Friday, 30 August 2013

Another Loliondo Visit - A Kind of Safari Report

In memory of Moringe Parkipuny

In July 2013 I managed to return to Loliondo and meet some people affected by Thomson Safaris’occupation of 12,617 acres of Maasai land.

This report is maybe too personal, but not of the kind written in another time. It focuses on the land threats (and me seeking information about them) and not my inadequacies as a tourist, weird and wonderful people and animals I've met, or efforts to wash my hair without running water. The report may contain some whining and ranting.

First I lost too much time in Arusha wanting to have something planned before moving on to Loliondo. A mayor challenge was not getting any assistance at all from the NGOs that have information about the land cases. I was asked, by one NGO person, not to come since the situation was tense and they could not be seen to assist. It's a fact that ministers regularly in media announcements about Loliondo issue open threats about de-registering the NGOs involved in land rights, and I know very well that they are also overstretched by a myriad of issues, but I think I could have been assisted by some phone calls or at least by being given phone numbers. For obvious reasons I had to limit the number of people I informed about my travel plans. I did not even tell all my sources of information. Discretion is hard to combine with total dependence on help to be able to communicate and move around.  It’s frankly unfair and extremely frustrating that Thomson Safaris without fear and loudly can spread their propaganda all over media. It’s the reason for the existence of this blog. Anyway, I had got some big (non-NGO) promises of assistance that grew smaller as my geographical proximity grew bigger. I sent a list of some people I wished to meet, but did not get a reply.

I did not completely lose my time in Arusha since I met some friends and found information about OBC in the street. One Sheik Mohammed of Abu Dhabi (that would be the crown prince) was coming to hunt around mid-Ramadan and people were waiting for calls to go and work in Loliondo, but this was delayed.  I inquired about the rumour that OBC should have some kind of special hunting interest in cats and, yes, besides many other animals (but not elephants and giraffes) I was told that they do hunt lions, leopards and cheetahs (the latter would be illegal). The royal hunters like to eat guinea fowl and ostrich and the fat from the lions is used in the same way as Viagra. The workers go to Lobo airstrip to pick up prostitutes from Europe who join the hunters. Cameras were not permitted for religious reasons but alcohol was more than permitted. The latest I was told was that hunters from Dubai would come around 25th August for two weeks and then Abu Dhabi would follow. Then on the 25th – already at home since a long time - I heard that preparations had started at the OBC camp and that young people were overflowing it looking for casual labour. From the morning of 25th August people within at least a 20 kilometre radius of the OBC camp once again started getting messages from Etisalat welcoming them to the United Arab Emirates when switching on their phones.

In Arusha I also met some anonymous people and some of them had suffered because of the corrupt ways of the councillor for Oloipiri.

Eventually I had to get on the bus to Loliondo. At the gates of Engaruka, Longido and Engaresero laser eyes singled me out inside the overfull bus and I had to pay the fees. Desert roses, giraffes and donkeys provided excellent photo opportunities that I missed. The long and hot Lake Natron route turned into fifteen instead of ten hours because of a breakdown, but eventually I arrived in Wasso.

Once in Wasso I spent a couple of days waiting and waiting. It was maize harvesting time, which could not have come as a surprise. Eventually I was told that it was impossible to find phone numbers of the people I wanted to see.

With the assistance of Edward Saringe Naronyo (thanks to Kiyyian) I was finally and hastily off to Sukenya. We were three people on a bodaboda, motorbike taxi, in the scorching sun and on the way we met both two Thomson vehicles and the motorbike of Amati, Ward Executive Officer of Soitsambu, who in 2010 phoned the DC about me, which resulted in being declared a “prohibited immigrant”. My wish was to meet some of the herders – two of them children – who for nearly a year were dragged through court by Thomson for “trespassing”. These people were out with the cows and instead we talked with three old men, all of them Loita from Sukenya. They were very tired of Thomson chasing cows and arresting and beating people, especially children, when cattle enter the land they claim as theirs. They said that Thomson did not come to sit down with people to ask if they could do tourism on the land; they came with power from the government and said that the land was theirs. I already knew that much, but when I started to ask more detailed questions these men got suspicious wondering why I hadn’t come with Pastoral Women’s Council, and I had to explain that this NGO was afraid of the government. This time I had decided to carefully explain who could see my writings and ask people if they agreed with having their names mentioned. These men did not want me to write their names and I almost felt like telling them that then maybe Thomson can keep the land … I suppose that part of these problems can be explained by my lack of language skills. Instead they wanted me to write that, “People from Sukenya and Mondorosi do not need Thomson to beat children and cows and to arrest people and take them to the police station”. I added that some people, like Loserian Minis, chairman of Sukenya, are very “appreciative” of Thomson and was reminded that Minis after a meeting of traditional leaders has amended his ways and is now supporting the court case against the safari company. They also said that the ward councillor for Oloipiri, William Alais, had agreed with everyone else at the meeting with the laigwanak – but there are very strong indications that this councillor has been scheming with Thomson even after that meeting. Afterwards we had a look at the waters at Ilotimi.

In Sukenya I got a difficult question that I wasn’t prepared for: “How can we solve the problem?” I’ve spent a lot of time chasing information about what’s actually going on, and sharing it here on this blog, but unfortunately the sharing of relevant information does not automatically lead to action. I replied something about continuing working on unity in the fight, but I wish I had some ideas for direct action. I need to actually do something to remove Thomson Safaris from the land they are occupying…

Then I moved on to Ololosokwan that geographically and socially seems closer to Mondorosi and where I enjoyed the splendid hospitality of Gabriel Sandulai Saing’eu and his wife Moric.

On my second day in Ololosokwan a very helpful person could have assisted me in getting information, but I missed this.

After a couple of days we went to Mondorosi in a vehicle. Things were quite straightforward and the first person we met knew how to find Sambao Soit - one of the herders that Thomson Safari guards and the police in July 2012 arrested for trespassing and physically assaulted. Then the safari company –and the District Commissioner, I’ve been told – wanted to set an example insisting on moving forward with a court case that wasn’t dismissed until 5th June 2013.

Sambao said that he had first been arrested when building his boma. At one time he attended a meeting with Thomson to attain peace. They even shared a goat, but two days later the safari company’s guards again went against him and other herders. Sambao had decided to be very careful never to get close to Thomson again. Sometimes Thomson detain cows and keep them in their boma, even at noon. On 2nd July they had been chasing cows with a vehicle. The guards that Sambao especially mentioned were Kerimbot, Loilole and Toroyan Lengume. These ones are really bad, he said. (Lengume did, bow and poison arrow in hand, in 2010 turn away Moringe Parkipuny and me when the oldman asked if we could have a drink at Thomson’s camp.) Sometimes they do game drives at night and come near Sambao’s boma and sometimes they beat children. Six year old Kakere Soit was beaten last year. Thomson’s guards say that they do this because there are cows on the land.

Sambao told us that the court had said he and the other herders were innocent, but Thomson still want to renew the case. Thomson’s people had been very confused and contradicting each other in court. They lied saying that they had never beaten anyone. When the herders’ advocate, Shilinde Ngalula from Legal and Human Rights Centre, had a car accident and hurt his hand the District Commissioner and several other people thought that he had died. This emboldened Thomson’s guards and everyone started telling the herders, “I was the one who caught you”. Then the case was dismissed.

Sambao also complained about having to make a big detour to reach the Ilotimi waters because of the problems sometimes encountered when crossing the land occupied by Thomson. I asked him about Thomson’s manager at “Enashiva Nature Refuge”, Josiah Severe, and was told that he is “only sitting”, but that he is the one sending people to chase cows. I was also told that Severe is from Arusha and that his background is as a businessman selling fuels. Another person working for Thomson is Emanuel Lorru from Sukenya who is having his studies at Mweka College of African Wildlife Management paid for by some tourists. When Lorru is at home sometimes he too joins the chasing of cows. Sambao was quite eager to appear in a photo on a blog exposing the truth about Thomson Safaris. I’m not much of a photographer, but here he is. 

To reach the boma of Keng'otore Nanyoi we had to cross the occupied land, so that is what we did. In the distance we saw Thomson's tourist camp. The thought of tourists sitting there imbibing gin and tonics together with lies about community-based tourism was almost unbearable. After a while we lost the road among the whistling thorns and there was a slight sense of panic before we found it again.

We arrived at the Nanyoi boma and were told that Keng'otore was out with the cows. After a while Lesingo Nanyoi, who in 2008 in a confrontation with Thomson guards and the police was shot in the jaw, appeared. Lesingo was very tired of the whole issue. He had talked with so many people that wanted to write about him (I had met him in 2010) and even been taken to Arusha to meet journalists, but this had not helped him.  He was shot and nothing had happened with those responsible. He told us that Thomson were much less aggressive than in the beginning. They did not come near the boma, except for one recent case when they came at market day when all adults were away. Lesingo feared that they were looking to expand their borders. The biggest problem was how Thomson interfered with grazing.  Lesingo said that they could do what they wanted to do and that people like him were voiceless.

Keng'otore Nanyoi was worried about Thomson's chasing of cows and their market day visit. He also said that because of Thomson he couldn't access the nearest watering point in the rainy season. When arrested for trespassing Keng'otore had been punished, beaten, and he and the other herders were still waiting to get their traditional weapons back after the case against them was dismissed. He said it had been expensive going to court and then many times Thomson did not appear, but he didn't regret anything. They "won" the case because of their unity. Now Keng'otore had hope that as long as there was unity they could get the land back. He said that Thomson's manager could manage the camp, but not the land, and he should stop sending the guards to harass people. He wanted to tell the government to stop Thomson from using the land until the court has decided to whom it belongs. Keng'otore also wanted to have his photo published. 

When returning we had to cross the occupied land again. There were cattle on the land and some very young herders who, in apparent panic upon seeing our vehicle, started running at full speed towards a wooded area.

In Ololosokwan I heard about a man from Ngorongoro Conservation Area whose family had not seen him in four years. He was in Loliondo since, unlike in NCA, there was food to be found. The young man who told me this said that he thought the same was the fate that would await people in Loliondo if the government had success with its plans to take 1,500km2 of grazing land for "conservation". He said it was worth dying for and needed personal sacrifice - but that personal sacrifice can be seen as selfish by people who depend on you. He also told me that just about all leaders had at one time or other accepted money from OBC. The greatest enemy was the enemy within.

Towards the end of my stay in Ololosokwan there was a meeting in Mairowa about the threat of the 1,500km2 "wildlife corridor". I wasn't there, but my informants said that there was nothing new at all after the Prime Minister's letter that I wrote about in my latest update.  I would get some worrying news in Wasso, but then I didn't really hear anything new before I got home and in early August heard from various people that the Member of Parliament for Simanjiro, Christopher ole Sendeka (of all people), was pressuring the ward councillors to tell people to remove cattle and bomas from the area in conflict. Apparently Sendeka has been informed that the councillor won't negotiate - but I'm having problems understanding why they aren't louder about this outrageous behaviour.

I did get a lift back to Wasso with an NGO, but that was almost accidental. I could not get any help to find the teenagers from Sukenya that together with Sambao and Keng'otore had been dragged through court by Thomson. Instead I decided to visit Thomson's friends at the "cultural boma" they are supporting for Enyuata Women's Collaborative.  Robert Kamakia, another kind of NGO person who works in Enguserosambu Forest and isn't very updated about the issues I want information about, said he thought the NGOs should give me food (quite sweet, and he did feed me, but I live on information and not food). In the morning Robert started looking for a vehicle so that I would look like a proper tourist and got hold of one in the afternoon. Edward and I were off to Sukenya again. We got off at the "cultural boma" that's right next to the road and has a sign telling everyone that it's supported by "TCL, FoTZC and Thomson Safaris". The place was empty but soon some girls that weren't members of Enyuata appeared. They told us that the boma was only active when Thomson brought tourists. They also told us that this boma - not sure if they meant the cultural boma, the people living around it or all the Laitayok - does not have a problem with Thomson; the others do. Then I wanted to ask them if they were in agreement with Thomson as landowners and what they thought about that the chairman of Sukenya, the very Thomson "befriended" Loserian Minis, now has joined the court case against the tour operator, but I had language problems and a lorry with Thomson's logo that make the cutest of antelopes look sinister appeared. A man got off the lorry. He too explained that the cultural boma was exclusively for Thomson's guests. If anyone else wanted to see the women of Enyuata they needed to get a permit first. That was it and we left. In 2010 a member of Enyuata explained to me that she did business with Thomson since she was poor and would do business with the devil, but that it did not mean that she agreed with them having the land.

In Wasso I got disquieting reports, delivered too close for comfort, that FZS - in the shape of Thomson's former manager at the occupied land, were doing research to assess community acceptance for a Wildlife Management Area in Loliondo and that the Germans had provided FZS with funds for land use plans. I had already seen some online evidence that FZS and the Germans could be up to something like this to revive the old government wish that was rejected and I wrote about it in my latest update. I've encountered the argument, by a government employee talking with foreigners in social media, that the people of Loliondo more or less deserved what happened in 2009 and also the current threat because of this rejection. Some people have expressed fear that the ward councillors could be ready to go along with the WMA idea, but the councillor for Ololosokwan, Yannick Ndoinyo, is quite clear saying, “It does not fit our main interests and methodologies for conservation. I for one do not want a WMA especially when it refuses people the power to manage conservation, tourism, revenue and pastoralism.”

I am obviously not entirely happy with the Loliondo NGOs that have land rights as one of their areas of work (it's the part of their work that make them unpopular with authorities), but I must also say that Pastoral Women's Council are doing a great job assisting with the court case against Thomson – with the help of Minority Rights Group. They are practically the only organisation doing any work at all on the ground. And NGONET work tirelessly against the planned grab of 1,500km2 of important dry season grazing land. However, these organisations hardly write and publish any reports at all and the journalists that have written usually get many things wrong and never make any follow-up. Besides that they hardly write, getting information from the NGOs is very hard and frustrating work, not only for me, but also for those with more skills and resources who express an interest in helping. The website Stop Thomson Safaris that started a year ago is a beacon of light, but the person/people behind it are too busy and have also encountered challenges that I hope to eventually be able to write about. Stop Thomson Safaris does not provide much information about OBC and the so-called "wildlife corridor". There is a problem with leaving so much important work in the hands of organisations that depend on government permits and donor funds.  I am doing work that nobody else is doing and my blog is the most detailed and accurate source of information about the Loliondo land threats. I need to continue and intensify the work - and I need much more help. As a contrast: besides their charitable branch, Focus on Tanzanian Communities, whose representatives work hard "befriending" select people around the occupied land and also district and regional authorities, Thomson Safaris have a writer and PR associate in their employment, two employees described as Social Media & Marketing Coordinators, at least one employee specialized in approaching universities and organisations - and this tour operator also pays thousands of dollars per month to an agency specializing in search engines, social media, online reputation management and analytics.

Time was running out and I had to get on the bus back to Arusha where I met some dear friends before continuing on to Nairobi.

I realized that next time had to make a different kind of trip with more language skills, energy and money - but I don't know how to obtain the latter.

I Nairobi while waiting for an early night before flying home I saw the worst kind of reports saying that Moringe Parkipuny had passed away in hospital in Karatu. I tried to get the news confirmed as untrue, but this was not possible and text messages started coming. In Arusha I had been told that Parkipuny was very ill and didn't want to see anyone. I left some printouts for the oldman with my friend Navaya who I knew would deliver them, but I didn't count with death. I can't say I knew him closely, but enough to know that I only can hope for someone half as good to appear in Ngorongoro very soon. This could be the time to celebrate a life well lived, but I’m too angry that he didn’t get more time. So much was left undone because of too many demons inside and too few demons in people around him.

I was on the same flight to Amsterdam as Brian MacCormaic  who works with education projects in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum and who was a friend of Trent Keegan who in 2008 was the first international reporter having a look at Thomson Safaris land grab and who shortly after leaving Tanzania was murdered in Nairobi. Brian still had the same unanswered questions: Why were Trent’s laptop and camera stolen, while his passport, cash and Visa cards were left behind by his murderers? How come Thomson Safaris appear to have accessed personal files from Trent’s laptop (and Brian's), which were given to the District Commissioner, by Thomson’s local manager? Why have the District Commissioner, or the police in Nairobi not investigated this further, despite being informed of a possible link between the files and the people who stole Trent’s laptop? And why have the Irish or New Zealand governments not held their own independent post-mortem enquiries into Trent’s death?

Brian still had a very vivid memory of his meeting with RickThomson and Judi Wineland and their ruthless hypocrisy.

On 19th August I got an anonymous email from one “Olchoni Lengop” - “cowhide” plus “earth”, which in Maa would mean “the whole world”. The email was labelled “onyo kali” (“stern warning” in Swahili) and was empty except for an attached letter from the chairmen of Sukenya, Mondorosi, and Soitsambu – none of whom understands English. They were complaining about my latest blog post that has “defamatory” statements about some of them being friends/employees of Thomson that could cause new tensions now when they have united in the court case against the tour operator. They “needed” me to remove those “false allegations” and not let it happen again. The “allegations” they didn’t like were calling Minis a Thomson employee and saying that the councillor for Oloipiri had been removed as coordinator for the NGO Kidupo for misappropriation of funds. The letter also had complaints about that I’d described Kidupo as a Laitayok dominated organisation.  They asked me if I could prove with “payment documents” that Minis was an employee of Thomson, which is slightly silly since they must know that he would not share his pay slip with me. Already in 2010 when I visited Sukenya with the late Moringe Parkipuny some people assisted us in writing a list of the people on Thomson’s payroll and Minis was included. Later I’ve heard from several people that he was also formally employed by Thomson. What is very clear is that Minis for years has been a close friend of Thomson. Everybody has told me this and Thomson have proudly published the fact in many places.

The main issue of the letter however was William Alais – the councillor for Oloipiri. The letter says that he is still working for Kidupo and that there are no allegations of misappropriation of funds. There certainly are allegations and from trustworthy people that have suffered a lot because of this councillor, and that he was removed from the board of Kidupo has also been confirmed to me by another councillor. He could still be involved in some committees and is probably scheming to return to the board – as he has without any doubt at all still been scheming with Thomson even after the laigwanak meeting where he is said to have agreed with the people.

Then I wonder why these chairmen would make the councillor of Olpipiri into the main issue of the letter - and I’m now around 86 percent certain that the letter was written by the councillor himself.

I don’t even know if my reply - with some questions to “Olchoni Lengop” that have still not been answered - will reach the chairmen and I’d kindly ask anyone to inform them that I’ve spent much more time and money than I can afford trying to find out exactly what’s going on in this land conflict. Thomson have for years been aggressively presenting this ugly land grab as philanthropy and community-based conservation and most of the time I’ve been on my own fighting their lies on the internet. I’ve been doing the job of these chairmen defending their land when some of them, especially Minis, have been collaborating with Thomson. They should be ashamed of themselves for sending me this kind of letter – if indeed they know what is written in it.

Also please tell them how happy I am that they now are united in the court case against Thomson and that I fully support them and will write about their fight on my blog. If any of them is again befriended by Thomson I will of course have to write about this not mincing my words – and I will continue writing until Thomson have ended their occupation.

And, if Thomson Safaris have not at some point been involved in inciting the writing of this letter I’ll eat my old flip flops (malapa kwa Kiswahili).

Susanna Nordlund

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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