Monday, 18 May 2015

Excellent Article about Thomson Safaris in Vice Magazine

This post was to be part of next blog update, but since that post is getting too long and too delayed due to too much happening and problems getting exact information, the article gets its own blog post. I hope to soon write about developments in Kirtalo and add that to the delayed update that also has some other important news.

On 12th May Vice Magazine uploaded an article from their May issue called, The EcotourismIndustry Is Saving Tanzania’s Animals and Threatening Its Indigenous People, and despite the title the article is entirely about Thomson Safaris’ “Enashiva Nature Refuge”. Some short videos are embedded in the article.

The reporter Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and her brother photographer Noah Friedman-Rudovsky visited Loliondo in early December 2014 and got to talk to Thomson and their victims.

The reporter and photographer met Olunjai Timan who was shot on 8th July 2014 by a policeman working for Thomson, an elder, Tulito Lengume, whose boma was burned when Thomson arrived in 2006, Rogey from Sukenya who has suffered much harassment, for speaking up, Ndekerei from Sukenya whose sons have been beaten, the boy Tajewo Nanyoi who was beaten by a Thomson guard in 2011 and is still traumatised, and of course Thomson’s pet obsession, Maanda Ngoitiko of Pastoral Women’s Council. They also managed a lengthy talk with Thomson’s manager at “Enashiva Nature Refuge”, Daniel Yamat, a former Thomson guard, “Leroy”, who still supported the company, and they attended a community meeting arranged by William Alais and Gabriel Killel…, a nasty interrogation by the DC and the Ngorongoro Security Committee, and a full day with William Alais visiting Thomson’s projects and supporters. They journalist interviewed Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson on Skype, an anonymous expert on land issues in Arusha, a lawyer for the community in court, anthropologist Ben Gardner, and a professor of development sociology.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky grasped the situation quite well, with some minor errors, and I do hope the article have reached Thomson’s potential tourists.

I’d like to add some of the comments I have.

The article mentions that Thomson’s guards are “unarmed”, but I’ve both been told and made personal observations of the contrary. They do carry “local weapons”. In 2010 when the sadly missed Moringe Parkipuny took me to Thomson’s camp as his friend – and “church person” according to those accompanying us - who wanted to have a drink, we were turned away by the guards and one of them went to fetch a bow and poison arrow. I have also been told that the guards have firearms when there are guests, and there are tourist photos showing this. Those could belong to the police though, that basically work for Thomson, as the article also describes.

Thomson’s claim to have recovered degraded land stand unquestioned in the article, but I’m unsure how interested they would have been in such land for the private nature refuge, and Thomson themselves in PR material from 2007 say that they land was “unspoiled acres”, which could have been spin. 

The journalist does mention the murder of Trent Keegan. After soon 7 years this murder is still unsolved and the questions byTrent’s friend Brian MacCormaic continue unanswered. 

Thomson’s manager, Daniel Yamat, just like the owners of the company in earlier articles, boasts a lot about having allowed grazing in the drought of 2009. The truth is that the district council protested and the DC himself had to request Thomson to allow grazing. This was also reported at the time by the journalist Musa Juma. According to what I’ve been told, Thomson never announced that they “allowed” grazing, except maybe to some of their friends. There were some arrests in July 2009, but then they seem to have stopped for some time after that.

Yamat, who has overseen and ordered so much violence in the work establishing a private nature refuge on other people’s land unsurprisingly blames the victims and fantasises about Maanda Ngoitiko.

“Leroy”, an ex-guard who “corroborates” local people as “aggressors” talks about an incidence in February 2014 when a group came to the campsite "armed with bows and arrows and threatening us", This ex-guard must have meant January 2014 when Thomson’s guards, besides beating herders, also detained several of them at the camp at the same time as detaining a big herd of cows. One herder had several bones in his hand broken by the guards and police. Then warriors moved towards the camp wanting to burn it down and the police fired shots into the air. Such incidences are remarkably rare considering the level of humiliation and abuse. When I was young even the telephone directory recommended taking up resistance against an occupation force.

Yamat handed off the reporters to a community meeting organised by William Alais – the “investor-friendly” councillor for Oloipiri whose letter in support of Thomson and OBC was published by the Jamhuri, the newspaper that engages in hate speech against the Maasai of Loliondo. Also there, holding a speech was the very aggressive Gabriel Killel, director of the NGO Kidupo that was basically bought by the “investors” last year. Ironically Killel declared that "NGOs are a cancer on our society!” supposedly meaning those that are not befriended by “investors”. In a video he mentions this blogger as one of those engaging in “Facebook blah, blah, blah, blah terrorizing investors”. As usual he gets my nationality totally wrong. At least it does not seem like he tried to pass me off as someone working for an NGO this time.

William Alais was offended when the pregnant reporter was tired and wanted to wait to the following day to interview him and visit projects – so he went to the DC – now retired Elias Wawa Lali - to report her, and the photographer. In a three-hour interrogation the first accusation was about having photographed children without parental permission, Such an idea can only have come from the fact that Thomson have received complaints for using Sukenya Primary School for tourists to take photos and make donations to the company’s charitable branch that use its projects as weapon of war. The Ngorongoro Security Committee tried to argue that the right visa was missing, but it was not. The committee moved on to hidden motives and the usual being “sent” by someone. They reviewed the photos to find grounds for arrest. I remember this way of searching for a reason to get rid of undesirable people from when I got caught and was declared a “prohibited immigrant” in 2010, but these reporters and their translator seem to have received more open threats.

What saved the journalist and photographer was that they made themselves desirable instead of undesirable by explaining that they would spend their last day in Loliondo visiting Thomson’s projects, talking to their supporters and interviewing William Alais.

So the last day was spent in the company of William Alais and his men, one of whom clarified that the DC had told them not to leave the reporters alone. Alais took them to projects funded by Thomson - and by OBC - and introduced them to people who spoke about how Thomson help the Maasai, but even those people did not deny the allegations of abuse and after further talk had their own complaints of harassment.

The journalist got an interview with a reluctant Judi Wineland who continued in total denial of any wrongdoing, and as always claiming to be the victim of a conspiracy. Thomson Safaris’ explanation for this imagined conspiracy is clan division and Maanda Ngoitiko’s financial interests. It’s very well known how clan division is used by central government and “investors” in Loliondo to divide and rule. Thomson just joined what was already going on when they came and needed to divide and rule themselves. So they are accusing their detractors of their own dirty business. Usually – and almost always also unfairly – in Maasai groups in social media, particularly Kenyan, it’s NGOs working for the rights of girls and women that are accused of stirring things up to get donor money. That such an organisation would be telling lies about an ecotourism company is farfetched indeed when outsiders have a tendency to really want to think well of such companies. The reporter also had access to all of PWC’s financial documents.

Common sense should tell anyone that you can’t make your own private nature refuge out of other people’s land that they depend on without using violence of one kind or other.

Thomson and Wineland explained to the reporter that “the proof that they weren't guilty of anything was that they were still operating and even applauded by the Tanzanian government”. An anonymous expert at land issues added that, “Investors can even violate human rights and the government is not going to look into it or punish them for it”. Though it’s more than that: the government participates hands-on in the human rights abuse together with the “investors”.

Something totally new from Wineland was that in the distant future, when Thomson have educated them – presumably not sparing the rod - the company is going to “pass on the baton” to local people. She claimed that a study trip to Kenya to view community-tourism models was a first step in this. That trip took place in 2012 and from documents leaked it was clear that the aim was to make the participants work for starting their own “conservancies”, or supposedly WMAs, in Loliondo - not getting back the land occupied by Thomson. Fortunately nothing seems to have come out of that trip that was facilitated for Thomson by the Nature Conservancy, and revealingly presented to such enemies of Maasai land rights as FZS and the Honeyguide Foundation. The document did of course also recommend rebuking those that write lies about dirty politics in Loliondo on the internet.

When asked if she had gone and tried to have direct conversations with any of those making allegations, Wineland interjected, “"Some of them you can't even find!" and mumbled about fictitious names. The reporter added that she talked to some of them, and so have I who, without much assistance, except for some by chance found translator taking pity on me, have just showed up in villages asking for people without other information than names and villages. When I in 2010 met Lesinko Nanyoi, who was shot in 2008, he was very upset about the lies Thomson were writing about him on the internet without having met him, and he even wanted to go to the USA to confront them. In 2013 he was just bitter about not having got any justice.

The article ends by the hopeful words by Tulito Lengume, "We are no longer being hunted," "Now we are hunting. That's our ground, and we will get it back."

I haven’t seen any reaction from Thomson Safaris on the article. I fervently hope their days occupying Maasai land are numbered.

Susanna Nordlund

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