Analyzing Land expropriation in the Name of Conservation: The case of Saadani Village and Saadani National Park in Tanzania

September 2014.

by Alejandra Orozco-Quintero[i]

Published by Intercontinental Cry


Conservation interventions in the Saadani landscape on the coast of Tanzania have taken place since the mid-1960s, but it is only recently that state-managed conservation has become a growing concern among the villages adjacent to the park. Presently, at least 11 adjacent villages have spatial and institutional problems with the park, while no less than half on them are engaged in higher level advocacy to demand the reassessment of park boundaries. Of all of the park’s 17 adjacent villages, however, it is Saadani village itself—the village after which the park was named—where the stakes are perhaps highest:  two of its coastal sub-villages’ lands have been unilaterally gazetted as park lands.

In this and a second upcoming article, using spatial, document and qualitative analyses, I will examine the spatial and institutional provisions leading to the creation of Saadani game reserve (SGR) and later of Saadani national park (SNP), and the current status of illegal habitation by Uvinje and Saadani villagers in their own ancestral lands. The present article concentrates on the spatial features of the Saadani case.

Figure 1. Maps of the Saadani National Park and Saadani Game Reserve created by Tanzania National Parks Authority. (Source: TANAPA)


Communal Stewardship & Saadani Game Reserve

In the 1960s, Saadani village, including its sub-village Uvinje, invited the Wildlife Division to help them to conserve the wildlife being indiscriminately killed by outsiders.  A partnership emerged and Saadani Game Reserve (SGR) was officially gazetted in 1974 with the full support of Saadani village, which willingly gave up some of its land for the Reserve. The partnership that lasted for three decades honoured central agreements on respecting communal tenure in Saadani’s inhabited lands and on the involvement of villagers in addressing the tourism potential.

Figure 2. Map of the SGR based on the official 1974 reserve gazette and 2 boundary beacons demarcating the original reserve boundary (Source: 2013 Research, University of Victoria).

From Game Reserve to National Park

In the late 1990’s TANAPA came in to “upgrade” the Game Reserve to a national park.  However, by all accounts, it seems the agency re-drew the SGR boundaries to include the totality of Uvinje and Porokanya, two of Saadani’s sub-villages, as well as part of the Saadani Village centre, in the new park. An action complemented with a persistent allegation, before higher level authorities, that the said coastal lands have always been a part of the reserve. Park establishment records nowhere suggest that the original reserve boundaries would be changed, just that other areas to the North, South and West of the reserve would be added in order to create the national park. Figure 1 shows maps of the SGR and Saadani National Park (SNP). TANAPA’s map of the SGR (created between 1998 and 2000) was then used to approve the park proposal at District and higher levels. Unaware of the modifications, authorities gave the go-ahead to gazette the lands for the park. The park was officially gazetted in 2005, this despite the numerous communications from Uvinje and Saadani leaders to all levels consistently reiterating that they have never been a part of the Reserve, taking place since the early 2000s time when they became aware of TANAPA’S plan of extinguishing their land rights.

Figure 3. Map of the SGR from research commissioned by the Wildlife Department to the University of Dar Es Salaam researchers in 1995, 4 years before Tanapa’s map of the reserve was created.


Figure 4. overlay of all maps of the SGR, Tanapa’s version of the eastern (coastal) boundary of SGR map sharply contrasts with the 1996 UofDar and the 2013 University of Victoria maps of the SGR.

Spatial Analysis of the Saadani Game Reserve

Documents clearly laying out the boundaries of the game reserve and later the park are hard to come by.  What is clear is that different official versions of the boundaries exist with no documentation transparently explaining when, how or why they changed.  However, the Saadani Game Reserve (SGR) Map, reconstructed as part of the 2013 spatial research, drawing on the gazette notice for the reserve from 1974 and the location of two SGR beacons demarcating the original reserve boundary, shows that an additional 9 km2 (comprising the totality of Uvinje’s land) was added to the park by TANAPA.  This includes a unique 5.5 km long strip of beach and access to freshwater – a rarity on the Saadani coast. Spatial analysis conducted for this research makes it clear that the SGR never included the prime coastal sub-village areas comprising Uvinje and Porokanya.

Meanwhile the other area gazetted by TANAPA (covering part of Saadani village centre and Porokanya’s sub-villages) is comprised of about 30 km2 of equally prime coastal territory.  In total, of the close to 50km2 which Saadani village leaders kept for habitation by coastal villagers at the time of the creation of the reserve, based on TANAPA’s current map of the SNP[i], the total area comprising Saadani’s coastal village lands remaining are now only 12km2, and part of this is made up of areas that are seasonally flooded. These findings, moreover, are consistent with research carried out by the Institute for Resource Assessment at the University of Dar Es Salaam which was commissioned by the Wildlife Division itself in 1996. The University of Dar Es Salaam research shows that the SGR only included 2.5 km of beach line situated North of Saadani Village centre, between Mvave and Kijitokombe rivers. Moreover, both University of Dar and the doctoral research corroborate the accounts of Saadani village elders.  Figures 2-3 show the various maps of the Saadani Game Reserve[ii].  Poor village records, the death over time of knowledgeable village elders who were involved in establishing the game reserve, and TANAPA’s creation of its own map have provided the perfect scenario for TANAPA to take institutional ownership of these culturally, socially, and economically important village lands.

For the Sake of Conservation?

Other spatial data, based on the 2002 Tanzania National census, further helps to understand the scope of Saadani’s stewardship in addressing wildlife conservation. Such spatial data suggests that the original extent of the Saadani village was of close to 300km2. Of this, the doctoral research shows that close to 170 km2 were given in the 1960s by village elders for the creation of the reserve. Then, in the early 2000s Saadani village leader gave almost 100% of the rest of its inland territory, unaware that its coastal area -left aside for habitation- had also been reduced with TANAPA’s re-drawn SGR map. Figure 4 provides a close view of the former territory of Saadani village and the current extent of land left by TANAPA for their habitation.

Figure 5. Extent of Saadani’s village lands before the SGR and the SNP were established, and extent of land (white) left after the creation of the SNP in 2005 (Source: village lands spatial layer

Not a single document presented to various authorities, in the processes of creating the park, stated the amount of land left to Saadani villagers, neither was TANAPA’s map of the SGR shared at the village level. However, because of the visibly small remaining piece of village land, which was noticed by higher level authorities, TANAPA made the commitment to provide a 1.5km buffer area from the East border of their map of the reserve (around the Saadani village centre). Yet, this commitment is still to be honoured.

Presently, residents of Uvinje sub-village are in the process of being evicted. Leadership crises at the village level, together with the scope of TANAPA’s actions, have so far prevented a just resolution to this land seize for “conservation”. As the situation is approached now, Uvinje and Saadani villagers seem to be treated as if they constitute a tumour whose excision is required for the pursuit of state-based conservation. Despite multiple efforts to share the findings, the villagers’ fate to be extirpated from their traditional territory seems to be set, notwithstanding their bold efforts for environmental conservation.

[i] Aleja Orozco-Quintero is a Geography PhD student at the University of Victoria in Canada. Her comparative research titled: “The Role of Knowledge, Institutions and Multi-level Governance in Adaptive Capacity” focused on the spatial and institutional dynamics taking place within and around Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in Canada and Saadani National Park in Tanzania. Contact:[i] This calculation is based on one of the two maps of the park used in the SNP 2010-2020 General Management Plan. The other map of the park, also included in the plan, shows an even smaller area of land left for Saadani villagers. An equally relevant fact is that despite being created in 2005 and with the support of international conservation organizations, the official gazette of the park is absent of both a map and a total area. It only includes various coordinates  points to describe the boundaries of the park.[ii] The basic two differences between the SGR maps from U of Dar and the 2013 doctoral research are: (1) the exact location of the reserve’s East boundary. While the U of Dar research used the road between Mkwaja village and Wami river as the boundary line, the doctoral research set the boundary based on the location of 2 original game reserve beacons (~500m to the West of the said road) and; (2) the southern portion of the reserve. U of Dar took Wami River as the southern boundary, while in the doctoral research the boundary tries to follow (approx. guesses because of the lack of landmarks) the land features included in the original gazette notice of the reserve. Overall none of them suggest there is more than 2.5km of coast line included as part of the reserve.

1st ICCA Consortium Letter: Letter to express concerns regarding the threatened eviction of the Uvinje villagers from their ancestral territory adjacent to Saadani National Park

“We are writing to express concerns regarding the threatened eviction of the Uvinje villagers from their ancestrally owned coastal land adjacent to the Saadani National Park, in violation of international human rights obligations and in contradiction with CBD decisions…”

2nd ICCA Consortium Letter: Requesting urgent response to ICCA Consortium letter regarding attempted eviction of Uvinje community of Saadani Village in Tanzania

“We understand that TANAPA has not withdrawn its claims, nor yet communicated formally with Sadaani Village and its most affected sub-village, Uvinje. This is of course extremely unfortunate given that Tanzania has been heralded by many, including our global membership, as an international leader…”

3rd ICCA Consortium Letter: Soliciitng response to letter regarding attempted eviction of Uvinje community of Saadani Village in Tanzania

“The ICCA Consortium Secretariat, as well as its global membership, are tracking the matter and eagerly awaiting a positive resolution consistent with Tanzania’s own land tenure and natural resource policies that protect village land rights, as well as with international human rights obligations, CBD decisions, IUCN Resolutions and the recent WPC ‘Promise of Sydney’.”

4th ICCA Consortium Letter: Communication on the proposed eviction of Uvinje community of Saadani

“the small and very poor Uvinje community has invested considerable time and effort, not only in saving wildlife since the 1970s, but lately also in developing an eco-lodge venture with partners, which helps to underpin their commitment for the long term. The fundamental demand of Uvinje villagers to keep their ancestral lands, of which they have been able custodians, is thus now augmented by personal efforts and economic investments.”

5th ICCA Letter: Communication concerning the Uvinje land and conservation grievances at Saadani Village in Tanzania

“…This is an old coastal community, deeply concerned at the prospect of social fragmentation and the loss of its heritage. No compensation mechanism could make up for the losses that are contemplated. The community considers the threatened loss of their lands to be both unnecessary and an insult to them as law-abiding and helpful citizens…”

6th ICCA Letter: Threatened displacement of Uvinje community at Saadani in Tanzania

6th ICCA Letter: Threatened displacement of Uvinje community at Saadani in Tanzania  

Analyzing Land expropriation in the Name of Conservation: The case of Saadani Village and Saadani National Park in Tanzania

“…Despite multiple efforts to share the findings, the villagers’ fate to be extirpated from their traditional territory seems to be set, notwithstanding their bold efforts for environmental conservation.”

Institutional and Cartographic Analysis on gazetted boundaries of the former Saadani Game Reserve and the current Saadani National Park

“…one can only wonder how could the collective well-being and stewardship of a people who invited the state to unite forces against poaching be disregarded to such an extent as to render them fully dispossessed and portrayed as the enemies of conservation, and what is worse, that it has been all done in the name of environmental conservation!”

Just Conservation? Justice, conservation and the protected areas establishment frenzy

“as long as we remain resigned to a culture of conservation that treats human beings as the enemy and that turns a blind eye to violations of human rights, the approach will be self-defeating. Current declines in biodiversity are not primarily a result of gaps in the number, extent and representation of parks and other kinds of protected areas, nor is the decline of iconic species caused by insufficiently strict exclusion of poor rural people from their traditional territories…”

Research for change