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Dubai royals hunt out Maasai land

Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40?000 Maasai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game.

Activists celebrated last year when the government said it had backed down over a proposed 1?500km2 “wildlife corridor” bordering the Serengeti National Park that would serve a commercial hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

But now the deal appears to be back on and the Maasai have been ordered to evacuate their traditional lands by the end of the year.

Maasai representatives insist the sale of the land would rob them of their heritage and affect the livelihoods of 80?000 people. The area is crucial for the grazing of livestock on which the nomadic Maasai depend.

Unlike last year, the government is offering compensation of one billion shillings (about R64-million), not to be paid directly but to be channelled into socioeconomic development projects. The Maasai have dismissed the offer.

“I feel betrayed,” said Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group. “One billion is very little and you cannot compare that with land. It’s inherited. Their mothers and grandmothers are buried in that land. There’s nothing you can compare with it.”

Nangiria said he believed the government never truly intended to abandon the scheme in the Loliondo district but was wary of global attention. “They had to pretend they were dropping the agenda to fool the international press.”

He said it had proved difficult to contact the Ortelo Business Corporation, a luxury safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family.

An international campaign against the reserve attracted more than 1.7-million signatures and led to email and Twitter protests.

A spokesperson for Tanzania’s natural resources and tourism ministry said: “It’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m currently out of the office and can’t comment properly.” – © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2014

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David Smith
David Smith is the Guardian's Washington DC bureau chief. From 2010 to 2015 Smith was the Africa correspondent for The Guardian for which he was based in Johannesburg, South Africa
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