Sunday, 28 July 2013

Loliondo Land Threats - Latest Developments

In memory of Moringe Parkipuny who too early passed away in Karatu on 22nd July 2013. You are sadly missed and your spirit will never be allowed to die.

A long awaited letter from the Prime Minister regarding 1,500sq km under threat contradicts the lies repeated by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, but does otherwise not have much substance.
Newfound unity among the villages around the land occupied by Thomson Safaris.

OBC and the government’s 1,500sq km land grab plan
In my latest update I mentioned a delegation of traditional leaders that had travelled to Dar es Salaam demanding to see the president about the announced threat to their lives and livelihoods - 1,500sq km of important dry season grazing land that also “happen” to be the core hunting area of Otterlo Business Corporation taken away by the government for “conservation”. The demands were not met and the delegation headed on to Dodoma to see Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda. In Dodoma the traditional leaders were joined by other delegations from Loliondo in what seemed like a rather fruitless and costly wait.

The Prime Minister had on 18th April agreed that the land does indeed belong to the registered villages and he said that the announcements made by the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism would not be implemented – but nothing of this was put in any written document. The various delegations were in Dodoma in May waiting for such a written statement.

During this wait, on 23rd May Tanzania’s representative at the United Nations, Ramadhan M. Mwinyi read a discouraging statement at the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues. The statement starts by denying the concept of indigenous people in Tanzania and then not very coherently moves on into self-congratulatory mode for having granted a collective Community Land Certificate to the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers. While confused, this shows some kind of positive movement, but when mentioning the Loliondo case things become really nasty. The statement repeats the brazen lies about the Maasai as “landless” people that have been “given” 2,500sq km while 1,500sq km are being “retained” for wildlife conservation, when in fact the whole of the 4,000sq km belongs to the Maasai and Sonjo both through customary tenure and as registered village land, and the 1,500sq km that the government wants to take are extremely important dry season grazing land for all the Maasai pastoralists of Loliondo and beyond. Fortunately Tanzanian representatives for pastoralists and hunter-gatherers organisations were present at the forum and could call the government’s lies into light. 

On 30th May the Prime Minister’s letter with the government statement, and the Regional Commissioner for Arusha as receiver, was finally issued and the Loliondo delegations started their journey home. Gone from this letter is the insane talk about Loliondo pastoralists as landless people that are being given land. The Prime Minister recognizes that the land belongs to the villages and that people living in the 1,500sq km will be seriously affected, but does not seem to understand that many more than those people will have their lives and livelihoods destroyed. Not a word is mentioned about OBC or about the evictions and human rights abuses of 2009, and there is no apology for announcement after announcement and press conference after press conference full of lies about Loliondo. The government will look into what infrastructure there is in the 1,500sq km – and will of course not find much apart from OBC’s airstrip and other structures, unless grass counts as infrastructure. This shows a will to misrepresent the dilemma as weighing “infrastructure against conservation” instead of “pastoralist livelihoods against so-called investors”. 

The intention of the government is to do the whole process all over again and this time “involve” the people of Loliondo. At the same time they want to “keep” the 1,500sq km for “conservation” and it’s really hard to see how the people would be “involved” in having their land taken away – but unfortunately there is a formula for this called “Wildlife Management Area”. Frankfurt Zoological Society that already a decade ago tried to lure the people of Loliondo into a WMA have funds for land use plans - presumably from the German development agency GIZ - and it’s come to my knowledge that they are currently doing research in the villages led by Thomson Safaris’ sinister former manager Daniel Yamat. The presumption about GIZ is drawn from Yamat's reported comment that there is funding from the Germans and the fact that GIZ not long ago was advertising for an “advisor in sustainable management of natural resources” for Loliondo and that one task was described as “Promotes interdepartmental cooperation, mainly regarding preparation of spatial plans, land use plans, village demarcation, etc.”. There were detailed requirements for wildlife management skills, but no mention of livestock management. WMAs are presented as letting “communities” benefit from wildlife, but does in reality mean handing over control of the land to government authorities and so-called investors. From what I’ve read, the creation of WMAs always involve coercion, create conflict and in cases like Makao in Meatu the WMA (also facilitated by FZS) is seen, by authorities and investors, as a license to commit human rights abuses. A WMA was what the government wanted and it was rejected a decade ago. Is the ground seen as better prepared now after the human rights abuses of 2009 and after the threat of a protected area that would destroy thousands of lives and livelihoods? Presenting this as some “win-win” compromise would be the height of hypocrisy.

On 28th June in his address closing the latest parliament session the Prime Minister repeated much the same as is written in the letter. Some mentioned a visit to Loliondo by the Prime Minister, but this seems now to have been indefinitely delayed. (edit 1/8: now it does seem like the PM will visit on 19th August) Even the Ngorongoro Member of Parliament is said to have expressed his dissatisfaction with the PM’s letter

“The land is the pillar of the Maasai culture and the pastoralist livelihood. In Ngorongoro Conservation Area where it’s gone the men have disappeared to all over the country leaving women and children behind facing hunger. With the work they find they can hardly feed themselves. This is what will happen in Loliondo as well if the land is taken. It’s worth dying for. The life among the Maasai is dependent on the land and without it they are no more and the question comes how do we survive the selfish free market economy.”, says Salangat Mako a local resident from Ololosokwan.

Update 6/8: several people are reporting that on 3rd August the MP for Simanjiro, Christopher ole Sendeka (of all people), phoned at least one Loliondo councillor asking this councillor to persuade the rest to tell people to remove cattle and bomas from the area around OBC’s camp.

Thomson Safaris’ occupation of 12,617 acres of Maasai land
The court case against five herders – two of them children – that had been going on for almost a year with delayed hearings was finally dismissed on 5th June 2013. The people testifying on Thomson’s behalf were contradicting themselves and each others too much and the judge established that the complainant, Thomson Safaris, according to the prosecution itself, is not the owner of the land, so there was no case. It is sad though that Thomson can be dragging children through court for using their parents’ land – and that of their children once this occupation is ended – and that this tour operator is allowed to label the legitimate owners of the land as “trespassers”.

As mentioned before, on 17th May the land case against Thomson Safaris was struck out by the judge who was not following proper procedures – since Soitsambu after village division was no longer bordering the occupied land she had already agreed to amending the case by adding  Mondorosi and Sukenya - and the preparation of a new case immediately started.

I was told that in May women in Sukenya were strongly pressuring the chairman and Thomson employee – Loserian Minis – to sign the minutes in support of the court case against Thomson. When Minis was ready to sign Thomson got wind of it and started working on him involving the councillor for Oloipiri, William Alais, This ward councillor used to be the coordinator of the Laitayok dominated NGO Kidupo, but was let go for misappropriation of funds.

Thursday 30th May to Saturday 1st June the laigwanak, traditional leaders, of Loliondo on return from Dodoma met with people in Soitsambu, Mondorosi and Sukenya to strategise about how to regain for future generations also the piece of land occupied by Thomson. The problem is that Thomson using classic divide and rule tactics have befriended leaders of the minority Laitayok section that’s majority in Sukenya village council. Though the only one really opposing the court case was the chairman and Thomson employee.

On Saturday 1st June the traditional leaders were summoned to Loliondo police station by the District Commissioner to whom allegedly the councillor for Oloipiri had reported. The DC, Elias Wawa Lali, argued in favour of Thomson and talked about the “hidden interests” of the NGO Pastoral Women’s Council. In his warped world view the laigwanak had taken sides against an investor and for an NGO when the only thing they were doing was to defend the land of their grandchildren.

The minutes in favour of the court case were signed by all three villages and the following Monday the chairmen, including Minis, travelled to Arusha to see the lawyers. Before meeting the lawyers the chairmen were picked up by a Thomson vehicle and taken to see Thomson’s Arusha manager John Bearcroft and former “Enashiva” manager, Daniel Yamat, who is now working for FZS. They were told that Thomson were ready to negotiate and that with a court case there could be no negotiation. This was not the first time Thomson had talked about being ready to negotiate, but it made an impression on the chairmen. Though the mandate they had from the villagers was not about negotiation and without the threat of the court case there can’t be any half-meaningful negotiation anyway. It’s obviously the fear of the court case that sometimes drives them into panicked announcements that they will “negotiate”.

Thomson Safaris have of course had many years to “negotiate”, but have instead all the time insisted on being the owners of the land. They could have handed back the title deed to the villages and tried to negotiate a proper contract whereby they could stay on some part of the land as long as not disturbing grazing. Some people who have met Minis actually say that he has been telling people that Thomson are about to recognize the Maasai ownership, I suppose to justify his own position – but “negotiating” for this safari company is offering some new charitable project that their clients will pay for. On the other hand, if it were up to me, I would never enter any contract with such criminals that for years have been harassing and humiliating the true landowners, and whose closeness to authorities protects them for being investigated for other crimes that they could have had something to do with.

The chairmen, including Minis, were enthusiastic about the court case and quickly visited Legal and Human Rights Centre to sign all papers.

One worrying aspect is that not only Minis, even if he’s the worst case, but also the current Soitsambu chairman who used to be Soitsambu sub-village chairman have earlier been very “befriended” by Thomson. Can they be trusted?

On 2nd July Thomson Safaris announced that they had been named one of the Top Safari Outfitters in the World in the Travel + Leisure (a magazine) 2013 World’s Best Awards Readers’ Survey.

Thomson Safaris had called a meeting with the villages for 4th July, but the Arusha manager, John Bearcroft phoned the chairmen and told them that it was cancelled because they were meeting with Obama on his visit to Tanzania (maybe they were, and it would be typical behaviour, but I still haven’t seen Thomson Safaris write about this online) – and it was postponed until August. He also said that he was ready to negotiate, but that Judi Wineland was not.

On 4th July 2013 Land Case 26 2013 was filed:

Mondorosi Village Council
Sukenya Village Council
Soitsambu Village Council


Tanzania Breweries ltd
Tanzania Conservation ltd
Ngorongoro District Council
The Commissioner for Lands
The Attorney General

On 11th July the injunction was filed and then I had to wait for the registrar to sign and the defendants to be “served” (receive the plaint and injunction) before publishing this blog post. The latest I’ve been told is that it seems like a representative of Thomson’s charitable (and propaganda) branch Focus on Tanzanian Communities has recently without success been trying to make communities withdraw support for the case. Maybe this could be the beginning of the end of Thomson’s occupation.

Keng’otore Nanyoi from Enadooshoke, Mondorosi says, “the least the government could do would be to stop Thomson from using the land until the court has decided to whom it belongs”. Keng’otore was one of the herders that Thomson dragged through court for almost a year for “trespassing”. That case was finally dismissed and it was good to see his hope that with unity the land occupied by Thomson Safaris could be returned.

Susanna Nordlund
(Do contact me with questions and information. I’m always looking for new sources of information.)

Next up on this blog will be a brief trip report.

Update: on 30th August I published my trip report

Update: on 3rd September a delegation from the Ministry for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Developments started surveying villages in Loliondo and the following day this delegation was called back to Dar es Salaam.
On 10th September land rights NGOs issued a press statement

Update: on 23rd September Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda held a speech in Wasso that was overflowing with people that had come to listen to him. Those present reported total victory. The PM had declared that the 1.500km2 would not be taken, that it belonged to the Maasai and their coming generations, and that the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, would not be allowed to bother them anymore. 

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