A Wayfairer Response: The Displacement of the Maasai People

Our Responsible Travel Executive, Ellie Lewis, discusses the saddening displacement of the Maasai people in Tanzania and Wayfairer's response to the issue...

 

This week at Wayfairer, a client bought an important issue to our attention. They asked for clarification on Wayfairer’s view towards the displacement of the Maasai people across Tanzania, to make space for the expansion of the tourism industry.

This concern follows a recent publication in The Atlantic which followed the story of a man called Songoyo, a Maasai farmer who had been forcibly displaced from his Boma (traditional Maasai village). Heartbreakingly, he was left with no other choice but to walk hundreds of miles to source income for his family. The article details extreme violence, abuse of human rights and startling imagery of a mass exodus of indigenous people fleeing for their lives.

The article has a clear stance: the Maasai have fallen victim to a land grab all in the name of tourism and conservation. The safari and tourism industry is painted in a highly negative light, with ‘sprawling lodges, roads bisecting rangelands and trucks off-roading across savannas’ being blamed for the destruction of precious grazing spaces.

However, through working in the sustainable tourism industry, I understand the positive and regenerative impact that eco-conscious tourism can have on communities and wildlife. This has prompted a deep dive into this controversial topic in order to respond to our client and to educate Wayfairer better towards the issues at hand.

 

Background

Our Responsible Travel Exec, Ellie, met with some members of a Maasai community at the Ngorongoro Crater last year.

In the heart of Tanzania’s breath-taking landscapes lies the Ngorongoro Crater, renowned for its stunning scenery and rich biodiversity. For generations, the Maasai people have lived in harmony with the Ngorongoro Crater’s land and wildlife. The Maasai are so deeply engrained in the history of the crater that its name even stems from the onomatopoeic origin of the sound produced by the traditional cattle bell (‘Ngoro Ngoro’). Yet, in recent years, troubling government policies have resulted in the forced relocation of many Maasai communities, disrupting their traditional way of life and threatening their cultural heritage.  

The reasons behind this displacement are complex but the main influence is the Tanzanian government. Traditionally, Maasai communities in Tanzania, like many indigenous groups in East Africa, have practiced customary land tenure systems where land is managed by the community as a collective. However, in recent years, changes in land laws and policies have affected these long-standing arrangements.

The Tanzanian government has asserted control and ownership over significant portions of land in the country, including some national parks, conservation areas, and government-administered lands. The legal right of the government to prioritise certain conservation, tourism and economic development initiatives over the rights of the indigenous communities is the root cause of this marginalisation.

If the government want to move the Maasai off their land in order to create a new national park, unfortunately they are in their right to do so, which is greatly troubling. Despite protests and legal challenges from Maasai leaders and activists, the displacement continues, raising concerns about human rights violations and the loss of cultural identity.

 

Wayfairer's response...

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Throughout the research of this topic, we have found the individual accounts from certain members of the Maasai very troubling. At Wayfairer, we are deeply committed to responsible tourism practices and strive to ensure that our travel experiences never have a direct negative impact on local communities. While we cannot directly influence these troubling government policies, we can work closely with our suppliers to support lodges, hotels and initiatives that empower and benefit the Maasai community.  

Articles like that in The Atlantic only reiterate to us the importance of being selective with our suppliers, in turn ensuring that the ripple effect of responsibility begins with us. By choosing to send our clients to responsible lodges, we aim to support initiatives that protect and empower the Maasai people. These partners embed Maasai traditions into their tourism experiences, rather than isolating them.

Revenue generated from tourism activities can be reinvested into Maasai communities to support local development initiatives. Many lodges and tourism operators engage in community-based tourism projects that provide direct benefits and funding to Maasai villages. Additionally, community-owned tourism enterprises empower the Maasai communities to have a stake in the tourism industry’s decision-making processes.

Various initiatives are currently in place and being supported by leading tourism partners in Tanzania, such as ‘HoneyGuide Tanzania’, showing the more positive side of tourism and conservation. The foundation’s focus on Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) reflects a commitment to inclusive, effective and sustainable conservation practises, whilst ensuring efforts are valued by local Maasai communities.

While we may not be able to control government policies, we can make a huge difference by continuing to promote sustainable lodges and initiatives like HoneyGuide that prioritise the well-being and empowerment of indigenous communities. It is our hope that through these efforts, we can contribute to a more equitable and sustainable future for the Maasai people and others affected by displacement in Tanzania.

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Our new project, 'Eco by Wayfairer', spotlights those properties around the world which display an incredible commitment to sustainability and cultural preservation. Beginning with Kenya, we strive to highlight those global eco-properties which go above and beyond to protect local communities and wildlife populations...

 

Conclusion

When presented with this fascinating article of such heavily weighted views, we felt it was essential to look at both sides of the story. Articles that lean so heavily in a negative direction can be extremely detrimental to all the positive work that is in place to combat these issues and it’s only fair that both sides are addressed.

Wayfairer is 100% against the violent and discriminative behaviour that the Tanzanian government have inflicted upon these indigenous people. We whole heartedly sympathise and disagree with the displacement and treatment that these people have faced. Unfortunately, this particular article only focusses on the negative impact of the tourism industry on the Maasai communities, and these are the practises that Wayfairer consciously avoids through the rigorous selection of suppliers.

Travellers who choose to not travel to Tanzania because of issues raised in this article unfortunately will not have a direct positive impact upon the Maasai as the responsibility lies with the government.

What you can do however, is ask the right questions (as our client here did), and ensure that you are choosing to stay with the most ethical and responsible safari lodges that continue to give back to local communities.

Ask us about which charities you can support that are empowering the Maasai people and about the best practises you can adopt when travelling to demonstrate respect and integrity towards them.

If you have more questions about the issues raised in this blog please email them to: [email protected]

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