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Tanzania Undermines Right to Health of Maasai Community

Visiting US Vice President Should Urge Government to Respect Rights

Maasai people walk past the health facility in Msomera village, Handeni, Tanzania, on July 15, 2022. © 2022 AFP/Getty Images

As United States Vice President Kamala Harris visits Tanzania this week, the Tanzanian government is cutting off vital health services in Ngorongoro district as part of a “voluntary” resettlement plan for area residents. These actions, in the name of wildlife conservation, violate the right to health of members of the semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralist community and directly interfere with their ability to continue living in an area they have managed for 200 years.

In March 2022, Tanzania’s government took steps to transfer funding for basic services, including health and education, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, to another district about 600 kilometers away. In February 2022, the government grounded Flying Medical Services, a medical outreach service provider, and in October announced that the area’s main hospital would be downgraded to a clinic with a significant reduction in staff. The government has couched these steps under the guise of conservation in an effort to expand areas for viewing and hunting wildlife while restricting human settlement there.

Ngorongoro residents told Human Rights Watch that the government’s actions have severely affected access to health care, including for pregnant women and mothers with small children.

Comprehensive health care for women and girls is necessary to advance equality and empowerment and is fundamental to the realization of human rights, but it must be genuinely accessible. As Vice President Harris looks to bolster US relationships with African countries, her visit provides an opportunity to amplify the link between rights-respecting policies, including on land, health, and women’s rights, and advancing shared security and economic prosperity.

The US is a key development and healthcare partner of Tanzania and Vice President Harris should center human rights in the US-Tanzania relationship. During her visit, she should urge Tanzanian officials to end abusive policies in Ngorongoro district and preserve the Maasai community’s right to health, among others, as a core foundation of shared economic prosperity.

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