I’ve been asked for something shorter about Thomson Safaris than my, “The Sukenya Farm Conflict – What Thomson Safaris are up to in Loliondo and How I Became a Prohibited Immigrant in Tanzania”. I feel like I already left out too much in that blog entry, but I’ll give it a try.
Thomson Safaris – a Boston-based company - in a gesture of extreme vanity, bought 12,617 acres of grazing land – Sukenya Farm - as a “culmination of nearly 30 years” of their “commitment to Tanzania”. They say that they bought a “pristine wilderness” and they have turned it into their own private wilderness under the name “Enashiva Nature Refuge”.
Sukenya Farm lies in Soit Sambu village and in the ward of the same name in Loliondo division, Ngorongoro district, Arusha region in the United Republic of Tanzania. More exactly it lies between the sub-villages of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke, and is also bordering Enguserosambu village
Thomson Safaris bought the land from Tanzania Breweries Ltd that had grown barley on a small part of it for a short time and then left. Besides the fact that the land should never have been given away in the first place, Tanzania Breweries had been absent for more that 12 years and customary tenure had returned the local Maasai pastoralists. The impudence of Tanzania Breweries “selling” the land was shocking, but Thomson Safaris had reasons to feel safe. In Tanzania there’s a long history of alienation of pastoral lands and the current government has a very special love for “investors” and a way of treating pastoralists as undesirable.
Thomson Safaris’ guards, sometimes reinforced by the police, started harassing herders to keep them off the land. There is a long list of people that have been arrested and fined – also during the prolonged and very severe drought that ended in November 2009. In one confrontation herder Lesingo ole Nanyoi got shot in the jaw by either the police or guards from the safari company. There has never been a serious investigation. Apart from blocking grazing land, the invasion by Thomson Safaris gravely impedes movement by people and livestock.
Some mentions of the conflict appeared in the press outside Tanzania when New Zealand born photojournalist Trent Keegan, who had been investigating it, was killed in Nairobi in May 2008. When Trent’s friend, volunteer worker Brian MacCormaic, went to a meeting with the owners of the safari company, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, in July 2008 he was detained for hours by armed men arriving in a Thomson Safari vehicle. Later he was interrogated by the district commissioner who showed no interest whatsoever in investigating Thomson Safaris’ harassment of local people, or the fact that - apart from a motive - there had after the meeting appeared some circumstances pointing at a possible link between the safari company and Trent Keegan’s killers.
In February 2009 British journalist Alex Renton and photographer Caroline Irby were in Loliondo with an invitation from Thomson Safaris’ Arusha manager to visit “Enashiva”. They had already seen some people, including Lesingo ole Nanyoi, when they arrived at the disputed land to meet the local manager, Daniel Yamat, who refused to answer any questions. Ten minutes after leaving they were caught by the police and taken to the District Commissioner’s office where their passports were confiscated, and Alex and Caroline had to go to the Regional Commissioner in Arusha where they got their passports back. The District Commissioner’s secretary claimed to be acting on a complaint from Thomson Safaris.
In August 2008 the Prime Minister commissioned an “investigation” into allegations concerning the sale of Sukenya Farm. The report is still to be made public, but some conclusions, that unsurprisingly are a whitewash with many similarities to the official “explanations” of the July 2009 OBC evictions (described in my first blog entry), have been released. Even before these conclusions the Tanzania Tourist Board decided to honour Thomson Safaris with the 2009 Tanzania Conservation Award for their “Enashiva” project.
Thomson Safaris are in an accelerated spin saying that they have never been involved in anything bad at all, that a minority with selfish interests are spreading lies about them and that they have the support of the majority of people around the disputed land. Because of this I had to go to Loliondo and in February 2010 I talked to some people, including Lesingo ole Nanyoi and Sukenya villagers, before being taken to the Security Committee that confiscated my passport and sent it (and me) to Arusha for investigation. In Arusha I was eventually declared a “prohibited immigrant”, which means that my “continued presence in Tanzania is, in the opinion of the Minister or Director, undesirable”. So I had to go to Kenya before returning home.
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)
Soit Sambu village council has initiated a court case against Thomson Safaris. I do hope that justice can be delivered in a Tanzanian court, but I think prospective clients can put more pressure on the safari company. Until they have left Sukenya Farm it’s essential to abstain from any business with Thomson Safaris or their sister companies Tanzania Conservation Ltd (that was used to purchase the disputed land), Thomson Family Adventures Ltd or Nature Discovery Ltd. The parent company is Wineland-Thomson Adventures Inc. and Thomson/Wineland are also the current owners of Gibb’s Farm in Karatu.
For better information about this conflict I strongly recommend this post (including updates and links to more updates): http://termitemoundview.blogspot.com/2010/03/sukenya-farm-conflict-what-thomson.html