Neoliberal Land Rights?
This book is an account of tourism, land rights, and development in northern Tanzania. The economic policies put in place in the late 1980s and early 1990s reorganized the meanings of Tanzanian villages into new forms of international commodities. To focus simply on whether tourism is good or bad obscures the ways that tourism shapes the meanings of property, citizenship, and community. From my first visit in 1991 until the completion of this book in 2014, these issues have remained salient and enduring, despite the ebbs and flows of the story. I have shown how the development of different forms of safari tourism under neoliberal conditions in northern Tanzania remade the meaning of Maasai identity and landscapes. These political and economic forces structure not only individual choices but also collective ideas, values, and practices.
Much like the Serengeti itself, the Tanzanian village is both a place and an idea. My main argument is that liberalization policies introduced in the late 1980s changed the context in which foreign investors and Maasai residents imagined Maasai communities as rights-bearing villages. Although the village was initially seen as a state imposition, Loliondo Maasai turned it into a legitimate political entity capable of representing the interests of its citizens, a space of belonging for the Maasai, and finally a site for foreign investment where travel companies could gain access to land for safari tourism.
For many groups including travelers, tourists, hunters, philanthropic organizations, development agencies, students, researchers, and Tanzanian officials themselves, the village often transmitted a nostalgic quality. It was the embodiment of authentic African life, communal, bounded, and rooted in place. This understanding resembled Julius Nyerere’s own nostalgia for building a modern African nation in the image he had of precolonial African communalism. For state officials, the village was the most tangible example of Tanzanians’ path toward modernity with clear boundaries, elected representatives, and democratic norms for its citizens to participate in social, economic, and political life within the nation state. For Maasai residents the village was largely an externally imposed idea, one that tried to remake Maasai social relations by transplanting kinship with village government as the primary locus of access to grazing land for livestock. This change was part of a larger reform effort to replace ethnicity and lineage with modern state institutions. For many Maasai, the village was a flawed experiment that failed to increase their land security or citizenship status. The creation of Maasai villages in the 1970s did, however, have lasting effects. I argue that neoliberalization created a context for new meanings of the village, community, and land rights to emerge.
This book is neither a tragic nor a triumphant tale of safari tourism in Tanzania. Rather, it has tried to illustrate how globalization is unfolding in a specific place, Loliondo, and the broader implications of neoliberal development on Maasai landscapes. Safari tourism investment on village lands bordering Serengeti National Park is valuable for conservation, economic development, and community livelihoods. This book has tried to answer the question: what happens when foreign investment becomes a driving discourse for conservation and development? I have specifically examined the changing meaning of Maasai villages after the deregulation of the safari tourism industry. In the following discussion, I outline the three primary ways that the political economy of tourism in Tanzania has reshaped the cultural landscape.
Land and Property
Market-led globalization has intensified the importance of delineated property rights. In order for investors to participate in economic projects, they require clear property regimes. In places like northern Tanzania, where property rights have remained somewhat flexible, as well as contested, neoliberalization encouraged efforts to clarify and codify property relationships. This new policy context created openings to appropriate land with ambiguous tenure regimes, leaving Tanzanians with uncertain land rights vulnerable to market-based dispossession. In one example of how neoliberalization encourages the state to claim land and resources in the name of efficient and productive investment, the government established the Tanzanian land bank to allocate “unused or underutilized land” to foreign investors. In order to retain access to land and critical natural resources, groups lacking clearly defined land rights needed to respond. One way Tanzanian citizens have done so is by codifying their property rights, making them more visible and legitimate to investors. In Loliondo, villages, as territorially bound units of production and belonging, became important sites for the Maasai to organize their cultural and economic claims to land and natural resources. As a legible symbol of community, the village became the material representation of Maasai society through which the Maasai could interact with national and international groups. If not an equal player, the Maasai village resident or village representative had a recognizable seat at the table. For good or for bad, property claims have become the language of activism under neoliberal globalization. Despite the dangers associated with privatizing communal lands, this study has shown how the Maasai have used the new discourse of CBC and village-based tourism to organize community interests. One of the primary ways that the shifting paradigm of private property has influenced cultural formations in northern Tanzania is the propensity for property disputes to encourage ethnic conflict and differentiation. As property lines become the legitimate and legible symbol of community, other, more fluid social relationships are subsumed by their logic.
Development experts, donors, and some conservation groups proposed CBC as the best way to address the problematic divide between people and nature. CBC meant different things to different groups, but at its core it meant devolving management authority over and redistributing benefits from wildlife living on or near communal and privately held land. As experts and bureaucrats embarked on a decade-long search for a policy approach to CBC in Tanzania, rural communities like those in Loliondo and private safari tourism operators searched for their own approaches. Maasai villages in Loliondo signed contracts with tourism investors for exclusive access to their village lands in exchange for a share of the tourism revenue. This was a novel way to earn money and to assert village land rights. Notwithstanding the relatively small size and influence of these tourism investors compared to other foreign investors, including hunting companies that competed for access to the area, the contracts between the ecotourism investors and villages symbolized the transnational recognition of Maasai land rights. Although property rights have long been the bedrock of capitalist social and economic relationships, they have historically been grounded in state recognition and enforcement. What was different about the approach in Loliondo was that the Maasai drew primarily on international recognition to try to leverage the state to enforce their rights.
Maasai leaders in Loliondo came to see the “contracts” between villages and ecotourism companies, which grant access to local resources, as a way to remake their social relationships with the state. Drawing on their understanding, Maasai leaders distinguished such access to resources from ownership of those resources. Many of the leaders and residents I interviewed contrasted contracts, which they said depended on the legitimacy of community ownership and rights, with state granted “titles” or “leases” through which the state intended to grant and guarantee secure long-term property rights. As one male elder from Ololosokwan village told me, the agreement between the village and a tourism investor “is not a title; it is a contract. The company doesn’t need or want a title; they want a strong contract. Now [it] is on the village to prove we own the land.” Ultimately, such proof involved a long and complicated struggle between villages and state agencies. If investors could enter into direct partnerships with communities, Maasai leaders believed that they could exploit the qualities of ecotourism for both private profit and community gain. Yet state agencies used similar tactics by partnering with tourism investors to solidify their own claims. In this case, state officials promoted certain investors and forms of tourism that enhanced their own territorial claims. Thus the state legitimated the OBC hunting lease and the Thomson Safaris/TCL nature refuge while it marginalized the village joint ventures.
The need to draw on neoliberal discourse and emphasize private property rights to secure their own economic interests meant that the Maasai helped to remake the meaning of their landscapes in a form more legible to capitalist markets and understandings. As land with clear boundaries and definitive owners became the necessary means to capture tourism revenue, questions of precisely which Maasai ethnic groups belonged to what territory become consequential in new ways. Village tourism contracts became one important instrument that the Maasai used to demonstrate their property rights to Tanzanian state officials, foreign investors, and transnational organizations. The contracts produced new property regimes that imbued village boundaries with greater regulatory significance, changing the very meaning of territory that increasingly divided the community along ethnic lines. Smaller Maasai ethnic groups like the Laitayok Maasai felt that they were being squeezed by more-powerful groups and feared long-term exclusion from essential rangelands. Whereas these groups had faced discrimination in the past, reciprocal social arrangements helped maintain regional access to pastures for all Maasai ethnic groups in Loliondo. With village boundaries mapping directly onto tourism revenue streams, the economic logic of rigid boundaries began to override the cultural logic of flexible boundaries. This situation led some Maasai groups to see the village tourism contracts as a direct threat to their livelihoods. This partly explains why some members of the Laitayok Maasai ethnic group viewed the Thomson Safaris/TCL investment as possible protection for their access to land and resources. As one Laitayok man told me, “If the Purko have their investors, then we need our own investors.”1
In 2006, Sanna Ojalammi published an excellent study of the history of land conflicts in Loliondo. In her dissertation, Ojalammi writes, “Today sectional boundaries inevitably cut across present-day administrative and even national boundaries. Thus, their importance has diminished as a result of State territoriality.”2 This book makes a different argument. My research shows that ethnic territorial affiliations have become more, not less, significant over the past two decades.3 Rather than eroding ethnic territorial identifications, neoliberalization has encouraged ethnic identification as a source for territorial claims. Whereas past violence was often perpetuated based on the claim that “you stole our cattle,” current violence is being carried out based on claims that “your cattle are on our land.” I argue that ethnic territoriality has taken on greater significance under neoliberal imperatives to commoditize land.
The Political Ecology of Tourism
A political ecological approach to nature-society relationships starts with the premise that the environment is as social and political as it is ecological. The meanings and values of nature are not simply products but recursively constitute the environment itself. Describing these “constitutive spatial politics” regarding resettlement schemes in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, anthropologist Donald Moore argues that “livelihood practices have a spatial dimension, while they are also constitutive of popular understandings of the significance of the relationship between locality and identity (Pred 1986). An emphasis on the cultural politics of place underscores the simultaneity of symbolic and material struggles over territory. These struggles are highly localized, laying claim to specific terrain, yet are never simply local, sealed off from an outside beyond” (1998b, 347). A political ecology approach to the production of place demands that we situate the Serengeti and the Maasai villages in Loliondo in a larger political economic context.
Safari tourism is one of the key sites through which local meanings and value are produced. Scholarly literature on tourism often revolves around the tourist gaze and the role of tourist desires and nostalgia in shaping the meaning and value of far-from-home landscapes. Such a framing places the power to transform tourism in the hands of the tourists and tour companies. Complying with a checklist like the one created by Thomson Safaris for sustainable or green tourism often simplifies the effect of tourism on local places to a series of moral or ethical decisions in the hands of privileged travelers. Rarely do such checklists illustrate the historical and geographical formation of regional landscapes; rather, they reproduce a Western idea of African nature that contributes to the discursive justifications that dispossess Africans of agency in conserving or managing that nature. Such understandings help frame tourism as a passive practice of consuming the visual representations of the landscape, in this case symbolized best by the well-known African big five game animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino. Reproducing Loliondo as a tourist landscape that extends the “Serengeti experience” runs the risk of writing the Maasai and pastoral livelihoods completely out of the story of the Serengeti, rendering them almost unimaginable, except perhaps as tourist curiosities themselves.
Relying on these dominant understandings of African nature that reproduce the “myth of wild Africa,” conservationists have been able to defend their practices in the name of global interests or as Bernhard Grzimek put it in the film “Serengeti Shall Not Die,” the interests of humankind. Knowingly or not, tourists participate in a political economy that privilege specific ideas and values of what African nature is and who it is for. The room for alternative representations of African nature that incorporate the agency of African people like the Maasai is quite limited. For example, framing Enashiva as a place that needs to be conserved gave the owners of Thomson Safaris/TCL credibility in the eyes of the state and international groups, as well as their safari clients. Such a discursive framing of conservation as an ethical practice supports the commonsense narrative that establishing a nature refuge in the middle of Maasai villages is a sensible way to preserve nature, educate local people, and provide them with tangible benefits. There is little room in such a narrative for alternative understandings of the land as providing essential pasture for both livestock and wildlife. The irony of course is that prior to Thomson Safaris/TCL’s purchase of the land in 2006, the Maasai had managed it for decades precisely in this way. The apparent “need” to conserve this land was established upon Thomson Safaris’ arrival, not before it. Prior to the Thomson Safaris purchase in 2006, the government was willing to lease the land for a multiplicity of land uses, including agriculture, which would have destroyed the area not only for livestock but also for wildlife. This contingent history was quickly erased by Thomson Safaris’ efforts to document the authentic origin story of the area as a nature reserve.
So what does this all mean for the politics of tourism under neoliberal globalization? The Maasai in Loliondo are not against tourism or even conservation. To the contrary, they have been actively participating in tourism and conservation for decades. Their primary goal, however, is often different from that of the tourism companies. For most Maasai I have worked with and interviewed in Loliondo, the primary benefit of tourism is not revenue but rights. Maasai want tourism to add value to their land so that they can continue to use it for pastoralism. The village-based joint ventures provided the clearest model of this multi-purpose land-use strategy. The Enashiva nature refuge and the government’s attempt to excise the Loliondo hunting blocks represent a radically different course. Maasai communities want to profit from tourism, but monetary benefits alone cannot compete with the value of the land for supporting local livelihoods.
The Neoliberalization of Conservation
The rapid transition from socialism to neoliberal capitalism in Tanzania was associated with profound changes in a number of policies. In Tanzania, as in many other African nations, neoliberal reforms to privatize state functions, decentralize management and planning, and encourage foreign investment were fully in place by the late 1980s. Foreign investors, whom the Nyerere government kept at arm’s length, were to be welcomed as the vanguard of a new era. Because international experts deemed the bureaucratic state the problem, they felt that unleashing market forces would be the solution to create new value and harness latent opportunities. The economic reforms were accompanied by a number of political reforms aimed at facilitating the growth of civil-society institutions to fill the gap left by structural adjustment’s “rolling back” of the state.4 Although many Tanzanians were skeptical of market-led reforms, the promise of a more powerful civil society offered intriguing possibilities for social and economic justice never fulfilled by national development plans. This shift did not mean a simple retreat of the state. As I have described throughout this book, state actors and institutions adapted to these new conditions to reinvigorate the role and authority of the state itself. Tanzanian officials and agencies are not driven by a neoliberal ideology as much as they are responding to the constraints and openings created by neoliberalization. For all the public and scholarly criticism of neoliberalization, many marginalized groups in Tanzania and around the world saw the reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s as new opportunities to fulfill long-held aspirations for development and social justice.
Global economic policies like structural adjustment are most often understood as macro-level interventions. Yet these policies and reforms take shape in local contexts. One of the sectors most transformed by neoliberalism in Tanzania is conservation. Much has been written about the history of conservation in northern Tanzania and the close relationship between conservation and state power.5 The mid-1980s was a period of crisis in Tanzania not only for the overall economy but also for the conservation community. The lack of state resources to manage the vast network of protected areas, recognizing that ecosystem boundaries did not neatly correspond with park boundaries, and well-organized transnational social movements against fortress conservation models led to a rethinking of the relationships among the state, communities, and international conservation groups and interests. Conservationists and state officials began to realize and accept that large state-funded parks and reserves were not a sustainable model in highly indebted and underdeveloped countries like Tanzania. Although tourism was a vital part of Tanzania’s economy, it did not pay for the costs of the necessary conservation bureaucracy and infrastructure. Not only would it be necessary to privatize lodges and hunting concessions; it would also require rethinking the role of communities living adjacent to conservation areas.
Beginning in the early 1990s, two distinct approaches to safari tourism development emerged in northern Tanzania. One involved private ecotourism operators signing contracts with village governments to carry out walking and camping safaris on village land. This approach involved multiple tourism companies and six different villages, each with its own contracts and relationships. Maasai residents living in Loliondo drew on these projects collectively, highlighting the central role played by village governments in overseeing and benefiting from tourism activities. The other dominant approach to tourism in Loliondo over the past two decades took the form of state-facilitated tourism investment. The two best-known examples of this were the granting of a hunting concession, which overlapped with Maasai village land, to OBC, and the long-term lease of communal pastoral grazing land to the U.S. travel company Thomson Safaris/TCL for use as a private nature refuge. Loliondo residents came to associate these two projects with a state-supported effort to dispossess the Maasai of their territory and to assert national economic and political power over Maasai land and interests.
For years, the Maasai commodified their culture in order to earn minimal income on the margins of a political economic system in which they were but a sideshow on Tanzania’s famous wildlife safaris.6 For the most part, the appealing landscapes in which tourists snapped photos of the Maasai were controlled by national agencies.7 Encounters between tourists and Maasai people in Loliondo certainly share affinities with cultural encounters in more-staged settings, such as official cultural bomas located just off the well-traveled tourist route.
One thing that distinguished tourism in Loliondo, as opposed to cultural tourism en route to Serengeti National Park for instance, was that tourists encountered not only the Maasai people and their homesteads as cultural sites but also how Maasai pastoralism functioned on village land, with fewer restrictions than within nationally managed protected areas. Despite being able to read in park brochures and pamphlets that the history of the NCA and Serengeti National Park was shaped by Maasai herding practices, signboards, gates, and of course park entrance fees were clear signals that these protected-area spaces were Tanzanian and not Maasai. When tourists turn off the main road leading to Serengeti National Park and make the dusty journey north to Loliondo, they are often surprised that the land resembles that within the park boundaries. The lack of fences is an awe-inspiring and somewhat confusing sight for many tourists. The excitement of experiencing such a natural landscape and the absence of gates, guards, and entrance fees mark this landscape as more authentic and wild than those of the NCA or Serengeti National Park. The growing desire of tourists and tour companies to experience such rare landscapes shifted the relationships between tourists and the Maasai, from one of simple objectification to more-complex relations of production, consumption, and subjectification.
In February 1970, President Nyerere asked the students at the University College, Dar es Salaam (now the University of Dar es Salaam), to debate all aspects of socialist development in Tanzania.8 A group of students who were also members of the Tanganyika African National Union Youth League (TYL) presented a paper for public debate. In their letter, the students discussed the merits and limits of pursuing tourism as a strategy for socialist economic development. The “Tourism Debate,” as it was widely known, played itself out in the Standard newspaper for four months, from May to August 1970. The students largely criticized tourism for reinforcing colonial relationships that did little to achieve the goals of development, self-reliance, and freedom on which the country’s socialist path was built. They were critical of the arguments that tourism would bring in much-needed foreign exchange earnings and create promising employment. They rightly pointed out that given the high standards of tourist facilities, the import substitution effect and taxation on locally produced goods would be minimal for some time. If tourism did spur industrial production, they argued it would not benefit the average Tanzanian: “If our industrial policy is geared towards producing tourist goods, it will mean that we shall not be able to satisfy the needs of our people.”9 They went on to say, “Whether it is a designed tapestry for the hotel room, a fan, water-heater, or a whisky, the tourists’ requirements are those of a developed consumer society as opposed to our developing investment oriented rural society.”10
The TYL was skeptical that tourism would stimulate secondary industries that could substantially develop the national economy. In its view the development of “small-scale” or “cottage” industries such as producing crafts and souvenirs would never stimulate a vibrant industrial economy. “The most that tourism would encourage is fruit and poultry ‘gardens’—not farms—probably tended by the wives of the bureaucrats and politicians in town during their leisure time. Tourism may stimulate some taxi business and of course the ‘oldest profession on earth’—prostitution. We tender that no person with his full sense will argue that that is economic development.”11 As good young socialists, the authors of the TYL letter state that benefits from tourism will not accrue to all social classes. Rather, they will mainly benefit the elites or the “international bourgeoisie.”
The group was critical of the idea that tourism would promote local culture by developing “indigenous folklore” and promoting intercultural exchange and understanding. Rather, they argued that tourism made it “all the more difficult for [them] to destroy the colonialist inherited bourgeois outlook for [their] cities.”12 The class consciousness of the letter is an important reminder of Tanzania’s history. Whether Tanzania’s socialist experiment was deemed a success or a failure, the debate surrounding tourism in the 1970s set the tone for Tanzanian politics in that era. Such socialist analysis still has meaning in Tanzanian public life today and is perhaps more popular in retrospect than during its heyday.
Issa Shivji, law professor and leading public intellectual, edited a book in 1973 that was dedicated to publishing the debate for a wider audience. Shivji largely shared the critique of tourism laid out by the TYL. He reiterates the degrading effects of tourism, especially for a society struggling to emerge from the legacies of colonialism. Invoking the conclusions of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his famous essay “Decolonizing the Mind,” Shivji writes that tourism only serves to reinforce the biased cultural hierarchy put in place during colonial rule.
Tourism . . . with the extremely humiliating subservient “memsahib” and “sir” attitudes and, above all, the unavoidable dampening of vigilance and militancy that accompanies the necessity to create a hospitable climate for tourists—is a major component in this “cultural imperialism.” One has only to go to some of our palatious beach hotels (only the outside of which a Tanzanian fisherman will ever see) and watch the waiters and waitresses in their immaculate uniforms, moving up and down the corridors like disciplined school children . . . to understand what an outrageous, alien structure we are harbouring in the midst of our policy of ujamaa. (Shivji 1973, ix)
By the 1990s, the TYL no longer existed, but the University of Dar es Salaam continued to be a place where critical debates about development took place. Shivji, still a law professor at the university, headed the president’s Commission on Land Reform. One of his main recommendations was that land should not be sold outright so that peasants and pastoralists could continue to afford their rural livelihoods. This recommendation, along with many others, was rejected. Shivji started the Land Rights Research Institute to advocate on behalf of groups that he felt were particularly vulnerable to the exploits of unfettered capitalist development. Pastoralists and hunter-gatherers were chief among these groups.
The “Tourism Debate” notwithstanding, Tanzania like many other developing nations in Africa and Latin America has embraced tourism as one path to economic prosperity. Critics rarely blamed tourism for contributing to the failure of development or the debt crisis in the 1980s. Rather, they remained convinced that a robust tourism sector with the proper management and investment was still one of Tanzania’s best options for development. The 1990s saw a resurgence of the idea that tourism could help revitalize stagnant economies like Tanzania’s, in sharp contrast to the TYL argument decades earlier. Tourism dovetailed nicely with the dominant ideas of neoliberal development and sustainability. Development experts believed that private-sector investment together with increased global demand for foreign travel would be a boon for Tanzania. Although cultural imperialism remained a valid critique, there was a limited audience either within the country or outside it for such arguments. The idea that people could spend significant money on travel and at the same time contribute to the economic development of a country became an integral selling point of Tanzania’s tourism economy during the 1990s. Tourists could see their safari to an African country not only as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience but also as a way to help poor African people. In particular, ecotourism emerged as way for wealthy Westerners to simultaneously enjoy nature and promote conservation and sustainable development.
Tourism may be part of a strategy of economic development for rural areas, but I am concerned that we are asking the wrong questions. How tourism can contribute to development is typically cast in terms of straightforward economic benefits. How many jobs does it provide? Does it create new markets for local crafts and agricultural goods? What revenue does it bring to households and communities? Embedded in these questions is a simple cultural assumption. If people benefit financially from tourism, they will value tourism. For many conservationists, this is the critical link between tourism and building a broad constituency for nature preservation. One of the guiding principles of community conservation is that people will value conservation if they profit from it. It is this seemingly simple, rational economic logic that has led so many conservation organizations to embrace or at least experiment with community conservation projects. Much of the research on community conservation has tried to assess this connection between the economic value of conservation and community values and interests.13
What most of these studies fail to examine is the political economy of resource access, use, and control with which questions of conservation and tourism are intimately entwined. In the case of Loliondo, economic benefits, be they cash payments to village governments, the funding of a health clinic, the building of school classrooms, or the sponsoring of local children’s school fees, cannot easily be separated from long-term control and authority over land and natural resources. As many Maasai see it, these benefits are used as self-legitimizing tools to justify the good intentions and philanthropy of tourism investors. Throughout this book, I have argued that economic benefits alone will not tell us much about changing ideas, values, and attitudes of communities toward conservation and tourism. Rather, we need to understand how tourism and conservation projects articulate with political economic questions about resource access and control. I have explored how different types of consumptive and nonconsumptive safari tourism reinforce or challenge dominant development discourses and how they influence ongoing efforts to remake landscapes. Ecotourism epitomizes a contemporary return to the ideas of the mid-1980s and the Brundtland Commission’s report that economic growth would have to be sustainable in order to contribute to consistent and reproducible development.14 To many observers, safari hunting tourism may appear to do the opposite. But despite the efforts of many international conservation and animal-rights organizations, the preference for hunters or hikers may be decided not by the morality of taking pictures or animal trophies but rather by how these forms of safari tourism articulate with competing claims for territorial control.
The Cultural Politics of Land and Tourism
In a meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2004, a United Nations Development Program official asked me if I was “against markets.” We were discussing the prospects of the country’s land law for safeguarding local land rights in light of the current policy environment to promote private investment by setting up a national land bank for foreign investors. The request that I declare whether I was “for them” or “against them” seemed quite strange given that we were talking about a variety of forces influencing the new law’s implications for rural livelihoods and development. This question was problematic not only for the false choice that it posed but also for presenting a development narrative in which that choice was even imaginable. For many Africans, rejecting all markets is neither plausible nor desirable, any more than blindly embracing widespread and deepening market relations as a solution for poverty, insecurity, and rights. In this book, I have shown why the discourse of neoliberalism, despite its troubled history and uncertain promises, appeals to the Maasai and other groups in Africa. Rather than a simple embrace or refusal of “the market,” this study demonstrates how development practices make markets meaningful, opening up new possibilities, as well as limiting choices of civil-society groups and their constituencies.
Market forces have restructured property relations, thereby enabling novel political tactics. Embracing ecotourism companies as allies against the national government did reshape the meanings of conservation. However, as Loliondo leaders consistently point out, the new conservation paradigm is less a solution to land insecurity and more an ongoing and contingent site of struggle. It would be easy to criticize the village-based model as counter to the very ideals that pastoralists claim they are fighting for: their ability to determine their own path to development, which depends largely on flexible property rights and broadly based cultural-political alliances. However, village-based conservation was less a strategic attempt to determine future land use and more one of the few viable options to claim resources in an environment where market-driven relationships were remaking the Tanzanian landscape. The freedom that the communities associated with their joint ventures offered no guarantees of long-term rights and continued to expose them to significant risk. While Loliondo communities have made significant gains by linking tourism to a political economic understanding of pastoral land rights, investors like the OBC and Thomson Safaries/TCL working more directly through state institutions have been able to use current policies to push for more exclusionary understandings of property and benefits.
The development and growth of the village-based joint ventures played a significant role in shaping the regional understanding of a Maasai landscape and land rights in Loliondo. They allowed the Maasai to draw on these geographic understandings both to defend their model of tourism and to challenge competing forms of tourism investment. The recent history of ecotourism in the region has fashioned new relationships among pastoralists, the market, and their land. In seeing landscapes as dynamic and relational productions rather than as fixed containers, we can better understand the effects of conservation and development projects and show how green narratives of environmental sustainability promoted by investors, international organizations, and the state may or may not articulate with local agendas and practices.15
This book tells a specific story about Loliondo Maasai and Maasai landscapes. But it is also an illustration of how the connections that link rural land struggles and market-driven conservation structure the terrain of cultural politics in sites where tourism, private land accumulation, and historically tense state-society relationships are deeply entangled. By comparing the relationship between the Maasai people, landscapes, national development policies and experts, and tourism investors, I show that so-called global processes are always simultaneously local and translocal. Understanding how territory, politics, and identity are spatially constituted in Maasai landscapes sheds important light on the relationship between global development, indigenous struggles, and nature in a site, the Serengeti, with important implications for conservation, development, and cultural rights the world over.
The Politics of the Present
In late September 2013, the prime minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, announced that the government would halt its plan to excise fifteen hundred square kilometers, nearly 40 percent of Maasai village land, to create a national protected area and hunting reserve bordering Serengeti National Park. The declaration was the clearest sense of victory for Maasai villagers and activists who had been fighting the plan since it was first leaked in July 2010 and then formally announced in April 2013. Maasai leaders had been bracing for a state-led scheme to expand the boundaries of Serengeti National Park and the NCA since they were first created in 1959. The political tactics of Maasai leaders over the past three years built on a longer history of Maasai politics in which leaders creatively advocated for pastoralism as a modern and sustainable livelihood practice and culture. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Maasai largely tried to create space for pastoralists within the national-socialist developmental state. But by the 1990s, many Maasai were disillusioned with nationalism and sought new arenas in which to advocate for their cultural, economic, and political rights. As I have shown in this book, the Maasai creatively engaged with market-driven development discourse, specifically with their identities as property-owning villagers, to challenge the state’s and foreign investors’ claims over land and natural resources.
Pressuring the state to back off its plan to permanently divide the Maasai and their cattle from large segments of their village land, which also supported large wildlife populations, was no small feat. The Maasai organized themselves to protest the government-led eviction. Twenty thousand Maasai, close to half of the region’s total population, turned out to protest the action. Three thousand Maasai women from across Loliondo assembled for nine days in the village of Magaiduru, where they met with traditional leaders as well as elected district councilors. These meetings prompted the regional security officer to warn government officials that “something crazy [was] happening in Loliondo.” The Maasai from Loliondo contacted elected representatives, traditional leaders, and NGOs from the five districts with large Maasai populations. Representing close to two hundred thousand citizens, this group collectively threatened to abandon the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi/Party of the Revolution, and join the opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendelea/Party for Democracy and Progress.
In July and August 2013, a delegation of eighty-nine Maasai, including six women from each Loliondo village, went to the capital city of Dodoma. Sitting near the entrance to the parliament building, they demanded an explanation and a reversal of the government action to dispossess them of their land. Over ninety University of Dar es Salaam students joined them, demonstrating diverse societal support for the Loliondo Maasai land struggle. To their surprise, the prime minister agreed to meet with the Maasai delegation, welcoming them to a meal where he slaughtered a cow on their behalf. After several hours of discussion, the prime minister asked the delegation to return home to Loliondo, assuring them that he would address their concerns.
Organizing mass protests and forming regional alliances cutting across class, age, ethnicity, and urban-rural differences were impressive undertakings. Unlike past efforts in which the Maasai protested largely as indigenous people, marginalized because of their ethnic and cultural status, this movement was largely based on the idea that the Tanzanian state was unfairly persecuting Tanzanian citizens, specifically Tanzanian villagers who happened to be Maasai. During the previous two decades, the Maasai had used their status as villagers to connect their fight for land rights to a broader discourse of globalization in which the state and capital conspired to dispossesses peasants and pastoralists of their land and citizenship rights. It is hard to say for certain what led to the Tanzanian government’s reversal of its plan, but it seems clear that the political activism, based on Maasai collective claims as villagers, was an important approach. State authorities did not concede their control over land in Loliondo for international trophy hunting or their sovereign power to negotiate with foreign investors. However, it does seem that local activists have found important ways to organize the interests of the Maasai and other Tanzanians across Loliondo and the country. Such collective action is an essential component of any effort that hopes to hold government actors, as well as foreign investors, accountable. As of the final editing of this book, the conflict over land in Loliondo remains as contested as ever, and the government’s interest in making of Loliondo a national conservation area appears very strong. In November 2014 the Tanzanian government apparently reversed its position and planned to go ahead with the evictions and create a wildlife corridor for safari hunting, dispossessing the Maasai of over one-third of their land. They have offered six hundred thousand dollars as compensation. Immediately, Maasai leaders and organizations directly challenged this effort, working with their international partners and allies to once again raise transnational awareness about the issue. Journalists reported widely on the latest attempt to create a hunting reserve on the edge of Serengeti Park. Avaaz renewed its campaign and in the short term seemed to have once again slowed the enclosure of Maasai land in Loliondo. This story may never have a clear ending. What remains salient to this book is the relentless efforts by Maasai communities to actively resist these forms of conservation by organizing their interests and communities and working both locally and transnationally to shape their landscape and their power to participate in making their future.16
The Enashiva Nature Refuge remains the property of Thomson Safaris/TCL. Community leaders have managed to fight back against the company and its efforts to divide the community along ethnic lines and to limit its use of its traditional grazing land. The biggest challenge to the Enashiva project is the ability of the Maasai community to work together and present a united front to the company. Without a clear community faction supporting the project, it has become more difficult for Thomson Safaris/TCL to prevent the Maasai from using the area for grazing. By consistently challenging the aims and intentions of the nature refuge tourism project and working across ethnic lines, Maasai leaders from the Purko and the Loita ethnic groups have been able to join together with the Laitayok Maasai to challenge the investors claims to the land. Although there remains some political and ethnic division among the Maasai, the vast majority of residents and leaders now see the project as threatening Maasai land security for all Maasai ethnic groups. The idea that one ethnic group would gain land rights at the expense of others has been largely discredited through continued meetings with traditional and elected leaders, as well as NGOs. From the beginning of 2013, the directors of the Enashiva Nature Refuge have allowed the Maasai to graze on their land with minimal interference. Although Maasai leaders expect a renewed effort by Thomson Safaris/TCL to assert their rights in the future, their efforts to unite the community and demonstrate collective Maasai land rights grounded in a multiethnic and multivillage strategy appears to be paying dividends.