Looming land battle at the foot of `Mountain of God' CORRESPONDENT BUSINGE MWANKINA THIS DAY Arusha THOUSANDS of Tanzanians of the Maasai tribe are threatening to make a mass exodus to neighbouring Kenya in protest against the looming annexation of their land by conservation authorities. Close to 5,000 residents of Enkaresero village, located at the foot of the legendary Oldonyo Lengai Mountain (Mountain of God), say they would rather cross the border into Kenya than sit by and watch their land taken away by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA). They are joined by another 6,000 or so residents of Pinyi Ward in the same vicinity, who are also up in arms against the NCAA proposal to take control of both the active volcanic mountain of Lengai and the nearby Lake Natron, both regarded as tourism attractions in the Ngorongoro. According to Enkaresero Village Chairman Christopher Ndurway, the entire community is opposed to the NCAA proposal, and is ready to take any steps to protect their land. Speaking at a public meeting to discuss the matter in the village on Wednesday, he noted: Our village holds an official registration number AR-607 of 2006, which means we are not here by chance. And we have heavily invested in building homes, schools, a dispensary and irrigation farms. Pinyi Ward Councillor Charles Ndikere described the NCAA proposal as a problem of land grabbing, which needs a quick solution including possibly presidential intervention. The local community depends on both Mount Lengai and Lake Natron for many of their daily income-generation activities, Ndikere noted. NCAA board members were also expected to attend the village community meeting which started at about 11.30 am, but by late afternoon they had not yet arrived. The village community meanwhile is preparing to dig in its heels to resist any more overtures from the NCAA. According to Peter Losongoiye, local Morani (youths) including himself have vowed to fight for their land in case the NCAA uses force in trying to acquire it. If we lose, then we have all decided to leave the country and move to Kenya as refugees. After all, its a mere walking distance, he added. The Kenyan border is some 50 kilometres away from Enkaresero, Leparkash and Monic Villages, the central points of all activities in the area. The village earns around $15,000 a year in land lease fees for tourist camping activities in the area. Enkaresero also gets a cut of 20 per cent from entrance fee collections imposed by the Ngorongoro District authorities. In April this year, a delegation from NCAA first presented its proposal to take over the Oldonyo Lengai, East Africas only remaining active volcano, and Lake Natron, which is known as a vast flamingo sanctuary. Wednesday this week was the deadline for the villagers to either accept or reject the offer. It is now understood that the village officials have opted to reject the offer in a written communication with the Authority. According to the Ngorongoro District Commissioner, Jowika Kasunga, the government is making efforts to contain possible disasters caused by regular volcanic eruptions and quakes on the mountain. As such, the villagers have been advised to move away from the volcanic epicentre, leaving a radius of at least 50 kilometres from the foot of the mountain. However, during Wednesday�s meeting the villagers said although such volcanic eruptions have been occurring since way back in the 1960s, no damage has ever been done to their area.