Sunday, 15 June 2014

Another Delayed Update About the Land Grabbers of Loliondo – or who is a Kenyan?

There’s talk about a security and intelligence camp in Loliondo.
An NGO staff member was “accused” of being “Kenyan”.
In April the Boston Globe published a biased article about Thomson Safaris’ land grab.
It’s being looked into how the District Council could get out of the court case.
And Thomson Safaris again physically and judicially attack the people whose land they have taken.

This blog post is unnecessarily delayed for the usual reasons, but I’ve got some information that I can share.

OBC, FZS and 1,500km2
As mentioned in the latest blog post, there were reports that in early April Tanzania National Parks Authority, Tanapa, burned down several bomas in Arash. The reason was border conflict, and some bomas were said to be close to the border with the national park while some were not. The victims of this arson rebuilt nearby. I got detailed reports with names – the information was said to have come from Risye Lilash and Nguchuk Turuni from Arash. Now it seems like no action at all has been taken and I just can’t get more information. I have heard other reports that the bomas were inside the national park, uninhabited, and accidentally burned. I need to hear from someone who has the full story...

A worrying development that continues being mentioned is that leaders of several villages bordering the national park are working to evict cattle from other villages, which is contrary to last year’s arguments against the big land grab threat – and perfectly suits the purposes of the government, OBC and FZS.

The OBC employees who in the middle of the rainy season had been called to Loliondo to prepare the camp returned to Arusha without having attended to any highest level visitors. I’ve been told that Sheik Khalifa of Abu Dhabi was too sick to come and that Sheik Mohammed of Dubai would possibly come in mid-May. The workers spent their time organising stores, and - as far as I know - Sheikh Mohammed has still not showed up.

A person with information given by the council chairman, Elias Ngorisa, has told me that on 24th May a government delegation arrived in Loliondo to plan the establishment of a new security and intelligence base, presumably under the Ministry of Defence, which makes it seem like this would be a military base and not a police post. Ahead of this visit, the Land Department had discussed possible sites with the DC, District Executive Director (DED) and District Security Officer (DSO) Sites for a base had been inspected in Naan, one of the four villages in Enguserosambu Ward, Oloipiri and Olorien. The District Security Committee met on the 28th and it’s believed that the chosen area of interest could be Sukenya, of all villages. I have also heard that the reason for this base could be the conflict between Loita and Sonjo – but then Sukenya would not be the best location. Others fear that this plan has to do with the land issues – and I’m looking for more information...

On 27th May a staff member of a local NGO was arrested accused of being “Kenyan” and then released on bail late at night the following day to later appear in court. His Kenyaness seems to consist of – like many other people - having studied in the neighbouring country. Immigration officers interrogated the father of the suspected “Kenyan” and even went to Kenya to investigate, without finding any evidence. Immigration wanted to pursue the case but the magistrate ruled against them on 9th June. It’s believed that this harassment was politically motivated, but it’s very unclear if it has to do with local politics or has wider implications. This “offense” of being “Kenyan” is a problem in Loliondo since within walking distance is a border drawn in a wintry Berlin in 1885. If it weren’t so upsetting to a certain kind of patriot I’d even dare to mention that people versed in indigenous people’s issues do think that there is a Maasai nation.

Thomson Safaris’ Land Grab
As added to my latest blog post, on 18th April 2014 a federal magistrate judge in Boston issued an order granting the 1782 application, which means that Thomson Safaris must hand over documents and testimony about “alleged” land grabbing and violence to the leaders of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Soitsambu. This will help with the court case and happened thanks to the organisation EarthRights International.

On 24th April, after all these years, Thomson’s local newspaper, the Boston Globe, published an article about the conflict. Unfortunately this article was leaning towards Thomson’s version of events. There are some short and obvious mentions by the lawyer for the villagers, but the tour operator is allowed to go on with some grave accusations against a “group” – variously called “another company” or “an organization supporting Maasai women” that “wanted the land for itself” – saying that all allegations against them are lies made up by this group. This is nothing new, but Thomson’s standard “explanation” for why not all Maasai love their neo-colonial intervention. The group that the reporter did not make Thomson come out clear about is the local NGO Pastoral Women’s Council that have made some good work – but far from enough – for land rights, among many other issues, and helped a lot with this case. The first thing I ever heard from Thomson – via a friend and business associate of theirs - was that the whole problem was a “Kenyan” Maasai woman, and later I was told that their “problem” was the founder and director of PWC, Maanda Ngoitiko.

The article does not explain how via a court case brought by the villagers to return the land to the villagers it would be given to some “group”.

The article has some quotes by Judi Wineland in the most classic Thomson style of ruthless hypocrisy. Obviously this part of the land grabbing couple has deep trust in the total ignorance of the readers daring to utter, “If we were to have done any of these things, you’d think that Rick and I would be in jail by now,” as if the government’s policy of being on the side of investors against the land rights of pastoralists - and also other non-powerful rural people (even if the anti-pastoralism has often been outspoken) – weren’t widely known, and I suppose it isn’t outside Tanzania. In 2009 the government itself using the Field Force Unit committed human rights abuses in Loliondo for the benefit of an investor…

Unbelievably the reporter does not follow up Judi Wineland’s comment that, “Our goal is for us to give back to the community” by asking why such a “philanthropic” tour operator does not start by giving back the land they have taken instead of spending thousands of dollars on lawyers and online reputation management experts.

Big part of the article is dedicated to Thomson’s self description, their charitable/propaganda branch and their support for public radio in Boston.
Confusingly the reporter says that this conflict has spread quickly on the internet and has become something of a cause célèbre among human rights groups. I wish! Minority Rights Group – and now at last EarthRights - have been very supportive in the court case, but most of the time this blog has been quite on its own counteracting Thomson’s very aggressive propaganda.

The reporter says Thomson are suing the website Stop Thomson Safaris because they found it so egregious. This blog has been “egregious” in more words and for more years without being sued. Could it be that the person/people behind STS are based in Tanzania and anonymous, which makes them seem easy to intimidate?

The article signs off with the words of the lawyer of Ngorongoro District Council – another defendant in the court case against this land grab…

Then a letter to the editor by a participant in a trip for board members of Thomson’s propaganda/charity branch FoTZC, was published. This person claims that an “enthusiastic welcome” by more than 100 Maasai and community meetings to discuss projects would disprove allegations of mistreatment. It’s well known by anyone following this conflict that Thomson – like so many aggressors and invaders through history – have worked hard to divide and rule and have befriended leaders of one of the Maasai sections living next to the occupied land. Though since some time now their main catch – the chairman of Sukenya – has joined the court case against the land grabber. The “communities” were this time served up for “charitable” tourist consumption by the corrupt councillor for Oloipiri and the meetings were held in Orkuyane and Oloipiri – villages that are not near the occupied land.

I too wrote a short – no more than 200 words are allowed - letter to the editor focusing on my personal experience following this conflict for years, the insane overreaction by Tanzanian authorities when asking timid questions about Thomson, and meeting people who have been affected by Thomson taking their land, assaulting them and judicially harassing them for “trespassing”. My letter was not published.

From 3rd to 7th May there was a District Council meeting and on the 4th the chairmen of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Soitsambu attended. After much chasing for information I was told that a team had been set up to investigate how the council could get out of the court case and support the villages instead. The big problem is that many government employees at the council support Thomson, and among the elected councillors, William Alais, for Oloipiri is, as mentioned, totally in the pocket of the land grabber. 

On 20th May there was a joint meeting between the villages of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Soitsambu. I have not been able to find more information about this meeting.

Thomson Safaris are aggressively asking donors to assist their charitable/propaganda branch in building a dispensary in Sukenya and teachers’ housing in Oloipiri – their current priority projects in the propaganda part of their war against the Maasai.

As I on 12th June was about to publish this blog post I got information that Torian Karia and Kotikash Kudate from Mondorosi were locked up in prison after being caught by Thomson's manager, DanielYamat, and guards, beaten and forced into a Thomson vehicle. The prison magistrate refused bail under pressure from the manager. This had been going on for some days. The following day I was told that they had been released on bail after efforts by the chairman of Mondorosi, Joshua Makko. They were charged with being Kenyans…, threatening Thomson staff with spears and rungus, and a third charge (not sure what). The case will begin on 20th June – and I hope to soon be able to post a full report. (I’d kindly ask anyone with access to information to share it…)

This just can’t go on and on. More people have to get involved against this ugly occupation of Maasai land by a “philanthropic” tour operator.

On 28th May it was six years since Trent Keegan was murdered. His friend Brian Maccormaic’s questions remain unanswered.

As always I’m asking everyone to please share all information you may have.

Susanna Nordlund


Scattergood said...

Hi Susanna, As always, I appreciate your ongoing efforts to get the facts out and with updates on this blog. I enjoyed your recent comments on the Boston Globe article - that was far from balanced or factual reporting. Has the reporter ever been to Tanzania? or spoken to the Maasai to get their conflicting opinions? Somehow I doubt it. The Globe article was more of a free advertisement for the safari company - they excel at this type of semi-self-exposure and promotion - hope they appreciate that the Globe used the two attractive color photos they provided the paper - one of Rick with clients in the fields with zebras, and the other of a smiling Judi with Maasai women. These photos alone, demonstrate the reporter's bias. With all this positive publicity, maybe the reporter will get a complimentary visit Tanzania. Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if many of the pro-Thomson comments in the Globe where posted at Rick or Judi's request - they just didn't pass the smell test.
More on my Maasai slideshow:

Susanna said...

Hi Scatt, thank you very much. Yes, the article could have been better… Let’s hope that some day someone writes something really good

Lisa Anderson said...

Nice style! Good to see a talent at work

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Susanna said...

Lisa, I understand that you're a spammer, but this is kind of funny...