East Africa: Young Women’s Program Update and Maasai Human Rights (Part II)

East Africa: Young Women’s Program Update and Maasai Human Rights (Part II)

Mt. Kilimanjaro's waning glacier due to climate changes causes rivers to dry up downstream

Climate Change and the Effect on the Maasai Community’s Human Rights

Brighter Green’s East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative, provides nine Maasai young women from Kenya and Tanzania with leadership, rights training, and educational opportunities so they can attend college and become leaders of their community and spokeswomen for indigenous people. The Maasai community has historically been marginalized, and with the recent effects of climate change forcing the Maasai people, a mostly pastoral community, to move, they have encountered resistance, prejudice, and have been left with few options. They are being forced to move to different areas as a result of droughts and flooding and are concurrently being denied rights to live in these areas by the government. As a result, the communities are suffering, some are starving, and they do not have a sufficient voice to speak up for them in the government.

The Maasai community has suffered heavily due to the effects of climate change on the environment. They rely on land and rain for their livelihood and erratic weather patterns (drought, flash floods) have threatened the Maasai community’s well being. The community is forced to move to different territories to graze cattle but receives erratic support from the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments. In Kenya, the government has coerced and intimidated the community when they are forced to move to different territories due to climate change. In Tanzania, the government had initially created Wildlife Management areas where the Maasai could co-manage these wildlife areas and graze their livestock freely. However, the government is now ruling Maasai grazing illegal in these areas. In addition, game rangers have also shot Maasai livestock despite livestock being allowed to roam freely in Maasai rangelands.

Maasai communities are starving and being persecuted against: they are being denied access to lands previously available to them during times of drought and are being evicted from current areas of residence. In Ngorongoro, members of the community are starving after being denied access to the Ngorongoro conservation, an area that historically has always been a refuge for the Maasai during times of drought. On December 1st 2012, 106 cows belonging to the Maasai community were killed by agricultural communities alleging that the Maasai were trespassing onto their farmlands. In addition, the government is evicting pastoralists from the Ulanga and Kilombero districts in Tanzania, citing the land as a wetland area, and not to be used by the Maasai community. The Maasai people have even been referred to as “illegal immigrants”, despite having resided in these regions for nearly 70 years.

The Maasai community has tried to fight these injustices by taking these issues to court, particularly the evictions. However, despite court orders to restrain the evictions, evictions are still taking place, revealing the ineffectiveness and weakness of the judicial systems.

The Maasai community, historically pastoralist and scattered throughout the region, do not have a unified voice in the government. In order for the Maasai communities to regain their rights they need more representatives in the government and leaders of their community. While climate change is causing the Maasai communities to move to these different areas, and educating Maasai communities on the effects of climate change and the need for alternative food sources is necessary, the prejudice against the Maasai community will only continue without proper leaders and representation in the government. The East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative program was created in the hope of creating future leaders of the Maasai community so the community has a voice. In light of these recent injustices, it is clear how important these leaders are for the Maasai community. With continued education and leadership training, we hope that the participants in the East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative will become future leaders and will help educate their communities as well as challenge the current injustices.

This blog post is second in a series of a two updates on the East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative and the Maasai community.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Salau