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.

Maps of the Saadani National Park and Saadani Game Reserve created by Tanzania National Parks Authority.


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


Communal Stewardship and 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.

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.

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.


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.


Overlay of all maps of SGR, TANAPA’s version of the eastern (coastal) boundary of SGR map sharply contrasts with the 1996 UofDar and the 2013 UofVictoria maps of the SGR based on the official 1974 reserve gazette and 2 boundary beacons demarcating the original reserve boundary. 2013 Research, University of Victoria.


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. [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.


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




  1. 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:
  2. 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.
  3. The basic two differences between the SGR maps from University of Dar es salaam 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. University of Dar es salaam  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.