Sunday, 6 February 2011

Some Updates on Thomson Safaris and Otterlo Business Corporation in Loliondo

Unfortunately I have not yet been able to return to Loliondo, but I think it’s time, one year after my visit, to write an update using the information that has reached me here in Sweden. For a – necessary - background of the issue at hand here’s my first blog post:

The November 2010 issue of the magazine Condé Nast Traveler – associated by me, without any closer studies (like actually reading it), with luxury travel and embarrassing awards - published an article by Joshua Hammer called “Last Days of the Masai?” which deals with land conflicts in Ngorongoro District and particularly such threats to the Maasai pastoralists as are Otterlo Business Corporation Ltd, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority and even Thomson Safaris.

As always it’s frustrating that it doesn’t seem like a wide selection of people from around the disputed land that Thomson call their own “Enashiva Nature Refuge” were interviewed, but I suppose the reporter also talked to those who did not want to feature in the article. Even though many aspects are missing and I feel the article is a bit soft on the safari company claiming pastoralist land as its private nature refuge, I find it beautifully written and think it is being read despite its length. Here it is:

According to the article, what the owners of Thomson Safaris have to say about Lesingo ole Nanyoi, who was shot in the jaw during a confrontation between herders and Thomson guards together with the police in April 2008, is that he “wasn’t shot by a bullet and it didn’t happen on our property… The whole thing is a mystery”. Even the police and Thomson staff confirmed to reporters at the time that there was a clash and “shots in the air”. It is indeed a mystery that Lesingo would have got his injuries somewhere else at the same time. I met Lesingo in Wasso early 2010 and he is upset with Thomson Safaris making up lies about him without even having talked to him.

Thomson Safaris insist that they allow grazing in the dry season and that in 2009, “we helped them [the Maasai] save their cattle”. In 2009 there was a catastrophic drought and in early July even Thomson’s strong supporter, the highest government representative in Ngorongoro District, District Commissioner Elias Wawa Lali, is reported to have requested them to, as a temporary measure, allow the local pastoralists to graze their animals on the land to save them from starvation. I’ve been told that the only thing that happened was that Sukenya chairman and some other Laitayiok leaders could quietly graze their animals. At the time Thomson were saying that they were engaged in “discussions with community leaders about future sustainable grazing” and months later they started saying that they had allowed grazing during the drought. The irony of stealing people’s land and then charitably allowing selected individuals to use it in an emergency seems to sum up the spirit of Thomson Safaris.

The article presents Otterlo Business Corporation as an entirely different entity to Thomson Safaris, which it is. Though it’s a pity that the reporter, despite reported efforts, could not reach OBC for a comment – probably because they get their guests through personal networks and not through travel magazines – as he would have seen that the companies have a lot in common: not only are both Thomson Safaris and OBC imposed by the state on the Maasai pastoralists, but OBC have used classic colonial divide-and-rule tactics, befriending leaders of the Laitayiok section – tactics that have been copied by Thomson.

Both companies also see themselves as innocent victims of evil NGOs and jealous tour operators and are assisted by the Tanzanian Government with “investigations”. A report about the July 2009 evictions was supposed to be tabled in Parliament in February 2010, but was instead presented to the governing party caucus and 14 of 14 complaints from the MP for Ngorongoro were dismissed as baseless. Several MPs stood up to assert that the report was full of lies and the audience turned against the Government. The report was never presented in Parliament.

The chairman of Ololosokwan is reported in the article as having said that a boy disappeared in the chaos and shooting, but the child that never was found after the 2009 evictions was a girl – Nashipai Gume from Arash.

In April 2010 women in Loliondo turned in or burned their CCM (governing party) cards to protest the government taking their land for tourism and hunting. They demanded that the report into the 2009 evictions should be tabled in the national assembly, but this has still not happened. I wrote a blog post about the reports I got from the protests.

There were indications that there would be consultations with village governments and civil society organisations – but on 22 May 2010 massive national, regional and district government representation cracked down on Loliondo with John Chiligati, the at that time minister for Lands, Housing and Settlement Development as the principal speaker, and senior officials for the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism attending. The Regional Commissioner chaired the meeting and the District Commissioner with his District Team held a prominent place in the Ngorongoro District Council Conference Hall. Village chairpersons, councillors, and community based representatives got the meeting agenda upon arrival. Even the presence of the MP for Ngorongoro was toned down noticeably. The tone was aggressive and relevant questions were evaded. This was the official launch of the land alienation drive creating a “wildlife corridor” where OBC would be able to carry out their activities undisturbed and that with the incoming Wildlife Conservation Act could be upgraded to equal status with national parks.

A constitutional suit has now been filed in the High Court of Tanzania by several CSOs against the Government to petition the July 2009 evictions. The defendants are the Attorney General, the Ngorongoro District Commissioner – Elias Wawa Lali, the District Police Commander, the then Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism – Shamsa Mwangunga - and the managing director of Otterlo Business Corporation Ltd.

The new Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, visited Ngorongoro District in late December 2010. He held meetings with the CCM District Political Committee and the District Security Committee (some not too agreeable guys that I have personally met). The minister also visited the proposed corridor area where he could observe that contrary to what has been said to justify the corridor there was no environmental destruction. Then he formed a committee led by the District Commissioner and as members the seven councillors from the wards bordering Serengeti National Park plus the District Natural Resources Officer and the District Community Development Officer. Some argue that the committee was ordered by the minister to mobilize the Maasai pastoralists to vacate the 1,500 square kilometres proposed for the corridor, while others said he left room to find a “solution” to the conflict.

In December there was also, for the first time, a meeting between OBC representatives and councillors. OBC made it clear that it’s the government and not they who are pushing for the corridor, since their guests prefer hunting in a wider area providing that the issues with “too much” livestock, permanent settlements and cultivation are tackled. In a meeting with the DC the councillors opposed the corridor and instead they decided to among the communities and CSOs seek alternative ideas that they could present to the Government. A Wildlife Management Area had earlier been rejected in Loliondo since it would give away too much power to the government, but was presented as an option provided that the current regulation would be changed. Other options were community wildlife ranches where grazing would still go on, or renting the land to the government while keeping the grazing. There are fears that the Government has already made the decision and that the committee is just a façade. What’s important is to make clear that the proposed corridor is village land and does in no way belong to OBC – and the constitutional case is ongoing. Government representatives will return in February.

The “investors” OBC and Thomson Safaris are essentially used as weapons by the Tanzanian Government in its campaign against pastoralist communities.

Thomson Safaris think there is a very organized NGO campaign against them. How I wish that were true. Fortunately the local NGOs whose job it is to protect the rights of the Maasai pastoralists must have been a little more organised than Thomson expected - having studied this case closely I wonder how many companies have got away with similar misdeeds with some intimidation and “philanthropy” - but coordination and information sharing between the defenders of pastoralists’ rights in Loliondo could definitely need some improvements.

If there is a vicious campaign it’s Thomson’s own, working hard to have their press releases published as news and the even more sinister cooperation with government representatives that Brian MacCormaic and Alex Renton can attest to.

I too experienced some of this cooperation when I, a year ago, asked Ward Executive Officer Amati in Soit Sambu - who works under the District Commissioner – about Thomson Safaris. The WEO would not leave my side until I had to return to Wasso. During the long wait when I was hoping for the WEO to go away so that I could talk to some other people he triumphantly held up his telephone showing those present the display saying “Thomson Manager”. When I finally had to leave to get my vehicle back a Thomson vehicle was parked right outside the restaurant next to my vehicle. It was loaded with mosquito nets from a government campaign against malaria. This, together with the fact that the WEO had phoned the DC who promised that I would be able to talk to him the following day in Soit Sambu, made me think I would just have to attend some kind of Thomson propaganda, but instead the DC sent the police to take me to the Ngorongoro Security Committee that confiscated my passport, and I had to go to Arusha where my presence in Tanzania was eventually declared undesirable.

&Beyond’s Klein’s Camp is painted in light colours in the Condé Nast article. It’s true that having a lease agreement with the village is a huge difference from being a state imposed “landowner” and &Beyond has suffered harassment from the government – the latest I’ve heard is the announcement of the closure of Klein’s airstrip - but how much have people in Ololosokwan really benefited? I don’t think they have AC and swimming pools in the bomas … I have not investigated this though.

Regarding Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in 1959 it was declared a multi land use area where conservation, wildlife, pastoralists and livestock should co-exist, and where people now are under the threat of being evicted – many have already been evicted - to save its World Heritage Site status using a UNESCO report as an excuse - it’s been reported that UNESCO in mid-2010 contacted the Government to do a re-nomination including the “Living Culture” since UNESCO had earlier only been asked to consider Natural Values. This happened after the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs had contacted UNESCO about the situation. The Government responded that the eviction exercise is stopped until further notice. Though there have not been any moves towards a re-nomination of the World Heritage Site. The ban on subsistence agriculture was enforced at the same time as the severe drought was killing livestock and the situation is serious. The plans of human rights organisations are to push the Government to commence the re-nomination and provide survival options to the community.

From what I’ve heard about the ongoing court case against Tanzania Conservation Ltd (Thomson Safaris), it seems like it keeps getting delayed. As I wrote in an earlier update, I’ve been told the arrests of “trespassers” have stopped after the case was initiated and the intimidation has been reduced. Towards the end of 2010 more herders ventured onto the disputed land to graze their animals against Thomson Safaris’ “rules”. Though there are still incidents with Thomson guards chasing livestock with Landrovers and I’ve been told that armed policemen are in the area when there are tourists on the disputed land. The young man, Matayo Mbario, who was interviewed in the Condé Nast article has had some problems. I’ve heard reports that he was picked up by Thomson’s manager and a policeman, and taken to Wasso. He was told never again to talk to foreign journalists, which he refused. Though the police, unlike the manager, was reasonable and he was let go after some severe warnings.

Thomson Safaris are having the absurd problem of making some of the poorest people in the world accept their money. Their charity/propaganda machine Focus on Tanzanian Communities, FoTZC, is hard at work pretending to be an independent entity and Tanzanian authorities of course diligently assist them. Lately the Division Secretary has been very active in putting pressure on Mondorosi Village (former Mondorosi Sub-Village since Soit Sambu is being split up). I’ve been told that Mondorosi village leaders have now, in spite of threats, refused money for their school three times in front of the Division Secretary.

Thomson have declared that a new village, Orkiu, that will now be bordering the disputed land – after Enguserosambu Village has been divided and Enguserosambu Ward formed - is seeking “partnership” with Tanzania Conservation Ltd accepting funding for their primary school. The school of this rather small village is at quite a distance from the disputed land and in fact much closer to Loliondo Town. The truly worrying aspect is that this “partnership” has been sought – through a letter written at the DC’s office - by a politician at district level who is very well aware of the arrests and the violence that Thomson have been involved in and who has earlier seemed seriously committed to land rights. People who have talked with the villagers themselves say that they in no way want any “partnership” with Thomson. I’ve received documented reports that Thomson Safaris have approached the Regional Commissioner about this politician who is interested in the District Council chairmanship. Though this did not work and he was not elected. The pressure by Thomson Safaris and the District Commissioner on Orkiu is intensifying and it seems like they are determined not to let this propaganda victory slip away even if they’ll have to tell the community that the money comes from the District Education Department.

Another part of the Thomson Safari invasion force’s “hearts and minds” campaign is to supply beads to and buy beadwork from women of strategically chosen families forming women’s organisations assisted by government institutions as a way to combat the current organisations.

This invasion of Maasai pastoralist land with attached PR campaign by Thomson Safaris has been going on for a long time now. I don’t know how much can be achieved with the ongoing court case and I continue urging everyone reading this to boycott the company. What else can be done?

Susanna Nordlund
(suggestions are best sent via email)

Representatives from Minority Rights Group International visited Loliondo in 2010 and I recommend their blog:

Update 17 February 2011
The ward councillors have made very strong and public statements against the land use plan.

24 February 2011

June 2011
The court case has been dismissed on a preliminary objection. The objection was that it’s “exactly the same” case as in the late 80s. There will be an appeal.

July 2011
I've written a summary of the history of OBC and the "wildlife corridor".


Anonymous said...

Is this all true? How much is opinion and how much is fact? It seems you've chosen one side and are publishing an opinion piece and not a balanced, factual report.

Susanna said...

Hi anonymous, I have written these updates from what has been reported to me by various sources. I think it’s quite clear where I am expressing my opinion and where I’m describing factual events as they have been reported to me, or as I have experienced them myself. This is my blog where I’m trying to tell things as they are. The existence of this blog is in large part a reaction to Thomson company spin and TZ government spin. You’d have to be more specific with what you’re unhappy about if you want me to clarify something.

Anonymous said...

Are you of Tanzanian or African descent?

Susanna said...

Hello anonymous. No, I'm Swedish.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your efforts in getting the story out!

Susanna said...

Thank you, anonymous.