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Battle over the Serengeti pits Maasai against Dubai

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“We are worried that this is just a smokescreen,” said Morgayamat Maanda, a grandmother of seven, speaking of the meeting with the prime minister.

Indeed, Pinda’s spokesman told the Monitor that the government’s position is still that of Mr. Kagasheki, the tourism minister. Kagasheki had earlier launched a national media campaign claiming the Maasai are squatters on government land, and that their cattle are overgrazing and threaten the local wildlife.

With no clear answer from Pinda, the women are camping in tiny Arash village in the shadow of one of the corridor’s forested mountains, debating whether to sell their husbands’ cows for funds in order to travel to Dar es Salaam to demand an audience with President Jakaya Kikwete.

Ancestral heritage

The Maasai view the land in Loliondo as part of their ancestral heritage. In practical terms, about 90 percent of Maasai locals raise and export a breed of humped cattle that pays for their food and for the costs of living, including school fees for children.

“If the land goes, then the livestock does not have grass,” said Mairetwai Olenguyo, a local mother.  “I won’t have cattle to sell, and then my children will die of hunger.”

When the plan was first announced, a number of local politicians, males, said they would resign their offices in protest. Yet none did, sparking anger by women and mothers, who experts say suffer most from the kind of social upheavals that a mass removal of Maasai herders would involve.

Women here recall being left behind by their husbands to care for children during a 2009 drought when security forces for the OBC company, which has operated in Loliondo for the past two decades, denied them access to water. Maasai men often seek work in the city as guards since they are seen as fierce warriors. 

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