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Maasai tribe's 'last stand' to keep land from game hunters

By Lekakui Kanduli, Special to CNN
July 8, 2013 -- Updated 1045 GMT (1845 HKT)
The Maasai have been threatened with eviction from traditional lands in the Loliondo region in northern Tanzania. The Maasai have been threatened with eviction from traditional lands in the Loliondo region in northern Tanzania.
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Tanzania's Maasai fight for land
Tanzania's Maasai fight for land
Tanzania's Maasai fight for land
Tanzania's Maasai fight for land
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tanzanian government threatening to evict Maasai from traditional land
  • Maasai tribes in Loliondo campaigning to stay on land
  • The campaign has been supported by more than 1.7 million people worldwide

Editor's note: Lekakui Kanduli is a Maasai elder in Tanzania. He is part of the "Stand with the Maasai" campaign.

Loliondo, Tanzania (CNN) -- Last week, President Obama came to my country, Tanzania. President Kikwete and our people received him with great pride, but it is unlikely Obama heard anything about our government's plan to give a great chunk of land that has been the Maasai tribe's home for millennia, to a hunting company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The hunters want this land to kill our lions and leopards and this deal will take away 40% of our grasslands and forested mountains that we call home. It threatens the wildlife and the Maasai's very existence. We want Obama and the international community to know our story and help stop our eviction.

Read also: Maasai fight government, game hunters for lands

Lekakui Kanduli, Maasai elder
Lekakui Kanduli, Maasai elder

These attempts to clean us out of our old homelands have been happening for decades.

The British moved us 50 years ago from what is now the Serengeti park and subsequent governments have consistently restricted our grazing rights. A large amount of land next to our community near the Serengeti National Park has already been handed to the hunters from the UAE.

We often see Arab royalty arriving in their jumbo jets and then driving around in jeeps shooting anything they see moving and they keep wanting more.

The government uses our faces on tourism posters and brochures for Tanzania, yet President Kikwete has said that our way of life is a thing of the past and we should live in the modern world.

But without our land and our traditions, what are we? Most people in Loliondo raise cows and goats to pay for food and education for our children. Without grazing lands, many Maasai men have felt pressured to move to the city to take jobs as security guards. The women are left behind to raise our children and grandchildren and despite their hardship they are fighting to preserve our way of life.

Read more: Maasai boy scares off lions with flashy invention

Tanzania's Maasai fight for land
Iconic culture fights for survival

This new threat of such a large-scale land clearance has gathered Tanzania's Maasai like never before.

Thousands of our men, women and children have traveled for days to meet government officials to state our case. Three hundred Maasai women marched on the capital Dodoma to protest, and in May, all of our community elders camped outside the Prime Minister's office in the capital for three weeks, demanding the UAE deal be abandoned.

We are sure our brothers and sisters across the world can help. After we started an international campaign with Avaaz more than 1.7 million people around the world joined our cause.

Today we are at home in our lands but fear that tens of thousands of villagers in our community could soon be evicted. A commitment from Kikwete can easily save us from the terrible fate that has befallen so many great tribes of the world.

We know that the battle for our lands will not be easy, but as long as the government knows that the world is watching we will be safe.

With that kind of attention, we have hope that our ancient way of life on our traditional lands will yet survive in the 21st century.

The opinions expressed in this story are solely those of Lekakui Kanduli.

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