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Hunter-gatherer tribe's 'great victory' over commercial hunters

by Adam James
October 22, 2007

One of Africa's last hunter-gatherer tribes has won a “great victory” after an Arab royal family dropped plans to use the people's ancestral land for commercial hunting.

A company acting on behalf of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed of the United Arab Emirates has pulled out of a deal made two years ago with the Tanzania government to hunt wildlife in 2,267 square kms of remote bush in the Yaeda Chini region of Tanzania, east Africa.

Campaigners feared if a hunting concession was granted to the company then the 400-estimated Hadzabe hunter-gatherers of Yaeda Chini would have been criminalised as poachers and driven off land their ancestors have lived on for 10,000 years.

The Hadzabe, who live in small groups and are believed to number less than 1,000 in total in Tanzania, are the closest cultural relatives to the San bushmen of the Kalahari in Botswana.

The company, UAE Safaris Ltd, complained it had been "misrepresented" by unspecified Hadzabe interest groups.

The company's decision is five months after the controversial arrest of two Hadzabe men after they spoke out against the deal. The arrests were condemned as political "intimidation” by supporters.

"The end of the deal is a great victory because it sends a clear message that hunter-gatherer people will not take threats to their ancestral land lying down,” said Fiona Watson of Survival International, a charity working for the rights of tribal people around the world.


Richard Baalow, a Hadzabe, fears allowing commercial hunting in Yaeda Chini, Tanzania, would lead to his people being driven from their ancestral land. Photo: Adam James

At the height of the controversy in May, two Hadzabe, Richard Baalow and Naftali Kitandu were arrested on charges of breaching the peace after, they said, they voiced strong opposition to the deal during a meeting in Mongo Wa Mono village, Yaeda Chini. The meeting was attended by an official from the Tanzania government’s commission for human rights and good governance.

Both Mr Baalow and Mr Naftali, were held in a jail in Mbulu town for four days. Legal proceedings are still ongoing. Mr Baalow and Mr Naftali deny any wrong-doing.

"We did nothing, nothing at all. It was just because we refused [to agree to the UAE Safaris plan],” said Mr Baalow.

Campaigners said the arrests exemplified the scare tactics used by the Tanzanian government, backed by local officials, to try and silence dissenting Hadzabe.

"Tanzanian human rights organisations see this [the arrests] as a form of intimidation to ensure compliance with the decision to contract with the UAE” read a report compiled by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee.

UAE Safaris confirmed last week it has “surrendered the rights” to hunt in Yaeda Chini. It denied that, had it started hunting, the Hadzabe would have been prevented from using the land.

A UAE Safaris statement read: “To suggest or imply that the company operations included restricting or preventing Hadzabe tribesmen from continuing their traditional hunting practices is incorrect - traditional hunting practices are subject only to Tanzanian law.”

"However, a commercially motivated misrepresentation of the company's intentions and activities has been continuously perpetuated by certain interest groups. This has regretfully caused us to review the long term sustainability of our planned program in the entire region resulting in our reluctant withdrawal.”


A Hadzabe boy in the Yaeda Chini valley, Tanzania, east Africa. The Hadzabe hunter-gatherer tribe has lived in the region for 10,000 years. Photo: Adam James

Before being granted its concession, UAE Safaris was due to assist in the economic development of the Yaeda Chini valley, which borders Lake Eyasi.

It was to build a secondary school, health clinic and roads to link the Hadzabe with Mbulu, the nearest town. The hunting firm was also to pay 50% of the running costs of the school for as long as it was granted a hunting concession in Yaeda Chini.

The company, which had only got as far as building a base camp in Yaeda Chini, also promised a number of conservation initiatives, including providing 4x4 vehicles for anti-poaching patrols and water boreholes to attract more wildlife to Yaeda Chini, an animal migratory route where wildlife is underthreat from poaching.

Before learning that UAE Safaris had pulled out, Damian Issay, chairman of Mbulu District Council, which was to have benefited from the projects, said: "The safari company is to do work that we, as a council, can not afford. We lose those benefits if the company pulls out."

But campaigners say neither the government nor UAE Safaris had given any guarantee that a sustainable solution could be brokered to ensure the Hadzabe could continue to hunt without being arrested for poaching. In 2005, after Hadzabe had been arrested on poaching charges elsewhere in Tanzania, the effected private hunting company did broker such an agreement.

Edward Porokwa, co-ordinator of the Pingo Forum, which represents indigenous tribes in Tanzania, said Hadzabe have neither legal ownership to their land nor do they have any legal right to self-subsistence hunting.

"It is as if the Hadzabe do not exist,” said Mr Porokwa. "Unless you have a hunting concession, hunting is illegal. Law prohibits hunting. Therefore, the livelihoods of the Hadzabe is not recognised according to the law.”

Emails and telephone calls were made to Philip Marmo, Tanzania’s good governance minister and the Mbulu MP, asking how much UAE Safaris was due to pay the government for its hunting concession. No reply was received.

Other commercial hunting firms operating in Tanzania pay £25,000 per year, plus “trophy fees” of, for example, £6,000 per lion and £7,500 per elephant.

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Contact: To discuss commissions, rates and enquiries, or if you have possible news story/feature ideas Adam James (home page) can be contacted on +44 (0)1926 313 232 or adamjames@[remove-this-bit]freelancejournalists.org.uk

Copyright (C) Adam James, 2007-9