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Maasai lose 5 Year Battle to Revert Land Sale and Protect their Indigenous Knowledge

On 27th October 2015 the High Court of Tanzania, handing down its judgement in the case lodged by the Maasai of Northern Tanzania to revert the sale of their traditional land to US based company Thomson’s Safari, rejected the Maasias petition and ruled in favour of Thomsons Safari. The decision, putting an end to a 5 year long legal battle to save their community land whose use is set to be converted from pastoral to tourism.

The main contention of the Maasai in this case is that when the land is converted to a tourist site, the indigenous/traditional knowledge passed from generation to generation will no longer have any practical application as access to invaluable resources will be limited.

The land at the center of this dispute covers 10,000 acres of grassland and drylands. For the Maasai, the connection between land and the indigenous knowledge is especially significant as their traditional knowledge on plant species, growth patterns and location are used to formulate and tailor the traditional medicine used to treat various ailements that affect their tribesmen and their animals. The land in itself also forms landmarks that are integral parts of cultural events such as coming of age “Moran” ceremonies and circumcision.

Despite traditional Knowledge being recognised by WIPO as a form of Intellectual Property, it is not expressly protected as a form of intellectual property in Tanzania. This fact notwitsanding there have been steps towards identifying indigenous knowledge in conjuction with the world bank making a case for the need to have a regime to protect traditional knowledge .

This dispute forms part of a series of recent cases lodged by the Maasai community to protect and reclaim the intellectual property found in their name, imagery and indigenous practices in Tanzania and Kenya.

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