In Mwanza, Tanzania, Nairukoki Leyian-Naisinyai tells me that here, “Corporations come with papers from the government claiming that they have the right to our land.” She points to the large corporations that have entered the lands of the Maasai people to mine rubies and tanzanite. The Maasai can neither assert their rights to the land nor benefit from the mining of these precious resources.
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic pastoralist community that proudly practice an Indigenous way of life closely tied to their land and cattle. Their ancestral lands border the East African Rift Valley, the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The government aims to expand the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania and plans to turn it into a game reserve.
“Every activity depends on the land,” says Rosa Olokwani-Mundarara, who—along with Leyian-Naisinyai—fights for the rights of the Maasai people to have greater control over their lives. The Maasai community, like other pastoralists, find themselves being marginalized by the capture of their lands for mining, tourism and conservation. According to the Legal Resources Centre and Oxfam, the globally recognized principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) can be extended to African human rights law and customary law, providing a legal basis to resist displacement. Joyce Ndakaru, who works at the nonprofit HakiMadini (or Right to Minerals), tells me that while FPIC offers important legal protection, the precarious situation of the Maasai land tenure—in particular women’s land tenure—rights poses challenges for women like Olokwani-Mundarara and Leyian-Naisinyai.