Govt taken to East African court over Ngorongoro land crisis

Arusha. The Tanzania government has been taken to East African Court of Justice (EACJ) by four villages aggrieved by long standing and unresolved land disputes in Ngorongoro District in Arusha region.

The four villages, Ololosokwan, Olorien, Kirtalo and Arash have filed the case alleging that their eviction from their ancestral land was against the law.

The suit was submitted to the Court on September 21 by the councils of the four villages with the Attorney General of Tanzania on the dock as the First Respondent.

The four villages are represented in the case by two lawyers working with the Arusha-based Pan African Lawyers' Union (Palu), Donald Deya and Nicholous Opiyo.

The villagers alleged that torching of their houses, arbitrary arrests and forced eviction from their dwelling areas was against the law because their villages were officially registered.

According to a Court Clerk with EACJ, Boniface Ogutu, the complainants want the eviction order against them stopped until their case was determined.

The villagers submitted before the Court, certificates on the registration of the four villages under the Ujamaa Villages Act of 1975 in order to argue their case.

The documents indicated Ololosokwan village, which is in the centre of the land disputes in Loliondo division, Ngorongoro district, got its registration in 1978 and Arash in 2002.

The villagers further alleged that the government of Tanzania was wrong in revoking land ownership from the four villages and that it also wronged by changing the land use of the said areas.

Ngorongoro District, particularly the Loliondo division, has been the centre of land disputes from the 1990s  mainly pitting the  nomadic pastoralists, on one hand, and the conservation agencies and the foreign investors, on the other.

At some point, the villagers have alleged their grazing land had been annexed by the government into the protected areas. Accusing fingers have also often been pointed at some foreign tourist hunting companies.

Only recently, agitated livestock keepers from the remote area pleaded before President John Pombe Magufuli to intervene after their endless pleas had been downplayed by other officials.

In the middle of last year, for instance, they called on him to intervene and stop the security operation that was going on following the arrest of civil leaders and activists advocating for land rights for the indigenous people.

The dispute took a new twist in August this year when scores of families of the livestock herders were torched following an order to evict them from within or close to the fringes of the Serengeti National Park which borders the Loliondo wildlife controlled area.

Although the government defended the move on grounds no human activity was allowed inside or close to the national park, the livestock keepers termed the action gross violation of human rights.

They alleged they were not only brutally evicted but were bitter that their homes were torched and about 1,000 head of their cattle confiscated by the game rangers.