Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Aggressively Litigious Thomson Safaris with their Dollars Manage to Silence a Very Important Website

An alarm against injustice has been silenced. Armed with multiple lawyers, multiple law firms Thomson Safaris set out to stop the truth from being told, and the Stop Thomson Safaris website is no more.

To keep their anonymity – for explicable reasons being based in Tanzania - the creators of the website Stop Thomson Safaris have been forced to make a settlement with the land grabbing tour operator that sued them for “defamation and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage” and used a subpoena to try to make the web host Weebly disclose their identity.

For this lawsuit Thomson Safaris had written declarations from such unpalatable figures as co-owner Judi Wineland, their at the time manager at the nature refuge, Josiah Severre, the former and current manager Daniel Yamat, another employee called Emmanuel Lorru, and also from the “investor-friendly”* councillor for Oloipiri, William Alais – and these declarations basically consisted of declaring that nothing described on the website had taken place. Anyone wanting to prosecute these people for perjury would have a strong case. Some of their lies should be easy to prove as wilful. The police assisted by declaring that three young people that were beaten in February 2013 were nowhere to be found. Thomson had four lawyers and two extra law firms attached to this case. Most telling was Judi Wineland’s declaration anticipating that a business competitor would be revealed as creator or co-creator of the website, shamelessly invoking the surreal “investigation” from 2008 and alleging that the website had made Thomson incur fees of thousands of dollars per months to an agency specializing in search engine optimization, search engine advertising, social media advertising, online reputation management and analytics. Despite the fact that the same information, and more, about Thomson has been reported by those that, like this blogger, nobody can accuse of being business competitors the court did, for inexplicable reasons, let this absurd case start.

On 5 December 2014 the Cyberlaw Clinic of Harvard Law School had filed an amicus letter on behalf of the organisations Global Voices Advocacy and the Media Legal Defence Initiative saying that by allowing this frivolous lawsuit the California Court of Appeal creates a dangerous environment of persons reporting anonymously on issues with governments and corporations outside the United States.

Thomson have a long history of trying to silence those that want to tell the truth about their “model for community-based tourism”.

In 2008 photographer Trent Keegan was in Loliondo investigating and told friends about being threatened by the police and Thomson’s guards. Shortly after he was murdered in Nairobi, and when his friend Brian MacCormaic was to meet Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland thinking they were perhaps not aware of the situation on the ground he had to go to Wasso to a meeting with a “grazing committee” handpicked by the DC instead of Soitsambu village council that was waiting to meet the owners of the safari company. When Brian tried to leave, a Thomson Safari vehicle with some ten armed men arrived, and these men started blocking his departure. After considerable time and a phone call to the Regional Commissioner Brian was finally let go, but a few days later he was summoned to the DC’s office outside of which he met Daniel Yamat who boasted about having files from Brian’s computer and later the headmaster of the school that Brian was an advisor to witnessed at a meeting with the DC how Yamat presented prints of personal files from Brian’s and also from Trent’s laptop

In February 2009 British journalist, Alex Renton, and photographer, Caroline Irby, went to Loliondo. They talked with people affected by Thomson, and were accompanied by the allegedly Thomson befriended chairman of Soitsambu at the time. When upon an invitation by Thomson's Arusha manager they visited "Enashiva Nature Refuge" Daniel Yamat made a phone call and in ten minutes the police appeared taking them to the DC’s office and then to Arusha. The DC’s secretary told the reporters that they were acting on a complaint by Thomson.

In early February 2010 this blogger on a tourist visit asked the Ward Executive Officer of Soitsambu if the writings on Thomson’s website corresponded with reality. The WEO phoned the DC and the following morning I was picked up by the police and taken to DC Elias Wawa Lali (now retiring), and the Ngorongoro Security Committee that after having considered other accusations decided that I’d done “research” without a permit, confiscated my passport and sent it to Arusha where I was declared a prohibited immigrant, and had to leave the country. I have no evidence for Thomson’s direct involvement in this – except for the Security Committee claiming to be in telephone contact with the land grabber – but it’s a very clear example of how Tanzanian authorities work for this kind of “investor”.

Since there’s not much control I’ve returned and met people affected by Thomson’s harassment, violence and occupation of grazing land.

In November 2010 a British social justice organisation that has land rights in Loliondo as one of its projects received a letter from a London solicitors firm instructed by Thomson trying make the organisation remove mentions of the land grabber from its website.

And, as known, local activists are frequently threatened by the DC and Security Committee, and these days not least by a crazed recently corrupted NGO person. (Recent problems will be described in coming updates).

What Thomson Safaris do not want the truth to be told about is the 12,617 acres of Maasai land that they claim as their private “Enashiva Nature Refuge” and very aggressively present as “a model for community-based tourism”. Thomson work closely with the police, central government representatives, and strategically befriended leaders in Loliondo. Unsuspecting (or uncaring) former tourists fundraise for the charitable projects that Thomson, just like OBC do, use as a strategy of war. Thomson engage in divide and rule tactics, like OBC focusing on working with one Maasai section, and like the UAE “investor” they blame Kenyans and NGOs for their problems, with the difference that Thomson often claim to be the victims one small group of people, or just one woman. A corrupt “investor-friendly”* group of leaders that gravely endanger the land struggle make it more than clear that the “good investors” that they want to work with are OBC and Thomson, and the “investors” have, using these leaders, taken over the NGO Kidupo.

A family of four from Boston came to “own” 12,617 acres of Maasai grazing land in 2006 after buying a 96-year right of occupancy from Tanzania Breweries limited that got 10,000 acres free of charge for barley cultivation in 1984, cultivated 100 of the 10,000 acres in 1985/1986 and 700 acres in 1986/1987 while the Maasai continued using the rest of the land as before. Thereafter TBL stopped cultivation altogether and left due to conditions that were too dry for barley, and the whole of the land reverted back to the Maasai. Many years later, in 2004 TBL (with a 2003 starting date), using forged documents and without paying any kind of compensation got the right of occupancy and added some more land.

Managing other people’s land that they need for their cattle and turning it into your own private nature refuge requires violence, and violence is what Thomson have used in close cooperation with the police. People have been harassed, beaten, arrested and fined for “trespassing” on their own land under occupation. Thomson have taken minors to court for “trespassing”. Lesingo Nanyoi was shot in April 2008 and is yet to see any justice. On 8th July 2014 Olunjai Timan was shot by a policeman in a vehicle full of Thomson’s guards and left lying in a pool of blood until helped by his neighbour. The policeman was after a couple of weeks transferred to Karatu, but that’s no justice for Olunjai.  There were protest meetings and warriors that wanted to burn down Thomson’s camp were calmed by elders. Finally the DC and district officials convinced Daniel Yamat of not restricting any grazing until the court case is over. According to the reports I get cattle are currently grazing on the occupied land without harassment by Thomson.

Thomson’s insanely aggressive attack against the Stop Thomson Safaris website gives a clear clue to what rattles these violent land grabbers and ruthless hypocrites. A loud concerted campaign is the way to go, but it can obviously not be managed by anonymous people. This blogger would be happy to do it with steady, dependable information from the ground, but instead I spend considerable time chasing alternative on the ground sources for information.
It’s an error to put all efforts on an uncertain court case, and wait for the occasional journalist that will report with varying quality and not follow up.

Everyone who can, please go and find out the truth about Thomson Safaris, and then report loudly!

Dear STS, thank you for trying.

Stop Thomson Safaris!

Susanna Nordlund

*This is an euphemism.

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