Thomson Safaris step up their propaganda while continuing the occupation of Maasai grazing land at their self-styled 'Enashiva Nature Reserve' – and their land grab PR person since 2007 appears as a graduate student in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy.
The Government through Tanzania National Parks Authorities and later the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism renews and intensifies the threat of grabbing a 1,500sq km “wildlife corridor”. And on 26th March 2013 the Government declares total war on the people of Loliondo.
To my frustration I’ve not been able to return to Loliondo for over a year and a half, but I’ve managed to obtain some information from a selection of very busy people. The information about some issues is still incomplete, but I can’t wait any longer to publish this ridiculously delayed update.
I did publish some reports I got from NCA in a separate blog post.
The Minister's 'Wildlife Corridor'
When a Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism sets out to “solve” land conflicts in Loliondo there are reasons to be very afraid. The latest person to inherit this ministry and its role in the Loliondo land threat is Khamis Kagasheki, who made a "consultative" visit to Loliondo on 27 January 2013, and has since launched a vociferous government campaign insisting that the Maasai be kicked off 1,500sq km of their traditional grazing lands in the so-called 'wildlife corridor' that borders Serengeti National Park.
This longstanding government policy is the greatest threat to the lives and livelihoods of Maasai pastoralists in Loliondo. As noted previously in this blog, hunters from Dubai of Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) are at the heart of this land grab. OBC got the Loliondo Game Controlled Area (LGCA) North and South hunting blocks in 1992, a deal made with then President Ali Hassan Mwinyi behind the backs of local villagers. The LGCA makes up 41 per cent of Ngorongoro District, some 4,000sq km of land taking in the Divisions of Loliondo and Sale. The area of most interest to the hunters is the grassland adjoining the Serengeti National Park, which has always served as vital grazing for Maasai livestock in the district during the dry season from July to October.
The LGCA was established by the colonial authorities and endorsed by the 1974 Wildlife Act. Its purpose was simply to regulate hunting on the village lands of the Maasai and Sonjo. It was not a separate, exclusive jurisdiction and was not intended to affect the herders' grazing patterns. There was no contradiction or conflict between the LGCA and the village title to land under Village Land Act number 5 of 1999 and the Loliondo villages had in 1990 been registered according to the Local Government
Act of 1982 after some serious land threats due to commercial pressure for land in the 80s. In 1998 five villages developed village by-laws and land use plans to better govern their lands and resources.
By 2005 staff from Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) were sniffing around the Serengeti National Park boundary and in 2008 erected a line of concrete beacons through Ololosokwan village from the Kenyan border. Villagers broke them up and removed them. Then came the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 which, in the Government’s particular interpretation of it, serves as a figleaf for the seizure of village land. The Act bans cultivation and grazing in 'game controlled areas' and states that they should be separate from village land. The Act requires the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism to ‘ensure that no land falling under the village land is included in the game controlled areas.’ The Act of 2009 came into force in June 2010.
(The lighter background colour here is not intentional and I don't know how to remove it.)
In July 2009, during a severe drought, and as the hunting season approached, OBC and the government's Field Force Unit (FFU) violently evicted and burnt down the homesteads of at least 150 families within the 'corridor'. Many cattle were lost, while one young girl – 7-year old Nashipai Gume from Arash - disappeared in the chaos and has never been found. There was some limited national and international response to these abuses, and in April of the election year 2010 women across the district threatened to hand in their membership cards to CCM, the ruling party.
A report by the Standing Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Environment chaired by Job Ndugai to investigate on the issue was supposed to be presented in parliament on 9th February 2010, but its character of total whitewash caused uproar already in the meeting of CCM legislators the day before and it never reached parliament or was made public.
In December 2010 a constitutional suit (Miscellaneous Civil Cause No.15/2010) was filed in the High Court of Tanzania by several CSOs – LHRC, PINGOs, Ngonet and UCRT - against the Government to petition the July 2009 evictions.
The families evicted in 2009 slowly moved back, but the fear of what could happen did not move away. In 2011 there was “reconciliation” between OBC and leaders in Loliondo. OBC were already on friendly terms with leaders in Oloipiri, but after “reconciliation” they also especially “befriended” leaders in Kirtalo where they’ve built a village office.
In 2011 the newly elected (=same old) government proposed its 2010-2030 land use plan including the notorious 'wildlife corridor' that cuts away vital dry season grazing land from eight villages. Conveniently, right in the middle of this slice of land, are the OBC headquarters and airstrip at Kishoshoroni in Soitsambu village. This plan was vigorously rejected by local leaders. The land use planning was 100% financed by OBC as the company’s manager himself had told journalists.
The president visited Loliondo in late July 2012 handing out compensation cattle for the 2009 drought, allegedly to selected people, and making promises about road construction and the power plant. The “corridor” was not mentioned and many leaders thought that the government had been “defeated”.
When I visited Kirtalo in late September 2011 I was told by some not very sober leaders that OBC had stopped disturbing grazing, but for the hunting season of 2012 cattle were chased away from the area around the hunting company’s camp. Many leaders made visits to the OBC camp, but nobody seems to know exactly what they were doing there, and in 2012 there were meetings of youths demanding to know what was going on.
In a not at all unrelated development on 20th November 2012 it was established that Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) had beacons stored at Klein’s Gate in Ololosokwan, reminding villagers of the attempt to set up a new boundary in 2008. After a big meeting hundreds of villagers marched to the gate to meet the Chief Park Warden and put up a board to inform anyone concerned where the village land starts. In the next march to the gate thousands of people took the beacons and dumped them inside the national park. Several villages (eg Maaloni and Arash) are even worse affected than Ololosokwan, but harder to get reports from. I wrote about the Beacons from Hell.
In January 2013 many planes from Dubai were, due to wet conditions, landing at Wasso airstrip, instead of on OBC’s own airstrip. It was not hunting season.
This is when Khamis Kagasheki made his visit, masquerading as an arbiter stepping in to resolve a conflict between the communities and investors such as OBC and Thomson. I’ve got reports that the days leading up to the visit by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism leaders and some villagers from Kirtalo were using OBC vehicles to chase away cattle from some areas.
Those who were present at the meeting say that the Minister did not properly explain why he was there or what he planned to do about the problems that were exposed to him. What was clear is that he did not grasp the fundamental question of, “Whose land is it?”, but only saw conflict among “stakeholders” – “investors”, “communities” and local government. I got reports that Kagasheki appeared not to know why he was there and seemed to be on holiday.
The only concrete idea for Loliondo from the Minister was that of forming an association of investors. What use is there in having them banding together? This combined with the usual lashing out against NGOs did not indicate that Kagasheki had any interest in helping the pastoralists with the many threats against their land.
At the 27th January meeting with Minister Kagasheki, OBC were represented by the general manager Isaack Mollel, and professional hunter Mohamed Horsley who turned himself into a spokesperson for wildlife…
The Minister Returns
During the last weekend of February at meetings in Ololosokwan Minister Kagasheki affirmed that the best “solution” for land conflict in Loliondo was the government’s idea of grabbing the 1,500sq km “wildlife corridor” or Game Controlled Area as per the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009. This was again strongly rejected by local representatives since it would mean the destruction of the identity, heritage, lives and livelihoods of the majority of the population. Then the minister mislead the press to believe that the people were being “given” their own land – except the corridor – under the condition that they establish a Wildlife Management Area or WMA (which is anyway a formula for increasing central government control and expanding “investor” influence, the last thing needed by the people of Loliondo who can plan their land use with existing laws), and that this was a way of “addressing a historical injustice” - when in fact it commits one.
Kagasheki’s 21st March Visit
After a brief meeting in Arusha with top district leaders the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism showed up again in Loliondo travelling together with the MP. Local leaders had got information that the minister was sent by the President to announce that the 'corridor' would be taken by the Government as a Game Controlled Area to protect wildlife and water catchments. The local leaders refused to enter the District Council conference hall together with the Minister and demanded that he should rather answer questions from people outside. This made the Minister leave in a fury. (Things had become so urgent that I tried to write a short blog post that would explain the situation to anyone who could help)
Oloipiri Declaration on 25th March
Thousands of people met in Oloipiri and decided to stay united, end any involvement with OBC and, when the government had announced the land grab, to initiate a court case with an injunction plus a reclaim of Serengeti, and that all political leaders, including the MP, would resign from their posts. I’ve been told that most Oloipiri declaration resolutions are still under way for implementation.
Announcement on 26th March – a Declaration of War
To journalists in Dar es Salaam Minister Khamis Kagasheki announced that the Government would be grabbing the corridor of important grazing land, but in the usual style he said that the government was “keeping” 1,500sq km and the people of Loliondo would be “given” 2,500sq km where they would be “helped” to establish Wildlife Management Areas. He added that, “There will be no compromise with regard to any attempt to infringe the newly established borders”. The Minister did also warn NGOs and so-called “Kenyans” about inciting the Maasai. The government strategy of branding the Maasai of Loliondo as Kenyan is a way of seeking public sympathy.
On Good Friday the Loliondo councillors met with those from Ngorongoro Conservation Area to see if they would join their decision to resign. While declaring their full support for the fight for the land the NCA councillors were not prepared to resign. Meanwhile the MP was engaged in unknown activities in Dar es Salaam.
On 1st April there was a declaration from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism that the land grab was legal, carried out for conservation and opposed by NGOs led by foreigners whose “secret agendas” had already been exposed.
I wrote this guest post on East African Notes and Records.
The conflict finally started getting some serious coverage in international media and organisations like Survival International and Minority Rights Group are lending important support. Avaaz helped by renewing their campaign.
Before the big meeting planned for 2nd April the CCM apparatus – and maybe someone else – had made sure that most councillors and the MP had abandoned the resignation promises of the Oloipiri declaration. The only ones remaining were the councillors for Ololosokwan, Soitsambu and Arash wards, plus two special women’s seats. Even then these leaders did not make a declaration since the meeting had not got a permit. CCM party cards were left littering the ground.
In the midst of this serious crisis the MP for Ngorongoro, Saning'o Kaika Telele, left for China as a member of an investor wooing delegation - led by the Director of Tourism of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
The following day several meetings were held in Wasso and elsewhere. On 4th April in a meeting in Mairowa for villagers from Ololosokwan and Soitsambu wards it was decided that a court case would be opened the following week, which has not yet happened since a political solution is being sought first.
Also on 4th April several Tanzanian land and human rights organisations issued a joint press statement.
On 6th April a CCM mission led by the deputy secretary general of the party, Mwigulu Nchemba, met with people - particularly women - who had camped out and gathered in Oloirien. The CCM representatives were told in no uncertain terms that the community would fight to the last person for their land and Nchemba’s conclusion was that the government’s decision was contrary to the laws of the land and would adversely affect the local community, and that he would refer the issue to the Prime Minister. A reporter for BBC covering the meeting was detained without charges for two hours and released after intervention by activists and politicians.
At the same time the opposition party Chadema was holding a meeting in Soitsambu.
On 7th April there was another announcement from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, this time claiming that the people of Loliondo were living there illegally and that the government had let them do this due to “compassion”. With this reasoning every Tanzanian citizen must be prepared to be declared an “illegal invader” by the government.
On 8th April a delegation from Loliondo headed for Dar es Salaam where they managed to meet the press. Later they continued on to Dodoma to engage the legislators.
On 13th April some twenty students from Loliondo enrolled at colleges and universities in Arusha Region returned home for the weekend to assist their people in this time of extreme danger.
On 15th April Legal and Human Rights Centre sent a letter to the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism warning him that his announcements are a contempt of court in the ongoing constitutional case mentioned above and that they will have to “institute an application” against him personally.
On 18th April the delegation of representatives from Loliondo had a meeting with Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda who had earlier been in a long meeting with the CCM team that visited Loliondo and, judging from their public statements, sided with the people. The Prime Minister agreed that the land does indeed belong to the Maasai and he said that the announcements made by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism will not be implemented. Though nothing of this was put in any written document and Pinda also “advised” the delegates to establish a WMA. He asked them to wait until he had talked with the President.
On 26th April a meeting was held in Arash where the councillors informed the community of the meeting with the Prime Minister. At night after the meeting several journalists were arrested and their equipment confiscated. They were later released and their equipment returned to them.
I have received reports that OBC were happy with the Government’s decisions on the 'corridor' and had directly contacted people that they feared would “stir up conflict”. On 2nd April the general manager Isaack Mollel’s total support of the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism was also reported by the press, at least in one article by a government friendly journalist of the crazier kind. Mollel repeated one of the favourite Government/”investor” theories – that “Kenyans” are the main problem in Loliondo. Later in a BBC article Mollel pointed fingers at NGOs, talked about OBC’s charitable projects, stressing that their hunting area will actually be reduced and that the land will be protected.
In parliament on 30th April opposition parliamentarian Peter Msigwa made a presentation on Loliondo that was dismissed by one CCM legislator after the other. The MP for Ngorongoro, Saning'o Kaika Telele, who at Oloipiri had pretended to even be prepared to resign, stood up and thanked the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism and the Government for finding a “solution” to the Loliondo land conflict. The MP has chosen the government instead of his people. He also complained that Ngorongoro District is too large for him to represent. I’d say that this problem has been solved…
The constitutional case is ongoing. OBC have presented preliminary objections that have been responded to. There seems to be problems getting three judges to sit down at the same time.
On 16th May various traditional leaders from Loliondo gathered in Dar es Salaam demanding a meeting with the President. Almost a month has passed since the meeting in Dodoma with the Prime Minister who expressed his support and said he would refer the issue to the president, but still nothing has been heard from the President and the serious threat of the government grabbing 1,500sq km is still hanging over the people of Loliondo. The leaders are tired of, in their role as peacekeepers, trying to calm angry people. They are also tired of being called “Kenyans” by each new Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.
New delegations to Dar es Salaam and Dodoma are under preparation.
The corridor must be stopped!
Thomson Safaris the Movie
Keeping to their habitual ruthless hypocrisy and crazy lies – and closely resembling the Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism - Thomson Safaris have a film promoting their land grab – “Enashiva Nature Refuge” – that has been made for them by a marketing company called Green Living Project.
In this commercial Thomson’s Arusha manager, John Bearcroft, unbelievably utters the worn words, “we borrow the land from our children and our children’s children” – when the company is involved in a court case to protect the ownership of its violent land grab. Did he mean the grandchildren of Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland? Very misleadingly the Maasai, the victims of Thomson Safaris’ occupation, are referred to as Thomson’s “neighbours”. Any basic knowledge of geography and history would tell the safari company that the land they claim to own is Maasai grazing land and not just some farm that was owned by a brewery for 20 years. The parastatal Tanzania Breweries took the land in 1984 and cultivated a smaller part of it while the Maasai continued using the rest and then after a few years the brewery left – and if there had been just a glimmer of respect for pastoralist land rights – this would have been it. Rick Thomson says something cryptic about “several clans surround the farm and some people felt they had hierarchy over others” as the only mention of conflict in the commercial. And a family of four from Boston that claim ownership and control of 12,617 acres of Maasailand do not feel they have hierarchy over others? Judi Wineland’s utterances – like everything else said in this commercial - are not very coherent clichés, but she actually says that the Maasai themselves have to control the land! Then, for crying out loud, just return it to its legitimate owners and don’t continue harassing them as “trespassers”. Happiness Mwamasika the coordinator of Friends of Tanzanian Communities, FoTZC – Thomson’s aggressive propaganda branch that’s also involved in charity with money fundraised by former Thomson guests - claims to “cooperate” with Thomson and communities to “empower the communities”. Happiness is married to Thomson’s own “journalist”/project manager, Jeremy O’Kasick Swanson who writes their PR material, offers it to media, writes award applications and contacts journalists that could write something Thomson do not like. Then some of the best people Thomson have bought – of course including Loserian Minis and other employees – talk about the benefits of coming in contact with tourists that can sponsor their studies so that they can become more modern. I’m quite sure that if the makers of the commercial had asked these bought people they would have been told that even they would prefer to move into the future with this land in their own hands instead of under the control of a “philanthropic” safari company. It’s sad that Thomson still think that they can get away with this kind of thing.
Five Herders Accused of Trespassing on their own Land
As I’ve written about before, the later half of 2012 was marked by - as a move from beatings, arrests, fines or release on bail with no follow up – to intense judicial harassment of people that the land grabber, Thomson Safaris, label as ”trespassers”. Five young herders from Mondorosi and Sukenya – Kikanai (15), Sambao Soit (25), Shashon Kirtany (18), Somito Migini (14) and King’otore Nanyoi (25). - were found on the disputed land on 27th July, beaten by the police that, as an extra humiliation, also cut the braids they as warrior were wearing, and brought to Loliondo police station. The young men, and boys, were given bail next day and then they were called to the District Commissioner’s Office where the DC ordered the police to arrest them again and warned them to stop grazing on “Thomson’s land”. The herders were jailed for four more days and then again granted bail and a court hearing was scheduled for 15th August and then adjourned until 5th September so that Thomson could “gather more evidence”. Thomson did not show up on 5th September and the hearing was again adjourned until 5th October when it was adjourned until 8th November. There was a preliminary hearing on 9th November and the main hearing was set for 14th December. Thomson said that the manager and a policeman would be their witnesses. This is of course costing time and resources that I wish could instead be spent on suing the harasser – Thomson plus local authorities. On 14th December the case was again postponed, this time not because of Thomson’s wishes, but because the harassed herders could not get a lawyer due to miscommunication and lack of resources. On 28th January the lawyer’s vehicle broke down on his 400 kilometres Loliondo trip on partly atrocious roads. On 26th February there was a hearing and the policeman who was Thomson’s witness contradicted his own evidence. The five herders were due back in court on 2nd and 3rd May to present their defence, and a lawyer paid for by MRG was present – but Thomson Safaris did not show up, the hearing was delayed and there’s considerable risk that the herders will have to present their defence without counsel at the next date. It should be noted that two of these herders that are being dragged through court are children.
A case against three youths that on 16th August were beaten at Thomson’s camp and arrested for trespassing was dismissed on 19th September since the prosecution did not show up and there was no supporting evidence, and in June something similar happened to two men who were accused of cutting tree branches for their boma.
For a couple of months Thomson Safaris were limiting their harassment to chasing cattle with vehicles, but on 9th December 2012 Odupoi Ndekerei from Sukenya – one of those who were arrested and beaten in August – was again arrested by Thomson guards for “trespassing” and grazing cattle. On the 11th Odupoi’s release was negotiated by the chairman of Sukenya who is a Thomson employee and allegedly totally corrupted.
Meanwhile Focus on Tanzanian Communities, FoTZC, have the building of a girls’ dormitory at Soitsambu Secondary School as their priority project and former Thomson guests have worked hard on fundraising.
Thomson Safaris’ “journalist”/project manager Jeremy Swanson O’Kasick who at least since 2007 has written Thomson’s press releases, planted them in media, talked with journalists to dissuade them from writing some inconvenient truth about the company and so on, has been on a fellowship with The Nature Conservancy in Loliondo doing “research” for a master’s thesis at Cornell University.
For 18th October the Standing Committee for Lands, Natural Resources and Environment – when under the chairmanship of Job Ndugai known for a highly misleading “report” never presented in parliament about the 2009 evictions for the benefit of OBC - had a meeting scheduled in Dar es Salaam with Thomson’s manager, probably Arusha manager John Bearcroft. The manager was going to inform the committee about “the challenges faced by private companies in the tourism industry”. This information was found on the Committee’s schedule that was published online.
There is some good news as well, like the launch on 14th August 2012 of the website Stop Thomson Safaris by a group of people who have seen first hand the effect of Thomson's occupation on the residents of Loliondo and decided to raise awareness about the situation .
It’s the kind of initiative I’ve spent years hoping for. Thomson Safaris’ apparent reaction to the launch of this website was to get themselves articles in Tanzanian press about how thanks to them women are making amazing money out of selling beadwork and a piece about this was also shown on Star TV the last weekend of September 2012. I do hope that the unfortunately far too busy people behind Stop Thomson Safaris will keep it up until Thomson are off the land they are occupying.
And in August 2012 Carla Clarke of Minority Rights Group International visited the land occupied by Thomson.
MRG are offering support for the land case and have also attempted a negotiated solution to the conflict, which I wrote a blog post about.
In Orkiu where Thomson Safaris started some activities after having corrupted the ward councillor for Enguserosambu it seems like the councillor and the company are lying low after people who know what’s happening in Sukenya and Mondorosi have spoken out. The reports I’ve got are that Thomson are no longer active in Orkiu, but I’m having serious problems getting updates from this village.
On 10th October there was an injunction hearing for the land case. The judgement could have been delivered there and then, but it had to wait until 17th January 2013. It’s believed that this was the wish of Thomson Safaris. On the 17th the High Court upheld the objection and ruled that Soitsambu Village lacks necessary legal status since it in 2010 was split up into four villages.
The main land case continued.
Thomson’s Kenya Trip
I’ve also got reports that Thomson Safaris the last days of November/first of December 2012 took some people – the Enashiva manager, Thomson’s “journalist”/project manager, another employee, three men from Sukenya, one from Mondorosi (Olepolos sub-village), two from Orkiu and two from Soitsambu (among them the chairman of Soitsambu sub-village that Thomson are trying to pass off as chairman of Soitsambu village) (edit: my error, Lotha Nyaru HAD become village chairman earlier the same year) - to north central Kenya to “learn community-based conservation”. This trip was supported by The Nature Conservancy that by this association with Thomson Safaris has lost all credibility. Though it’s not their first attack against pastoralist land rights: together with AWF TNC has funded a major violent land grab in Laikipia that Survival International and Cultural Survival have reported about. More information in SI's letter to UN CERD and in a testimonial by a Samburu woman.
Also very telling is The Nature Conservancy’s list of “corporate partners” that reads like a veritable horror cabinet of corporations that commit crimes against human rights and the environment – BP, Shell, Monsanto, Rio Tinto among others.
Upon return to Arusha the people sent on the Kenya tour met with representatives from The Nature Conservancy, The Honeyguide Foundation (a wolf organisation dressed in sheep’s clothes), Frankfurt Zoological Society (Thomson’s former manager Daniel Yamat), Jeremy O’Kasick’s wife in the form of a “development practitioner and community development consultant”, Thomson’s general manager and a Ngorongoro District Game and Tourism Officer. The talk was about how some of the most easily bought people in Loliondo would bring back the teachings received in Kenya to their communities with the aim of establishing conservancies in different areas of Loliondo. For this the delegates wrote a letter asking for support from TNC, FZS and Thomson Safaris, all present at the same meeting. One important point on the agenda of this meeting with Jeremy O’Kasick as its secretary and coordinator was to make the community rebuke those who are “dirtying the name of Loliondo” on the internet since this frightens off investors and conservation stakeholders. Other challenges were the boundaries of newly established villages, stopping communities with relatives in Kenya from letting those bring their cattle in the dry season and people that will stir up opposition for political reasons. Thomson’s trip report was distributed in the District Council.
In the area visited in Kenya there are vast ranches owned by the descendants of European settlers who were given the land in the early 20th century after the Maasai were evicted for this purpose. Many of these descendants have now turned the ranches into conservation and tourism and are “helping” their neighbours to form their own conservancies. I’ve also got reports that some of those landowners are working for further alienation of pastoralist land while the always uncritical international conservation and tourism audience keep heaping praises on them. The attraction of this kind of system to Thomson Safaris is evident and they obviously think that they can get away with the colonial land grab a century too late. Sadly the Tanzanian government seems to think so too; local people could be more organised and internal division and selfish individuals are being played out by the grabber, but people are just not stupid enough to go along with the plan; it remains to be seen what stuff the judicial system is made of.
I’ve been told that in early December Thomson’s Arusha manager, John Bearcroft, had a meeting with the Ward Development Committee where there were representatives from Oloipiri, Sukenya and Soitsambu. The manager told the meeting about the Kenya trip and explained how desperate Thomson were for community support. He asked for the official minutes to say that what’s written on the Stop Thomson Safaris website is lies, but was told to go and resolve the conflict with the community instead.
After returning from Kenya Thomson Safaris’ “Enashiva” manager, Josiah Severe, had meetings with Sukenya Village Council where Thomson unfortunately using divide and rule tactics have “befriended” a number of Laitayok members. Thomson wanted the Council to form a committee – the kind of committee that they since 2008 claim to have been working with - to “regulate grazing” and solve conflict between the company and the community. They also wanted the Council to write minutes saying that the Stop Thomson Safaris website – that was introduced as “raising a lot of money for their own benefit” - is lying about beatings. Reportedly the manager was reminded that what’s written on the website is true and that people need their land and not a “committee”. He was also told to talk with Mondorosi Village which he said he would do. Though the manager first requested a big meeting with the Sukenya community to educate people about how bad the NGO Pastoral Women’s Council is and that Thomson Safaris, apart from building more classrooms and a dispensary, also are going to support the construction of a road from Sukenya to Oloipiri – and to ask the community to refuse the court case and the website that’s damaging the company’s reputation. Later the manager together with the “journalist”/ project manager showed up at other meetings.
Thomson’s argument seems to be that their “ownership” is supported by the government and the law and that’s it’s better to just “enjoy” their charitable projects. Then they are engaged in very heavy slander of the people fighting against their land grab accusing them of making big money off the court case.
It’s interesting that Thomson now seem to be getting questions from clients about the Stop Thomson Safaris website. I do hope – but am far from sure – that it’s making people reconsider their travel plans, which was the impact I wished for my blog. Since Thomson seem worried about their “reputation”, my advice to the safari company is: just end the occupation of Maasai land!
In January a teachers’ house built by FoTZC was inaugurated in Nainokanoka in Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Thomson Safaris made sure to get national press coverage of how top district leaders were praising them. The MP, who could no longer claim ignorance, lent himself to this spectacle, and had frankly by this time already made himself irrelevant.
I’ve got reports that the “journalist”/project manager and FoTZC coordinator couple were working hard at promising people in Sukenya “anything” for not supporting the court case, and for the last third of January Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland also showed up at the disputed land. On the 23rd I’ve been told that they held a meeting with a few Sukenya leaders saying that they had practically won the court case and proposing a partnership excluding Mondorosi and Soitsambu. Earlier, in 2012, even the DC had told the Sukenya village council that Thomson had won the case. Thomson wanted minutes from Sukenya rejecting the court case. Later on, for the first time, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland also visited Mondorosi. I was told that they were visibly shocked by the total lack of support. I don’t know what they had expected. Rick Thomson stayed on into February meeting his employee chairman Minis every day and Minis kept telling the village council that Thomson were ready to “negotiate”.
At the meeting with the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Thomson Safaris were represented by Rick Thomson, John Bearcroft, Jeremy O’Kasick Swanson and “maybe someone more”. I’ve been told that Rick Thomson did not look particularly happy. I can just, without much faith, hope that the Minister had not made him look happier during the exclusive meeting for “investors”.
On 14 February 2013 two young men, Mbekure Olemeeki (21) and Oloimaoja Ndekerei (18) and one young woman, Narikungishu Olemeeki (19), were caught by police and “Enashiva” guards when tending cattle near the land occupied by Thomson and taken to one place where they were kicked and punched and told to jump up and down. One of Thomson’s drivers, Daniel Olelekurtu, also beat them with a stick. Narikungishu was told to kneel down in front of the others and when she would not do this she was beaten with Olelekurtu’s stick. They informed the chairman of Sukenya who did not take any action.
On 3rd May chairman Minis was leading his own "out of court settlement" talks with Thomson. Sukenya aren't currently "in court" since Minis hasn’t signed any minutes supporting the court case and therefore have no leverage for any kind of settlement, and Minis doesn't represent the majority and is completely in conflict by his position as both chairman and Thomson employee.
During the crisis of the announcement of the 1,500sq km land grab by the Government, Thomson Safaris have published crazy statements misrepresenting their detractors – that would include myself, I suppose - as accusing the safari company of “evicting 40,000 people” among other things. They say the conflict is “manufactured” to get donor funds and has “collected over $360,000 in donations from just one organization”. Thomson are without doubt referring to their pet obsession, Pastoral Women’s Council, or more exactly it’s founder and coordinator Maanda Ngoitiko whom I heard Thomson’s definition of long before I’d even heard her name - “a local Kenyan Maasai woman that encouraged all locals to squat on the land and use it for their benefit” (Maanda is born and bred in Soitsambu and her parents born in Serengeti). The only donations for this important cause come from Minority Rights Group, are nowhere near Thomson’s crazy made-up figure and go to paying lawyers while PWC staff and community members document abuse at their own cost.
On 17th May the land case was struck out by the judge. Allegedly this judge is retiring and is striking out all cases that look like dragging on, and she’s also a personal friend of the DC. A couple of months ago the judge had in a written decision allowed amendments of the plaint to include the newly formed villages and the latest decision was given without any legal explanation and was irregular. Discussions are already taking place regarding filing a new suit
Things are happening and I hope to post an update – soon.
By the way, one way of avoiding court cases is by not grabbing people’s land, and there is no way that an American tour operator will be allowed to “own” 12,617 acres of Maasai land.
I don’t want to give ideas to “investors” with bad intentions, but people, and especially leaders, in Loliondo have to be reminded that something has to been done now about the anomaly of 20,638 acres of land, mostly in Soitsambu, in the name of the late John Aitkenhead. This is a disaster in waiting.
My very belated wish for 2013 is that it will be the year that the tide turns and all “philanthropic” landgrabbers – and a central government with its aim set on pastoralist land - in Loliondo and beyond will have to start retreating, but so far the situation seems to be going from bad to worse. There are some promising signs though, like the decision of university students from Loliondo to very actively seek out what role they can play in the fight. As one of them told me, “the Maasai of 2013 are not the Maasai of 1959”.
(Do contact me with information or questions)