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EU Withdraws Tanzania Conservation Funding Over Maasai Eviction Dispute

For the growing international scrutiny over human rights in conservation practices, the European Union Commission has withdrawn its financial support for Tanzania’s wildlife conservation efforts.

The decision comes amid allegations of human rights violations against the indigenous Maasai community, who have been facing controversial evictions from their ancestral lands.

The EU’s stance became clear on June 5 when it cancelled Tanzania’s eligibility for a substantial €18.4 million grant. This fund was part of a larger biodiversity protection initiative aimed at East Africa, which was also to benefit Kenya.

However, with Tanzania now out of the picture, Kenya’s southern and northern ecosystems are the sole recipients of this grant.

This development follows a similar action taken by the World Bank in April, which put a hold on a $150 million conservation and tourism development mega-project in southern Tanzania. The suspension was a response to ongoing investigations into claims of human rights abuses linked to the project’s implementation.

The heart of the controversy lies in Ngorongoro and Loliondo, areas within Tanzania renowned for their rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. Here, the Maasai herders have traditionally grazed their cattle, coexisting with wildlife in what has been a delicate balance between human activity and nature conservation.

However, this balance has been disrupted by what critics describe as aggressive moves by the Tanzanian government to evict these indigenous people to pave the way for expanded conservation tourism activities.

The evictions have been taking place over the past two years and have drawn widespread condemnation from both local and international observers. Critics argue that these actions are not only a violation of human rights but also counterproductive to conservation efforts that should ideally involve and benefit local communities.

In response to these concerns, new conditions have been attached to grants under the EU’s NaturAfrica programme. These stipulations emphasize respect for the rights of Indigenous communities in targeted areas.

The programme itself is designed to protect biodiversity and ecosystems while improving governance and management of natural resources through community participation and empowerment.

The controversy has also cast a spotlight on Tanzania’s land laws, which state that all land is publicly owned. The government has used this premise to argue that no single ethnic group can claim exclusive ownership over any part of it, including the Maasai who have lived in these areas for generations.

Despite legal challenges and court rulings against the evictions, as well as claims that Tanzania is seeking to create new trophy hunting spaces for elite clients, the government has remained steadfast in its position. It insists that its actions are legal and necessary for conservation.

The European Commission’s updated notice on grant proposals underlines a human rights-based approach to conservation. It calls for inclusive governance alongside conservation efforts and green economy initiatives.

The notice also stresses commitments to upholding gender equality and empowering women, youth, and vulnerable populations in local communities.

Grant applicants are now expected to obtain Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from beneficiary communities. They must also institute human rights policies, grievance mechanisms, and other preventive measures to ensure respect for human rights.

As this situation unfolds, it serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between conservation goals and human rights obligations. The international community’s response highlights a growing consensus that effective conservation cannot come at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights and well-being.

With investigations by both the World Bank and EU ongoing, there is hope that future conservation efforts will be more inclusive and respectful of all stakeholders involved. As such, this episode may well serve as a turning point in how conservation projects are conceived and implemented globally.


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