Loliondo over the past two decades, I followed the Avaaz campaign with enthusiasm and concern. The message was accurate; the Maasai faced impending threats from tourism investors who could provide the state a compelling reason to dispossess them of the resources necessary for their livelihoods and radically alter their future. But I also wondered if the antiglobalization message would ultimately limit the political choices available to the Maasai as they fight threats to their land and livelihoods on multiple fronts. The framing of tourism investment in Loliondo as fulfilling market opportunities simplifies the narrative of global capitalism as an essentialized force bearing down on helpless communities.
I draw on Gilliam Hart’s formulation of geography to understand Loliondo as a part of a dynamic network of places: “First, a conception of place as nodal points of connection in socially produced space moves us beyond ‘case studies’ to make broader claims—it enables, in other words, a non-positivist understanding of generality. In this conception, particularities or specificities arise through interrelations between objects, events, places, and identities; and it is through clarifying how these relations are produced and changed in practice that close study of a particular part can generate broader claims and understandings. Such an approach decisively rejects formulations of the impact of ‘the global’ on ‘the local’” (2006, 995–96).
Foreign investment is both a material and a symbolic site that wields the discursive and financial authority of transnational capital. Since the late 1980s, when economic liberalization opened Maasai village lands to commodification as a tourist space, the Maasai in Loliondo have reimagined and represented the village as a culturally meaningful site that also signifies political legitimacy within the nation-state. With the village now considered an identifiable territory valued as a tourist attraction, Maasai leaders have tried to renovate it from an external imposition with limited local legitimacy into a place indistinguishable from the idea of Maasai community. Whether the Maasai can harness this new image to actively govern their land remains an open question. It is, however, a question worth asking if we are to understand the stakes of neoliberal conservation and development in Tanzania and beyond.