• Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Indigenous peoples in Tanzania

    Tanzania does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples, even though Tanzania is home to 125-130 different ethnic groups.
  • Peoples

    125-130 ethnic groups, falling mainly into the four categories of Bantu, Cushite, Nilo-Hamite and San, live in Tanzania.
  • Current state

    2015: New government in Tanzania elected. A few months after indigenous peoples found themselves the victims of government actions.
    2016-17: Evictions of indigenous peoples in Kilosa, Mvomero and Morogoro Vijijini districts.
  • Rights

    There is no specific national policy or legislation on indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous World 2021: Tanzania

Tanzania is estimated to have a total of 125 – 130 ethnic groups, falling mainly into the four categories of Bantu, Cushite, Nilo-Hamite and San. While there may be more ethnic groups that identify themselves as indigenous peoples, four groups have been organizing themselves and their struggles around the concept and movement of indigenous peoples. The four groups are the hunter-gatherer Akie and Hadzabe, and the pastoralist Barabaig and Maasai. Although accurate figures are hard to arrive at since ethnic groups are not included in the population census, population estimates[1] put the Maasai in Tanzania at 430,000, the Datoga group to which the Barabaig belongs at 87,978, the Hadzabe at 1,000[2] and the Akie at 5,268. While the livelihoods of these groups are diverse, they all share a strong attachment to the land, distinct identities, vulnerability and marginalization. They also experience similar problems in relation to land tenure insecurity, poverty and inadequate political representation.

Tanzania voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 but does not recognize the existence of any indigenous peoples in the country and there is no specific national policy or legislation on indigenous peoples per se. On the contrary, a number of policies, strategies and programmes that do not reflect the interests of the indigenous peoples in terms of access to land and natural resources, basic social services and justice are continuously being developed, resulting in a deteriorating and increasingly hostile political environment for both pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.

Loliondo case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ)

Loliondo Division in Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region in northern Tanzania is one of the areas that has suffered numerous evictions and human right violations due to its wealth of natural resources. The area borders Serengeti National Park to the west, Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the south, Kenya to the north and Longido District to the east. Its geographical location provides abundant subsurface streams, open grasslands, palatable acacia and lavish mineral licks, which attract varied wildlife populations all year round.

The wildlife resources of Loliondo and its proximity to Serengeti National Park attract big hunting and photographic tourism businesses and companies. Serious conflicts started when one hunting company (Ortello Business Corporation) was awarded a hunting concession by the government in 1991. Local Indigenous Maasai people were initially evicted in 2009, regardless of their legal proof of ownership to the land and, since then, a series of human rights violations have been reported, including destruction of property, beating and harassment of the Indigenous Maasai people.

Following another forceful eviction in mid-2017, four Village Councils (Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo and Arash) filed a suit in the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, (Reference No. 10 of 2017) seeking orders for a permanent halt to the evictions, arrests, prosecutions and destruction of their properties as well as reparations. The applicants allege that the government’s acts, orders and decisions are in violation of Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community, as well as the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania and the Village Land Act of 1999.

As part of the East African Court Justice directive, the conflicting parties were required to provide evidence of the violation of human rights, the locations of the destroyed pastoralists’ homesteads at the time of eviction and legal proof of ownership of their land.

Since its filing in 2017 and as of the submission of evidence in 2020, the case had survived different legal and political challenges and hurdles, including numerous preliminary objections by the defendants (the government), threats towards the Indigenous people’s witnesses, difficulty in reaching the area, threats towards civil society actors who were supporting the case, intimidation of the local village leaders, threats towards the expert witness, language barriers due to low levels of formal education among Indigenous Peoples and, recently, the COVID-19 pandemic which made it difficult for submissions to take place physically and resulted in technical communication problems. All this slowed down the final determination of the case.

One of the most challenging issues encountered in relation to the case in 2020 was the fact that in 2019 the Indigenous Peoples engaged a GIS expert to prove that the settlements that were burned down in 2017 were within the village lands and not inside the Serengeti National Park. At great cost, the Indigenous people hired an expert who conducted a study on the geographical positions of the destroyed pastoralist homesteads in the four villages of Ololosokwan, Kirtalo, Oloirien and Arash.

The report was filed in court in October 2019 but, unfortunately, the expert was threatened and could therefore not appear to defend the report in March 2020 when he was summoned by the court. This caused a serious setback and delay to the case. However, another expert from outside the country was engaged in May 2020 and managed to submit the expert report, which was admitted by the court in November 2020.

On 10 July 2020, the government also submitted its evidence in the form of maps provided by their expert. Despites the challenges, the main case is now at the final stage as each party has already brought its evidence and witnesses, and the case is closed for final submissions with the following timelines: applicants to file their Written Submissions-in-Chief on 31 December 2020, Respondent to file their Written Submissions-in-Response on 15 February 2021 and, finally, on 2 March 2021, the applicants will file their Written Submissions-in-Rejoinder. The final decision in this important and long-standing case is awaited within the first quarter of 2021.

Some of the important milestones for the case in 2020 were that, for the first time, three senior government officials were forced to testify in court with cross-examination by lawyers representing Indigenous Peoples. The court also issued a ruling restraining and prohibiting the respondent from evicting the Indigenous people, confiscating their livestock, burning their homes and beating them. And, lastly, the two most recent court hearings were livestreamed on the court website, the first time this happened.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area and threats of eviction of Indigenous Peoples

The fate of the Maasai, Barabaig and Hadza hunter-gatherers living in the world famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Northern Tanzania remains uncertain. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (hereinafter NCAA) has been expressing concerns at the deterioration in the area. In December 2019, the NCAA paid editors and journalists to meet in a workshop in Ngorongoro. The Ngorongoro Conservator stirred up a sense of urgency about the imminent threat towards the NCA, which he said was being caused by the greatly increased human and livestock populations. The state-owned newspaper, Daily News, published a seriously misleading story on 29 December 2020. The lead article was captioned, “Ngorongoro at tipping point as populations soars.”[3] The article claimed that more than 100,000 pastoralists were living within the Ngorongoro Crater; however, in reality not a single pastoralist lives in the crater. Jamhuri, a weekly newspaper, which has also advocated for the eviction of pastoralists in other parts of the country, published negative and gravely biased articles on 5 and 12 January 2021 calling for the eviction of the Maasai.[4]

Different events preceded this negative publicity, including the December 2016 visit of the Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania to Ngorongoro.[5] Following the visit, livestock were banned from entering various areas within the NCA, including the Ngorongoro Crater, Olmoti Valley, Embakaai Valley, Lake Ndutu, Masek and the Northern Forest Reserve, which are all critical for livestock.

Other related and important issues are the development of a new Ngorongoro General Management Plan, which commenced in August 2017; an amendment to the law on the NCA, which was initiated in 2018; and a Task Force formed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in 2018 to review the Multiple Land-Use Model of the NCA and recommend management options.[6] These processes continued throughout 2020 with no or inadequate representation of the Indigenous inhabitants.

 Indigenous residents complained in 2020 of being side-lined in all three processes. Three hand-picked community members were added to the Task Force and then dropped again instantly without attending any Task Force meetings. At a meeting held in Dodoma in April 2020, the residents again complained about the one-sided composition of the Task Force. In the same month of April, four hand-picked community members were thereafter added. Soon after, however, they were given unfavourable terms of reference. One condition in these was that the four community representatives could not consult with or involve the NCA residents. Another was that residents who had opinions about the Multiple Land-Use Plan should submit these in writing to the Task Force in Arusha and that no community meetings would be held. In protest, the Ngorongoro Pastoralists Council withdrew the four community members from the Task Force after that same month, having been told they would not have the right to consult the community.

In July 2020, it was announced that the Task Force (without any representation of Indigenous Peoples) had submitted its report to the government. The report made unsubstantiated allegations, including of a human and livestock population explosion in Ngorongoro.

One of the suggestions advanced by the Task Force was to evict 73,000 pastoralists from the NCA. In addition, it has been suggested that NCA should be enlarged from its current 8,100 km2 to over 12,000 km2. To accomplish this, it is proposed to incorporate land from Loliondo Division and from Longido and Monduli Districts into the NCA. This will result in further threats to pastoralists from Loliondo, Longido and Monduli because they will be subjected to the very strict and limiting regulations of the NCA. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the general elections in Tanzania did, however, slow down the impending eviction for much of 2020.

The Engaruka Soda Ash Project and threats of loss of land

In 2014, through the National Development Cooperation (NDC), the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania conducted exploratory works that discovered a total of 4.7 trillion tonnes of brine in the Engaruka Basin, which is a shallow depression in the Rift Valley. This discovery threatens to alienate the land of the Indigenous Peoples living in the Engaruka Basin, and Maasai pastoralists from the four affected villages have been protesting against the expropriation and alienation of 25,000 hectares of their prime grasslands since 2014.[7]

In June 2020, the NDC published the Scoping Report and Terms of Reference for the establishment of a Soda Ash Project aimed at extracting the brine[8] and it has commissioned Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organization (TIRDO) to conduct an assessment of the project. This is the first time that the NDC has sought consultation with Indigenous Peoples.

On 20 July 2020, TIRDO visited the Indigenous Peoples’ umbrella organization, PINGO’s Forum,[9] in Arusha to discuss the project. From the visit, it was apparent Indigenous Peoples had not been consulted since the very design of the project in 2014.

From 10 to14 August 2020, PINGOs Forum conducted a fact-finding mission to Engaruka Basin and produced a report based on an analysis of the project and interviews with the Indigenous Peoples living in Engaruka.[10] The report[11] stated that the proposed project was seen by the government as important to the economic development of Tanzania and that the government believes that it will have a positive economic effect on Tanga Port activities, the Tanga to Arusha railway and job creation, among others. However, the report also found that the villages in the basin are experiencing pressure on natural resources from ongoing changes in land use, and that the Soda Ash Project is a potential threat to the survival of the Maasai people and their wildlife. Furthermore, the report found that the project could potentially result in pollution from the boilers and from emissions and that sound and air pollutions could affect areas as far away as Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park.


COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania were – like people the world over - shocked and so they turned to their own traditional ways of dealing with the pandemic.

Being the institutions focused on the interests of the Indigenous people, civil society organizations (CSOs) took initiatives to develop COVID-19 projects aimed at helping the government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania through information provision on the spread, transmission and prevention of the virus and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). Information was provided through the local radio, TV, and the distribution of fliers, addressing information gaps and raising awareness. The implementation of the activities took into consideration distancing and followed all WHO’s directives, including wearing masks, keeping distances and conducting regular handwashing. CSO assistance was also directed at supporting access to PPE for health workers (especially rescue teams formed to deal with the pandemic), public servants working in public offices where Indigenous Peoples obtain services, health centres, dispensaries and district hospitals.

  These efforts were made until the government stopped reporting and updating data on cases of COVID-19. From April 2020 on, when the government’s updated stopped, Indigenous people continued making personal efforts to protect themselves from the virus. They continued to use traditional medicine to increase their immunity and treat the symptoms of any respiratory-related disease.

  There is no documented evidence of Indigenous people dying of the coronavirus although many people have fallen sick with similar symptom to COVID-19. Available information shows that those who contracted the disease have recovered and they are taking precautions to continue their businesses.

  Just like other communities, Indigenous Peoples felt the effects of the pandemic socially, culturally, politically and economically. The pandemic has limited interaction within the communities and people have stopped interacting in the ways they were used to. The livestock markets have been seriously affected and this affects the economic capacities of Indigenous people. The full effect and impact of COVID-19 may not be immediately clear but it is likely to be considerable.

  The major challenge now is how Indigenous people can cope and adapt to living with the pandemic since the virus keeps mutating, making it difficult to deal with. Indigenous people are also facing difficulty in accessing vaccinations, both in terms of their high cost and a lack of accessibility. Measures are needed to help Indigenous people access coronavirus vaccinations at a lower cost and with increased possibilities of access. Lastly, the Tanzania government’s stance of ignoring the existence of the virus and discouraging any interventions to address the pandemic remains a serious threat to all of the country’s citizens.


Edward Porokwa is a lawyer and an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania. He is currently the Executive Director of Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum (PINGOs Forum), an umbrella organization for pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law (LLB Hon) from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from ESAMI/Maastricht School of Management. He has 15 years’ experience of working with indigenous peoples’ organizations in the areas of human rights advocacy, policy analysis, constitutional issues and climate change.

This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here


Notes and references 

[1] National Bureau of Statistics and Office of Chief Government Statistician. “2012 Population and Housing Census:

Population Distribution by Administrative Areas.” Tanzania, March 2013. https://www.google.co.tz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjMtN7Xz_PuAhWisXEKHeIMAfgQFjACegQIARAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftanzania.countrystat.org%2Ffileadmin%2Fuser_upload%2Fcountrystat_fenix%2Fcongo%2Fdocs%2FCensus%2520General%2520Report-2012PHC.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1E9NTiC9WCMu5kGjMGlnEP

[2] Other sources estimate the Hadzabe at between 1,000 – 1,500 people. See, for instance, Madsen, Andrew. The Hadzabe of Tanzania: Land and Human Rights for a Hunter-Gatherer Community. Copenhagen: IWGIA, 2000.

[3] Ngowi, Deus. “Tanzania: Ngorongoro At Tipping Point As Population Soars.” All Africa 29 December 2020. https://allafrica.com/stories/202012290072.html; Ngowi, Deus. “Ngorongoro At Tipping Point As Population Soars.” Daily News Tanzania, 29 December 2020. https://dailynews.co.tz/news/2020-12-285fe9d69b473e0.aspx

[4] See Jamhuri. “Ngorongoro yalemewa.“ In Print 5 January 2021. Headline seen on https://web.mpaper.co.tz/embed/owner/jamhuri

[5] Qorro, Edward. “PM orders human, livestock census in Ngorongoro. IPP Media, 10 December 2016. https://www.ippmedia.com/en/news/pm-orders-human-livestock-census-ngorongoro

[6] Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT).“The Multiple Land Use Model of Ngorongoro Conservation Area: Achievements and Lessons Learnt, Challenges and Options for the Future, Final Report, Dodoma August.” 2019.

[7] National Development Cooperation. “Scoping Report and Terms of Reference for the establishment of Soda Ash Project at Engaruka basin in Monduli District, Arusha, Tanzania.” p. 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum.

[10] PINGOs Forum. ”Rejoinder on the Scoping Report & Terms of Reference for the Soda Ash ProjectA response following the request by TIRDO for comments on the Engaruka Soda Ash Project.” Unpublished report, 2020.

[11] Ibid.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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