Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Sukenya Farm Conflict – What Thomson Safaris are up to in Loliondo and How I Became a Prohibited Immigrant in Tanzania

In a hidden corner of the world in the far north of Tanzania lies Loliondo Division, one of the three divisions – Ngorongoro, Loliondo and Sale - of Ngorongoro District where for hundreds of years people have lived of cattle, managing the land communally as wet and dry season grazing, like the wild animals migrate seasonally. This together with the Maasai pastoralists’ cultural aversion to eating game meat has been part in making the area the most spectacular place in the world for watching wildlife and the land has therefore become very valuable - which has been far from only a blessing. Under pressure from international conservation all people were evicted from the huge Serengeti National Park in 1959. The colonial government made a deal with the Maasai living in the eastern part of the National Park giving them land further east in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (some also moved to Loliondo Game Controlled Area) where their interests would be paramount, but instead the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority now reserves the right to decide where the Maasai can graze their cattle and to evict or relocate families that they don’t consider original inhabitants of the area. Human population has increased greatly since the 60s, but the number of cattle has not, while at the same time the NCAA has strict regulations limiting food cultivation. In 1975 families living inside the world famous crater were chased out, eviction threats have been a constant over the years and have recently intensified. In Loliondo Game Controlled Area land conflicts are as common as dust and many of these conflicts originated in the late 80s during Tanzania’s transition from socialism to a more market orientated economy. Some often corrupt and, in those times, even more often illiterate leaders of village councils sold off communal lands to investors without the consent of village assemblies, and land was alienated in many other fraudulent ways.


The best-known Loliondo land conflict is that with Otterlo Business Corporation. In 1992 a hunting block – which is just a kind of hunting concession and shouldn’t be about land alienation – was given to this company, owned by a member of the Dubai royal family of the United Arab Emirates, by the Tanzanian government. The contract was for 10 years and without the consent of the affected villages, and eventually the way it had been allocated led to a mayor scandal called Loliondogate, which involved the Office of the President, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism as well as the Attorney General. This contract was revoked in 1999, because of its illegalities, but new 5-year contracts have kept being signed against the wishes of pastoralists whose mobile grazing has been disturbed by the hunting activities. There is a conflict between legal systems where the right of villages to manage land clashes with the Ministerial Wildlife Division’s authority over wildlife. There have also been allegations of the breaking of hunting laws, including the illegal transport of live wildlife out of the country, and of violent acts against local people, including assassinations. The company became tired of the conflicts and in 2007 it entered “development cooperation contracts” with several villages. Though two villages refused to sign any contracts. These contracts contained various flaws and varied from village to village. OBC has been involved in several development projects – even before the new contracts - but these have been far from outweighing the resource losses. In May 2009, during a severe drought, the company donated 100 tonnes of grain to the residents of Ngorongoro District and this was the last thing media reported about OBC before 4 July 2009 when Tanzania’s special police force – the Field Force Unit – together with the company – started clearing OBC’s “operational ground” for the hunting season. Letters of warning had been sent to villages from different government authorities since early May, but nobody acted since according to the contract the coordination of hunting and grazing should be arranged in meetings with OBC, and those meetings had never materialized. 150 bomas (homesteads) were destroyed in the fires set ablaze by the Field Force Unit, stored grain and maize fields were destroyed, 60,000 heads of cattle were pushed into an extreme drought area, calves were left behind in the stampede, there was a shortage of water both for animals and people, 12 men were beaten by the police and three seriously injured, four children were lost – three were found and one – Nashipai Gume from Arash - is still missing – four goats were burnt to death in the blast, 27 people were arrested and 12 have been prosecuted. First both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism denied any knowledge of the incident, then it was said that the Maasai had burned their own houses as a sign of acceptance. In media presenting the government view giving room for an investor was soon described as “protecting the environment”. The Maasai were “accused” of coming from Kenya, it was claimed journalists and NGOs had burnt the houses. The minister for Natural Resources and Tourism lashed out against NGOs in Loliondo accusing them of “breaching peace” and the Regional Commissioner threatened with having them all “audited”. Some say that there are tourism companies that have done deals with villages without threatening land tenure, but the Government prefer the likes of OBC and Thomson Safaris. A parliamentary committee on investigate mission late last year (2009) conveniently found a dead elephant with missing tusks right next to the airstrip of one of these companies.

The Tanzanian state’s attitude towards pastoralism has at best been ambiguous, while the current government has been downright hostile from the beginning. Apart from in Loliondo, the government has supported “investors” in agriculture, mining, conservation or tourism against the rights of pastoralists in many other places like for example Mbarali and Kilosa where human rights abuses have been committed. Despite the fact that pastoralism is the backbone of Tanzania’s commercial livestock sector and that almost all the wildlife that attracts significant foreign earnings is located in pastoral areas pastoralism is seen as undesirable by the government. Already in his inauguration speech in December 2005 the president stated, “Mr. Speaker, we must abandon altogether nomadic pastoralism which makes the whole country pastureland...The cattle are bony and the pastoralists are sacks of skeletons. We cannot move forward with this type of pastoralism in the twenty first century.” And I March 2006 he stated, “I am committed to taking unpopular steps to pastoralists in order to protect the environment for the benefit of the nation and future generations.”
Not all the Maasai in Loliondo oppose OBC. There are three Maasai sections, popularly known as “clans”, living in the area – the Purko, the Loita and the Laitaiyok. The government has used the classic divide and rule technique sometimes working with corrupt local leaders that think they can support anti-pastoralist policies that will mostly hurt people from other clans than their own, or that will even just benefit them personally. It’s said there were Purko and Loita leaders that in 1992 collaborated in signing away the hunting concession to OBC. At the moment the minority Laitaiyok clan, that claim to have been politically marginalized, is being used in this way. Unfortunately, in Loliondo even the organisations working for human rights can each be described as associated to one of the three sections or clans. Navaya ole Ndaskoi – a researcher with ample knowledge about the struggle of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers all over Tanzania – says, “A radical change in the mentality of the human rights activists in Ngorongoro is a must if the land is to stay. Otherwise the land is gone without fight. Trading on tribalism may indeed help some selfish people. It will never help the marginalized in Ngorongoro.”

Another conflict – that tourists to Tanzania (like myself) should be able to do something about – is that of Sukenya Farm. Unlike its name suggests, Sukenya Farm is mostly open grazing land and not a “farm” and lies in Soit Sambu village bordered by the Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke sub-villages, and also Enguserosambu village to the northeast. In 1984 the then state-owned Tanzania Breweries Limited got hold of the 10,000 acres Sukenya Farm. Exactly how is unclear, but the talk is about forged documents and corrupt leaders. What is clear is that the land was allocated by the District Land Allocation Committee, which according to the law at that time could only grant up to 100 acres. Of the 10,000 acres TBL cultivated 100 acres during the 1985-1986 season and 700 acres during the 1986-1987 season. Thereafter they left the land due to conditions that were too dry for barley cultivation. Some villagers took the case to court in 1987 where they lost and in 1991 they lodged an appeal to the High Court, which was dismissed for non-appearance in 1995. By then the problem had been solved by itself - it seemed - and the grazing land was back in the hands of the pastoralists whose customary tenure should be more than evident.

Shockingly – and with immediate protests from Soit Sambu village - in 2006 TBL announced that they were “selling” Sukenya Farm. Somehow in 2003 they had obtained a 99-year Right of Occupancy for 12,617 acres (some 51 square kilometres) from the Land Commissioner and eventually in 2006 they sub-leased the land to Tanzania Conservation Limited, a sister company (founded specifically for this purchase) of the high profile and extremely vocal US-owned Thomson Safaris. As a “culmination of nearly 30 years of Thomson’s commitment to Tanzania” they considered they had purchased a “pristine wilderness” to turn into their own nature refuge, which they subsequently re-named “Enashiva [Happiness] Nature Refuge”. Though in the language spoken in Loliondo “Enashipa” would have been a more correct spelling than the Arusha-style “Enashiva”. The land was theirs and their guards aided by the local police started blocking grazing. The disputed land lies right between several sub-villages and many homesteads, and apart from taking away important grazing, the invasion by the safari company seriously impedes movement of people and livestock to other grazing areas and to watering points. When “Thomson’s land” “from there to there” is pointed out to you by a local pastoralist the sense of rudeness of this company from another side of the world, owned by a family of four, is overwhelming.

In May 2008 a link to an article on an Internet forum frequented by Africa travellers made me aware of the conflict. For some years East Africa and its wildlife had been the centre of my universe and I had come across information about injustices committed towards the pastoralists on whose land the great wildlife numbers were found. I had also come across an immense naivety shown by many travellers viewing the tourist companies reaping benefits from the pastoralist lands as charitable organisations if they had contributed to building a classroom or two. I expressed my frustration that everyone, including myself, would soon have forgotten everything about the issue and that Thomson Safaris’ story would take precedence, but then a business associate of the company chimed in that the whole problem was “a local Kenyan Maasai woman that encouraged all locals to squat on the land and use it for their benefit” and this chiming in made me less likely to forget. Much later did I hear of the Tanzanian government’s habit of accusing “troublemakers” of being from the nearest neighbouring country.

Then to my surprise I found information that an international photojournalist, New Zealand-born Trent Keegan, had investigated the harassment of “trespassing” pastoralists at Sukenya Farm, but tragically he was already dead, murdered in Nairobi on 28 May 2008. Trent’s laptop and camera were stolen, but not the money he was carrying or his Visa card. In Loliondo he had been visited by the police at the place where he was staying and he had encountered Thomson’s guards.

Later I found the blog of Trent’s friend, volunteer worker Brian MacCormaic, who at the time had been assisting a school in Ololosokwan as an advisor. The owners of Thomson Safaris, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland flew over to Tanzania when they heard there were rumours about the murder and Brian, thinking that they might be unaware of what was happening on the ground, arranged to meet them. The company owners were staying in Wasso and were also supposed to have a meeting with the Village Council in Soit Sambu that lies between Ololosokwan and Wasso, so Brian was surprised that they insisted on meeting him in Wasso. It was clear that Rick and Judi would not meet the Village Council. Instead they were having a meeting with a “grazing committee” handpicked by the District Commissioner and they insisted that Brian, who had come for a private talk, join the meeting with this handpicked committee. The committee spoke Maa, the Maasai language, and the translator was Thomson’s local manager, Daniel Yamat. A bishop that accompanied Rick and Judi did not speak Maa, and neither did the company owners or Brian. Almost immediately the atmosphere became hostile towards Brian, and he was prevented from leaving. When he was about to leave the compound anyway a Thomson Safari vehicle with some ten armed men arrived and these men started blocking his departure. After some considerable time and a phone call to the Regional Commissioner Brian was finally let go. By this time he was convinced that at least Rick Thomson was fully aware about what was happening on the ground.

A few days later Brian was summoned to the District Commissioner’s office outside of which he met Daniel Yamat who boasted about having files from Brian’s computer, naming several of the files. Later the headmaster of the school witnessed at a meeting with the District Commissioner how Daniel presented prints of personal files from Brian’s – and from Trent’s -computers.

In February 2009 British journalist Alex Renton and photographer Caroline Irby went to Ngorongoro on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the eviction from the Serengeti. They had a look at the favoured “investors” OBC and Thomson Safaris. In Soit Sambu they met the then Village Chairman James Lembikas who had expressed some support for Thomson, which must be the reason that the company, that had never had a meeting with the Village Council, for a long time boasted about their excellent relations with the village government. Detractors of Lembikas say that he was paid by Thomson while he himself, according to people who know him, says he was intimidated by the District Commisssioner. As my recent Loliondo trip got cut short I never got the opportunity to talk to Lembikas. Anyway, he was the chairman for some 20 years, but no longer.

Even before having Lembikas voted out the Soit Sambu Village Council sent a petition to the president about the situation and recently they have initiated a court case against Thomson Safaris to regain their land.

After an invitation from Thomson Safaris’ Arusha manager and a phone appointment with Daniel Yamat, Alex and Caroline went to visit “Enashiva”, but the manager refused to show them around or answer any questions, and 10 minutes after leaving they were stopped by the police and sent to the District Commissioner’s office where their passports were confiscated and then they were escorted out of the district by the police and sent to Arusha for investigation. The District Commissioner’s secretary told Alex and Caroline that they were acting on a complaint from Thomson Safaris about their questions.

In March 2009 the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sent a letter to the Tanzanian Government requesting information about the Sukenya Farm conflict, but I don’t know if they have received a reply. They also requested some interim measures – like allowing grazing and watering, suspending commercial development, ensuring physical security and investigating brutality and criminality - to be put in place, which has not happened.

Alex Renton’s article wasn’t published until early September 2009. A couple of weeks earlier when Thomson Safaris knew about the publication, they started their own blog about their “Enashiva” project. Their reaction to the article was extremely aggressive, basically accusing this journalist with more than 20 years of experience of making it all up. In a point-by-point “rebuttal” their lies were so wild that they could only have been written for prospective clients with no knowledge of the area at all, and some participants in travel forums actually were convinced by these writings. I wasn’t, as I had some information from Tanzania. Another particularity of this safari company is having a journalist on staff and managing to get their press releases published as “news” in the Tanzanian press, often with something like “by staff reporter” as by line. I was hoping for someone to go and talk to people affected, tell them about what Thomson Safaris were saying and ask them what really was happening. Time passed and it didn’t happen, so when the New Year 2010 began I decided I had to go even though I’m not a journalist or a researcher.

In late October 2009 signs were put up around the disputed land saying that the Government was changing the land use classification from pastoralism and agriculture to tourism and conservation and that anyone affected should express his/her opinion within 30 days. Soit Sambu Village Council, including the Sukenya Sub-Village Chairman, very strongly opposed this change, as did the District Council.

In April 2008 Lesingo ole Nanyoi got shot in the jaw in a confrontation with Thomson guards reinforced by the police. In their rebuttal of Alex Renton’s article Thomson Safaris say that “Lesingo Ole Nanyoi was not involved in a confrontation at Enashiva and has since admitted that his injuries did not occur there.” I personally met Lesingo in Wasso on my recent trip in February 2010. He says he was together with some other herders on their way to River Pololet watering point near the disputed land where pastoralists have watered their animals for centuries when they were approached by angry Thomson guards telling them, “this land does not belong to you anymore” and a discussion ensued. Police reinforcement arrived, there was a push and pull situation and three shots were fired. One shot hit Lesingo in the jaw, people fled, some cows managed to get water. Lesingo was first taken to the nearest dispensary that’s in Kenya and later in the evening to Wasso hospital. Then he was moved to Muhimbili Hospital where he had to stay for one and a half month. There has not been any independent investigation at all. According to Lesingo, Thomson Safaris are corrupt and not at all fair to the community. Despite writing about him, nobody from the company has ever talked to Lesingo; only their local manager approached his father trying to corrupt him when Lesingo was in hospital. Lesingo would like to personally inform the owners of Thomson Safaris exactly what happened.

Harassment and arrests of herders by Thomson guards and the police continue. Unsurprisingly, Thomson Safaris are saying that everything is fabrication by a minority from a Purko sub-clan associated to an NGO, but the list is very long. My plan before I was kicked out of Loliondo was to talk to as many on this list as possible. Lesingo ole Nanyoi’s own brother got caught herding his cattle near the disputed land in November 2009, was taken to prison and released after paying a big fine.

Thomson Safaris have borrowed OBC’s Laitaiyok trick befriending some selected leaders from this minority clan that is majority – approximately three quarters of the population - in Sukenya sub-village (the Purko are majority in Enadooshoke and Mondorosi, and Enguserosambu is Loita dominated). Though Shangai ole Putaa – a traditional Laitaiyok leader and Soit Sambu Sub-Village Chairman (not “ward chairman” as claimed in Thomson’s blog) – opposed Thomson Safaris publicly during the president’s Ngorongoro tour in March 2007. Of course, Thomson Safaris claim that he didn’t oppose them, but the contrary is common knowledge and I’ve heard several first hand accounts. Stranger than this is that the safari company also claim that nobody knows who killed Shangai in November 2007 when even the Regional Police Commander has confirmed that the local police did it when he tried to escape while under custody suspected of knowing the place of some hidden weapons (most people find it highly unlikely that Shangai would have been involved in any crime). There has not been any serious investigation. Meeting the Putaa family was on my “programme” before being thrown out of Loliondo and then out of Tanzania.

During a previous East Africa trip in June/July 2009 I got on the bus for a few days in Loliondo without talking to anyone except an ambitious young man who hijacked me upon arrival in Soit Sambu with the intent of becoming my guide for the rest of my trip. He was a great admirer of Thomson Safaris and wanted to work for them. His view was that people hated them because, unlike he himself, they were un-educated and only cared about cattle.

This time I was determined to get more information without becoming dangerously indiscreet. I was assisted in finding a guy with a motorbike and was off to Sukenya sub-village. Thomson Safaris urge people to speak to Enyuata Women’s Collaborative, the Sukenya Primary School and the Laitaiyok council of traditional Maasai leaders and elders. As it was Saturday, it would be a good day for visiting the school. This would be a visit to state employed, non-pastoralists outsiders with every reason to support Thomson. Thomson Safaris, like many other tourism companies, have their own charitable organisation that their clients donate to for a combination of some worthwhile projects and propaganda for the company, and schools have been a speciality of this organisation that until recently was named Friends of Tanzanian Schools. Now its name is Focus on Tanzanian Communities. The extremely friendly and welcoming head teacher was accompanied by an equally friendly head teacher from a neighbouring sub-village, as they were preparing for the upcoming elections that would take place at the school. I’ve had some teaching experiences and the rate of pupils per teacher at the Sukenya Primary School was simply terrifying. More housing for teachers was needed to solve this problem and teachers’ housing for 2-3 new teachers is exactly what Focus on Tanzanian Communities claim to have announced they will be building this year. Though the teachers had not heard anything about this saying that Thomson Safaris may have given something to the village, but never anything at all to the school – neither had anyone else - and they declared that Thomson take a lot and give very little. Maybe the on-line announcement was more urgent than the one on the ground. Though it looks like the Sukenya Primary School head teacher will soon feature in an elaborate youtubed thanking ritual on Thomson’s blog.

The other charitable/propaganda projects that Focus on Tanzanian Communities has been involved in are: the delivery of 50 ton of food aid (maize) in August 2009 during the prolonged and very severe drought. It was government food aid – which further strengthened the safari company’s excellent relation to the anti-pastoralist government - and a dream for an occupying force like Thomson Safaris.
And in 2008 the repair and borehole re-drilling of the well – built originally in the 50s as a part of the so-called “Serengeti Compensation Scheme” - next to Sukenya Primary School. Though the pump does no longer work, allegedly because it was “vandalized by a jealous clan”.

After meeting Moringe ole Parkipuny I thought I had found a more efficient way of finding out what was going on – just asking! This Member of Parliament for Ngorongoro in the 80s was the first African to address the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva. After a period of exile following an assassination attempt Parkipuny found new organisations had sprung up working for indigenous people’s (the Maasai and other pastoralists, and hunter-gatherers like the Hadza, Dorobo and Sandawe) rights but he is not impressed with their achievements in influencing the Tanzanian state. The day I went to see him at his home we were off to Sukenya in a rented vehicle in the afternoon. We visited a Loita – not Purko (the clan Thomson think all their detractors come from) - boma with some people very unhappy about Thomson Safaris. They quickly assisted Parkipuny in making a list of the “Enashiva” staff. The manager and driver are outsiders, of eleven guards two are Purko and two are from the agricultural Sonjo tribe that mainly inhabit the neighbouring Sale division while the rest are Laitaiyok. They also said that the Sub-Village Chairman was on the payroll. There is some house keeping staff as well, but those people don’t participate in the harassment of herders. These people claimed that practically all Loita and Purko oppose Thomson while the company had bought some Laitaiyok leaders living out along the road. They said that Enyuata Women’s Collaborative basically consists of the wives of these leaders. In 2008 Thomson had made a big circus of donating the cheapest Chinese made maize grinder to this collaborative (this donation apparently was from Thomson Safaris and a guest, and not Focus on Tanzanian Communities).

Parkipuny got the idea that we should just go to “Enashiva” for a friendly visit and a drink. This wasn’t cautious at all, but I was curious and off we went. Parkipuny got out next to the staff housing to talk to a very tense looking guard. Within seconds another guard talking on a phone appeared and then a third one with a bow and poison arrow ready in hand. The people from the Loita boma had said that the guards had both firearms and bows and I’ve also seen pictures of this, but one of the more farcical aspects of Thomson Safaris is the way they in their propaganda material insist on that they don’t even have guards, but only “unarmed wildlife scouts”. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture, the guards got even more upset and we had to leave. They had phoned the manager who was in Arusha. The guards were mostly interested in the vehicle writing down the registration number and there was little risk they would know who I was.

I met Parkipuny again the following day and during the night he had been “visited” by three men with a powerful searchlight. Fortunately, he was accompanied by three friends and the “visitors” were chased off. One of Parkipuny’s friends, who was from Sukenya, said that Thomson Safaris use that kind of searchlight.

I wasn’t in a hurry, thinking I would still have a week or two left for talking to people, and the last day of January I was again off to Sukenya together with Parkipuny. As there was a celebration for a girl that was getting married, not many people were around. Parkipuny found some friends to talk to and then we found one of the women of Enyuata Women’s Collaborative. I had met this very friendly and laughing group on my visit by motorbike, but lacked language skills and was still too discreet to talk with them about Thomson Safaris. It must be noted that this women’s group are the people Thomson Safaris most strongly urge anyone to talk with to experience the “overwhelming support” for their “Enashiva” project. This member spoke very frankly and had no problem sharing her opinion: Yes, the group of 20 women do business with Thomson, but they live of cattle and not beads. They complained in Loliondo Town about Thomson invading the land, but are very poor and would do business with the devil. They sell to anyone passing, like they sold me a snuff container. They also go and sing at the camp - if Thomson pay.

It’s just common sense that a pastoralist would value the land more than a bead business opportunity. The Laitiyok are pastoralists like everyone else and it would be a good idea to talk with them and work together with them instead of thinking that they have some con-genital defect that make them collaborate with the nastiest of “investors” – even though some of their leaders apparently are doing this.

We continued to Soit Sambu and sat down in a central restaurant where anyone may turn up. Thomson Safaris’ driver made an appearance, Parkipuny enquired about visiting the camp and was told it’s only possible with a special permit. Many people wanted to talk about Thomson. I had - very unwisely, I would later discover - written a list of what the safari company is saying on the Internet. The things said astonished some people from sub-villages bordering the disputed land. I needed interviews, but it certainly wasn’t the right time or place. There would be a meeting the following morning at ten and we would return to Soit Sambu then.

Later a black, but Arab and tourist (shorts and slightly round) looking man presented himself as Ali Green from the UAE, wondering if I knew what UAE was, which I did … He told me they were hunting and had a camp “that way”. Parkipuny, who wasn’t having soda, presented himself as “the chief of all the Maasai” and me as his only wife, and wanted to discuss polygamy. He asked Ali Green if we could visit the camp and the reply was, “yes, of course, sure”. They were just buying some drinks and would inform us when they were leaving. Parkipuny whispered that it was a great opportunity and I, who was only having soda, agreed. Though Ali Green and his OBC colleagues escaped, leaving without telling us.

On Friday 5 February, due to logistical problems I arrived in Soit Sambu very late and without Parkipuny, and did not know where to go. In the middle of “town” there was a big heap of mosquito nets from the government. I tried to make some phone calls, but there was no Voda coverage except for a few seconds sometimes next to a little dry tree. The driver and his friend went for lunch and time was running out, as the vehicle I had rented had to be back in Wasso before 4 pm. I thought I’d heard Parkipuny saying something about “ofisi ya kijiji” so I went to the “ofisi ya kijiji” asking if anyone knew anything about a meeting. I even introduced myself as someone wanting to know if what Thomson Safaris were writing on the Internet was true. The men in the office were the Ward Executive Officer, Amati, and the Ward Educational Coordinator, so I thought they were working with the Ward Councillor, about whom I didn’t know anything, except that Parkipuny was waiting for him. Some village representatives arrived, I asked the men at the office what they thought about the conflict, but they couldn’t say anything about this sensitive issue without talking to the District Commissioner first. They were working under the DC! Talking to representatives for the government and Thomson Safaris should have been left for the last moments of my Loliondo stay. I continued asking for an un-official opinion, but the Ward Executive Officer phoned the District Commissioner who said he would be in Soit Sambu next morning and would answer my questions then. It suited me well as it would be market day with public transport and I would meet the new District Commissioner who had been appointed in March 2009. I had heard that he would be more reasonable than the old one. Though “reasonable” must be very relative, as he was heavily involved in the July 2009 OBC evictions.

The Ward Executive Officer suggested I buy everyone sodas and we walked off to the restaurant. His phone rang and he held it up so that everyone could see that the screen said “Thomson manager”. I was waiting for the government employees to leave, but they didn’t and I had to leave at 3 pm to be sure I wouldn’t return later than 4 pm. The Ward Executive Officer and Ward Educational Coordinator followed me to my vehicle and outside the restaurant was also the “Enashiva” vehicle loaded with a pile of mosquito nets.

After some other business I went to my room for a while before dinner, there was a knock on my door and I was told that the police had been at the guesthouse looking for me.

In the morning I decided that the best thing to do was to go to Soit Sambu and hope for some informative pro-Thomson spectacle by the District Commissioner. Though, because of the visit by the police, I would not be going to the “ofisi ya kijiji” without Parkipuny who should be around on a market day. There was a long wait for the bus and I had to decline several offers of cheaper transport as I had already bought the bus ticket. When the bus had finally arrived a policeman approached me and told me the District Commissioner wanted to see me at his office. I protested that I was going to meet him in Soit Sambu, but the District Commissioner had changed his plans and was going to Soit Sambu later. A young policewoman accompanied the policeman and I had to go with them in their vehicle first to the Loliondo police station and then to the District Commissioner’s office. An ironic detail was that I was told to “feel free” – the favourite phrase of all annoying salesmen intent on forcing me to buy something I don’t want. Otherwise I didn’t notice many details as I was on my mobile phone sending text messages all the time.

At the District Commissioner’s office I was shown into a room where, apart from the DC himself, Elias Wawa Lali, five men from the Ngorongoro Security Committee were seated around a table. I should have written down their names, but I was very busy on my phone trying to alert relatives and friends of my whereabouts. My friend - in Dodoma at that moment - had phoned the Swedish Embassy in Dar es Salaam and my brother had phoned the Foreign Ministry in Sweden. I did not get any explanation at all regarding the meeting in Soit Sambu. Instead the committee wanted to know what permit I had to be working in Tanzania. I didn’t have any permits except the tourist visa and I wasn’t working. Nobody – anywhere – was paying me any money at all. I guess my replies about my “profession” made me even more suspect, as I don’t have a profession, but have mostly earned the money I have teaching Spanish as an un-qualified teacher. Maybe I should have mentioned my import “business”, but that “business” hardly exists. I wrote down the name of the headmaster at the latest school where I’d worked for a longer time, so that they could phone him, but I don’t think they did. The District Commissioner wanted to know who had paid my ticket. As if anyone would be that generous… He was interested in the owner of the vehicle used for the “Enashiva” visit, but this person had nothing to do with the whole issue, except for doing business.

I was driven back to the guesthouse to get my passport. The Security Committee joined their heads gleefully looking at my visa stamp and then I was asked to read what it said, “employment with or without pay is strictly prohibited”. But, I still wasn’t employed by anyone. I was told there is no country in the world where I can just go and ask people about sensitive issues (really?) and I was asked, “how would you feel if someone came into your house and started asking your children what was going on?” I had only talked to grown up Tanzanian citizens that weren’t the children of any authorities, but if they were there would be a clear case of child abuse. I did NOT say this. Instead I calmly explained that I am a repeat visitor to East Africa and that exchanging information with people on the Internet is my main activity AFTER work. I had even discussed this sensitive issue with Thomson Safaris and they had strongly urged me to go and speak with people on the ground – which I did asking them if what the safari company was writing on the Internet was true. I was even shown around by a former Member of Parliament part of the time (but this did not impress). It was more than obvious that the Security Committee just wanted to get rid of me. They claimed to have talked to Thomson Safaris’ Boston office that said that what they had told me was that I had to arrange a meeting in Arusha if I wanted to see the local manager, nothing else. Anyone doing research had to seek a permit through Dar es Salaam and Arusha. It was also for my own safety as I could be bitten by a snake (don’t ask me how come Tanzanian reptiles respect written documents because it was not explained to me). “Research” is a matter of definition, but I suppose it’s something I could be accused of having tried to do. All documentation about me would be sent to the president. Last year they had a big problem with someone who came and then wrote about Loliondo issues all over the Internet! My passport was confiscated and sent to Arusha for investigation and I would have to go to the office of the Regional Commissioner on Tuesday morning. It was Saturday and there would be a bus to Arusha the following morning.

The Security Committee wanted prints of my photos from the day we visited the “Enashiva” guards and asked me how to get this. They did not have a computer or printer. I went with two men working for the Security Committee to an office that I should not have involved in this problem. One of the men getting the prints said he hoped I was enjoying my stay in Tanzania, or something to that effect. It was just too much when my passport had been confiscated and my expensive plans thwarted by the nasty, stupid and corrupt bullies of the Security Committee. I said that most people were very friendly and that I definitely would return, but that what they were doing wasn’t a nice way of treating visitors at all.

The guesthouse where I was staying could not have someone who had been interrogated by the Security Committee staying for a single night. Some staff offered their homes, but I went to another guesthouse. A dear newfound friend stayed with me until I went to bed and barricaded the door with all furniture available. I had been asked if I had any idea how dangerous what I was doing was. I did have some idea, but seeing the closeness in which people are living made me careless. Though only a little peek under the surface was needed to perceive the fear among people in Loliondo. That night it rained heavily, which contributed to a rather Gothic feeling, but bad things are more likely to stay at home when it’s raining.

Thomson Safaris had not since September 2009 updated the blog they created to attack Alex Renton, but only a few days after my encounter with the Security Committee they wrote about “The Enyuata Women’s Collaborative” (I’ve met them) and “The People of Sukenya” (their name for the selected Laitaiyok leader that they’ve befriended) then they filled up with “Select Projects Update” (Focus on Tanzanian Communities), “Future Plans”, “Investigative Report Summary” and “Sukenya Sub-Village: Will its People Finally have a voice” (Thomson Safaris thought that recent decisions about re-formation of villages would be beneficial for their divide and rule tactics - but later they removed this blog entry for some reason). They also added some videos with Laitaiyok leaders voicing their support for Thomson Safaris and thanking them on behalf of the Enyuata Women’s Collaborative with the “Enashiva” manager translating. Now in March they’ve added “Tanzania Conservation Ltd Staff” (“wildlife scouts”...) and “Sukenya Leaders Support TCL”. This recently renewed blog activity could have something to do with the recently initiated court case.

In August 2008 the Prime Minister commissioned an investigation into allegations concerning the sale of Sukenya Farm. This of course is the same as criminals investigating themselves. Before any conclusions were presented, the Tanzania Tourism Board decided to honour Thomson Safaris with the 2009 Tanzania Conservation Award for their “community based conservation project Enashiva Nature Refuge” and the ceremony took place in Egypt in May with the minister for Natural Resources and Tourism attending. No report has been published, but a summary has been presented to the District Council and it unsurprisingly concludes that the sales both to TBL and later to Thomson Safaris were very legal and that the conflict – like in the OBC case – is due to tourism companies and NGOs, throwing in some blame on Kenyans and the Purko.

The ten-hour bus trip to Arusha was an extremely frustrating affair leaving behind so many people that I hadn’t talked with and Mondorosi and Enadooshoke sub-villages without visiting. Though the land was beautiful and green and full of plains game; I was a bit worried about passing the Ngorongoro gate without a passport, but all interest was on the US$50 Ngorongoro Conservation Area fee that you have to pay even when you’re just passing by bus. I didn’t have any kind of document explaining that my passport had been confiscated.

Once at the office of the Regional Commissioner in Arusha I was told that he was abroad and then I was sent to Immigration instead. At Immigration I was interrogated by a clueless security officer who scolded me for saying I was a tourist when I had built houses in Loliondo. Eh? Then I was told to write a summary of what had happened and I scribbled down a short but absolutely truthful summary. In the same room was a woman applying for citizenship. She wrote a note and held it up in her palm so that I could see it. The note said, “Take care. They are up to something big.”

I’d been on the phone several times with the Embassy in Dar es Salaam and they asked if I would like the Finnish Honorary Consul to accompany me to the Regional Commissioner next morning. Unbelievably as it sounds, Sweden does not have a consulate in what former US president, Bill Clinton, described as “the Geneva of Africa”. The Finnish consul very graciously followed me to the Regional Commissioner who was still away. Then we visited Immigration Officer Nyaki who had missed the consul’s inauguration party. He told me to return in the afternoon, which I did alone, and then I was told that my documentation was with Regional Security and I should return the following morning. Nyaki informed me that I had a problem, as if I hadn’t noticed, and that he next day would have to do what he was told to do about me.

Thursday 11 February a woman at Immigration took my statement. She said that the problem was Loliondo being a very political area and I could have been involved in human rights. I got a bank slip saying I would have to pay US$400 as a “special pass fee”. I asked Nyaki when I would get my passport back and he got very angry saying that I was “arguing” with him. He wanted me to go home to Sweden this afternoon, but I told him I had a ticket for the 21st that couldn’t be changed, which made him even angrier. I paid US$400 at the bank and then it was too late to return to Immigration.

Friday morning I took the bank slip to Immigration where they said it hadn’t gone through the machine at the bank, so I had to return to get a stamp with a signature. Nyaki wasn’t around and I didn’t miss him. I handed the slip to a man in charge of those things and he asked me for my passport! I told him it must be somewhere in the building and he went to fetch it, gave me a receipt – and the passport. I asked if everything was finished and it was. Very quietly I left Immigration on the way meeting the woman who took my statement. I had been let go and needed to make the most of the almost ruined trip. I contemplated returning to Loliondo, which felt a bit dangerous, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to get any information in Arusha. When I phoned the Embassy I was very strongly advised to leave Tanzania as soon as possible. Some 15 minutes after having returned to the guesthouse there was a knock on my door. It was the woman from Immigration together with another Immigration employee. They had forgot to stamp my passport and the boss was away. They took the passport again and told me to return to the office on Monday 15 February – it was Friday afternoon. After another 15 minutes or so I got a text message saying, “Sorry madam, you are needed at the office right now”. Back at Immigration I got a stamp in my passport declaring me a prohibited immigrant contrary to section 10(f) of Immigration Act no 7 of 1995*. I also got a document called “Notice to Prohibited Immigrant”. The woman who took my statement and the security officer who accused me of building houses said that it was just “a matter of procedure”.

I went to Kenya for the rest of my trip.

Now what Thomson Safaris have to do is to pick up their stuff and get off Sukenya Farm. Maybe they could have a camp on a few acres next to the road where they could continue their philanthropic projects without threatening people’s lives and livelihoods. The sooner they start re-building their reputation, the better. I doubt they can make Tanzania Breweries Ltd return the $1.2 million, but that’s something they have to take. The court case against Thomson Safaris (Tanzania Conservation Ltd) is ongoing and I have fingers and toes crossed. Though it is extremely rare for pastoralists to win court cases in Tanzania. What’s really important is that anyone contemplating a trip with Thomson Safaris reconsiders and tells the company why they will not get their business. Apart from Thomson Safaris Ltd, Tanzania Conservation Ltd - that was used to buy Sukenya Farm - Thomson Family Adventure Ltd and Nature Discovery Ltd are all divisions of Wineland-Thomson Adventures Inc. They also own Gibb’s Farm in Karatu that has to be avoided because of the current owners.

Please, tell people about this.

Susanna Nordlund
sannasus@hotmail.com


*Section 10(F) of the Immigration Act says:
(f) a person whose entry into or continued presence in Tanzania is,
in the opinion of the Minister of the Director, undesirable and
is declared by the Minister or the Director to be a prohibited
immigrant; except that every declaration of the Director under
this paragraph shall be subject to confirmation by the Minister,
whose decision shall be final;
(In case anyone would like to give me legal advice.)


Article 18 of the Constitution of Tanzania, states that, every person,(a) has a freedom of opinion and expression of his ideas;(b) has a right to seek, receive and impart or disseminate information regardless of national frontiers;(c) has a right to freedom to communicate and a right of freedom from interference with his right of communication;
I'd say that "every person" includes tourists.
(paragraph added to this blog post on 3 June)

Update September 2010


I’ve been told that the court case keeps getting delayed, but that the arrests have stopped and the harassment has been reduced since it was initiated.

In April Thomson Safaris approached the MP for Ngorongoro to arrange a big meeting with Soit Sambu Village Council and the three Maasai sections, but then they never turned up.

Soit Sambu Village Chairman was interrogated by the police about why a court case had been initiated.

Thomson Safaris have stepped up their propaganda war bringing the US ambassador to announce the construction of teachers’ housing at Sukenya Primary School.

Mondorosi have refused (!) money for their school.

Soit Sambu Village is in the process of being split up. New villages bordering the disputed land will be Sukenya and Mondorosi. Sukenya will be part of the new allegedly OBC friendly Oloipiri Ward.

Regarding Otterlo Business Corporation, I wrote a blog entry of what I was told about the women’s protests in April. http://termitemoundview.blogspot.com/2010/04/loliondo-women-say-enough-is-enough.html
Currently the threat is the government’s plans to take away a corridor from village land where OBC will be able to hunt undisturbed, and the renewal of the hunting permit.

Update 6 February 2011
http://termitemoundview.blogspot.com/2011/02/some-updates-on-thomson-safaris-and.html

 In July 2011 I wrote a summary of the history of OBC and the “wildlife corridor”. http://termitemoundview.blogspot.com/2011/07/corridor.html

13 comments:

Lily Trotter said...

Well done Suzanne. That was a very courageous thing to do.
Thank goodness you got out safely. It is time the world heard all about these abuses.

Susanna said...

Thank you for your kind words Lily and thanks for commenting on my blog. I had some nice - and not so nice but interesting - comments that I was going to reply to on TripAdvisor, but the thread was removed!

Lily Trotter said...

You are most welcome. Take care and pole pole.

Lily Trotter said...

Hey. the bleeders on TA have done it again. 3 in a row. Must be some sort of record.
I have bumped up a post that says "Is this unfair business practice?"
Said nuffin about the problem. Lets see how long that lasts.
Keep on the case.

ngorisajr said...

Susanna,pole sana!You got trouble in trip but thats they to reveal the hided agenda behind the sleeping lions.
Perhaps, you could not have informed us of the matter if get there smothly.I congratulate you for being couragous.

Am so delighted with your report, i experienced a different story with that of yours when i was doing a research in ngorongoro although i am a resident of the area.
Thanks so much for information i will write you the rest the other time.
Enjoy your writting never give up together we can.

Susanna said...

Asante sana, ngorisajr! I’m looking forward to information from you.

Jenny said...

Well written!
I´ll try spreading the word and put it up on my blog.
Jenny

Susanna said...

Thank you, Jenny!

Irma said...

To the outside world it seems to be just a conflict - but what I see it's David against Goliath and those people needs to be helped.

More people should know about the connection between Thomson and the government to get aware of WHO guests are feeding when traveling with them.

Why not facebooking this scandal?

YOU ARE QUITE A BRAVE AND UPRIGHT WOMAN following believes! Too many people nowadays sacrifice to their liking and whether it suits themselves!

CHAMPEAU for what you've done!

How are the proceedings now?

Irma said...

Sorry - typo: CHAPEAU!

Susanna said...

Thank you, Irma. The latest I’ve heard is that the owners of the safari company were sighted at the DC’s office in Loliondo in April. They also approached the MP to arrange a meeting for negotiation with the village council, but then they didn’t turn up. The village chairman was questioned by the police about why a court case had been initiated.
The court case has now been postponed until 16 June.

Lily Trotter said...

No problems Suzanne.
TA act a bit like the Fourth Reich at times due to Advertising pressure and/or vesteds interest but we get around that. Where there is a will there is a way!
The Conde naste article was 'reviewed' in TA too. Got some comments.
Always remember "For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing!"
Good luck.

Susanna said...

Thanks Lily Trotter.

For tips and questions it's also possible to send me an email.