Tourism Needs to Respect Indigenous Communities’ Rights
- By Oryem Nyeko | Researcher, Africa Division
- Photo: Patrick McEnroe (left) and John McEnroe Jr. arrive on court for the opening of the Laver Cup tennis event, London, September 23, 2022. © 2022 Peter van den Berg/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
This week American tennis players – brothers John and Patrick McEnroe – are set to host a luxury tennis-themed safari tour in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), where Indigenous Maasai people are protesting the Tanzanian government’s forced eviction of them from their ancestral homes.
The “Epic Tanzania Tour” is organized by Insider Expeditions, a private travel company, and the Tanzanian government. President Samia Suluhu Hassan has endorsed the tour. According to the tour’s itinerary, the tourists will also visit a “Maasai Cultural Village”, while the McEnroe brothers will conduct a tennis lesson for Maasai children.
For decades the government has used concerns over the increase in population and livestock to justify blocking the pastoralist Maasai communities – many who rely on cattle farming for their livelihoods – from living in and grazing animals in parts of the NCA, including the Ngorongoro crater.
Unlike the Maasai people that have lived there for decades, the tennis players and tourists will be allowed to access the crater, the world’s largest volcanic crater.
Around 2021, the government devised a plan, without properly consulting the community, to “voluntarily” relocate all 82,000 residents of the area about 600 kilometers away to Handeni district in eastern Tanzania by 2027. To get residents to leave, the government reduced important health and education services, and defunded the Ngorongoro Pastoral Council, which provided critical social support to communities there.
Authorities have also taken steps to restrict residents, who depend primarily on animal farming, from grazing animals, and blocked their livestock from accessing important water sources. Rangers employed by the government regularly beat and arrest community members for grazing animals in the crater and other restricted areas. Since February 2022, the government has restricted entry, forcing residents to show identification to prove they live in the NCA before being allowed in.
This week, Human Rights Watch wrote to Insider Expeditions and the McEnroe brothers to share information about these rights violations, and ask them to publicly speak out against human rights violations by the Tanzanian government there but has not yet received a response.
Tanzanian activists have criticized the tour. Edward Porokwa, the director of the Arusha-based Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organization’s Forum described the Epic Tanzania Tour to me as “irresponsible,” and said it “highlights how tourism doesn’t care about human rights.”
The Epic Tanzania Tour risks making a mockery of the plight of pastoralist Maasai communities that live in the NCA, and sportswashing negative scrutiny of the government’s human rights violations in the area. Tourism should not happen at the expense of Indigenous communities, who are being forcefully relocated under the guise of conservation.
The players involved in the tour should be using their leverage to call out the government of Tanzania for the human rights violations in the area, not ignoring them.