Maasai came to live in Ngorongoro as part of a compromise with the British colonial administration in 1959. Previously, they lived in the Serengeti for some two thousand years, where there were important grazing and water resources.

Boma in Alailelai
Despite the vastness of their surrounds, Maasai in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area have a highly limited access to local resources.

Under the agreement, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) was uniquely set up as a multiple land-use area, where wildlife conservation was to be reconciled with the rights of the Maasai. However, this move caused the Maasai to lose those critical water resources and grazing areas, as well as be confined to a much smaller area.

As the NCA is a protected area, the government has placed restrictions on populations within it, which has placed stress on the communities. The few natural resources that were available to them in the NCA were even further limited. Access to the Ngorongoro Crater and Olduvai Gorge, which provided herds a critical salt resource and source of water during the dry season, is highly restricted.

“As the rest of the country moves forward, the Maasai living in Ngorongoro seem to be left behind and forgotten.”

As the pastoral economy declined, the Maasai began to cultivate small sections of the land. However, the Tanzanian government decided any cultivation was unsustainable and banned the practice in 1975. The pastoral economy declined even further and food insecurity increased so much that the ban was lifted in 1992, but it was reinstated in 2009.  Since then, food insecurity has continued to be a pressing issue for Maasai communities living in the NCA.

Maasai woman in Alailelai
Though the culture is slowly shifting, most Maasai in the NCA still stick closely to tradition.

Additionally, the Maasai living in Ngorongoro have the challenges that come with living extremely remotely. Alailelai ward is located nearly two hours from the NCA’s entrance gate, with poor (if any) roads leading to the villages and few options for transport.

This means that accessing basic needs, such as food and clothing, is a difficult process and has an added transportation cost. Locals are also restricted in terms of which areas of the NCA they are allowed to occupy.

Finally, social institutions within the conservation area are poorly maintained and the communities have few options, in terms of access to education, health care or economic opportunities.

The Maasai often face marginalization from other tribes and are stigmatized as a population that is too traditional.  As the rest of the country moves forward, the Maasai living in Ngorongoro seem to be left behind and forgotten.