In early 2010 I visited Loliondo in Tanzania where I as a tourist wanted to ask some questions about the case of Boston-based Thomson Safaris establishing their private “Enashiva Nature Refuge” on Maasai grazing land and presenting it as a shining example of “community empowerment”. This led to an amazing overreaction that a clearly illustrated how Tanzanian authorities favour the interests of “investors” over those of the customary landowners when the Ngorongoro District Commissioner confiscated my passport and sent me to Arusha where I was declared a “prohibited immigrant” and thrown out of the country.
I’ve written about this HERE.
Towards the end of September 2011 my return was long overdue and I got a ticket for Nairobi. I had high expectations of, without getting into too much danger, talking with a wide selection of people who could share information about Thomson Safaris and also Otterlo Business Corporation, but these expectations were only partially fulfilled.
Nobody at Immigration in Arusha had explained to me for how long I was supposed to be a “prohibited immigrant” nor did my “Notice to Prohibited Immigrant” say anything about this. Though everyone I’d asked has seemed to think that my status would remain until otherwise declared.
I sailed through customs in Namanga without problems almost wishing that the District Commissioner could see me. I had not expected red lamps and shrill alarms to go off, but was still relieved.
I then lost some time in Arusha. The reason this time was “lost” was that it could have been spent in Loliondo with my friend Paul ole Leitura who was accompanying me, but had a date when he had to be back in Arusha for a job interview and time was passing since we were waiting for a vehicle that we’d been promised for going to Loliondo.
Though maybe not all time in Arusha was lost since I met friends including a too brief encounter with Moringe Parkipuny who was in town and had walked the dying over cultivated Loongiito hills and seen the skinny cows of people that had been tricked into “zero grazing”.
Finally we were picked up in Karatu and then carried through the very dry and dusty, but scenic, Lake Natron route avoiding having to pay the hefty Ngorongoro Conservation Area fee.
Upon arrival in Loliondo Town we went to the office of a local NGO. I’d been offered to follow some of the NGO staff on field work to several villages in Ngorongoro District, including those not affected by Thomson Safaris or the UAE hunting company OBC. Apart from excellent education on the overall situation in the district, to me this would signify important help with transportation that otherwise would be expensive and I went along – very reluctantly – with a plan to have me report to a new Immigration Officer who, I’d been told, was very serious and would not talk to the District Commissioner. The Immigration Officer was not at his office that’s dangerously close to that of the DC, but since he was new he was staying at the guest house to where we were heading.
At the guest house I was busy looking for buckets of water for washing, but I also thought it would be a good idea not to sign the guest book. It was not. The Immigration Officer appeared wondering why I hadn’t signed and wanting to know what I was doing in Loliondo. I explained that I’d be visiting my friend Paul’s village Ololosokwan and also having a look at the work of the local NGOs. This led to a long sermon about needing a special visa for donors, but finally, after having made clear that spending some time with my friend was the main purpose of the trip, we were told we would not need to pass by the Immigration Officer’s office. This changed however after the Immigration Officer had a long talk with one of the NGO staff and I was requested to come to the office the following morning.
Instead of sleeping I spent the night with Paul’s very slow Zain e-Go searching the web for a suitable Sweden-based organisation working with HIV/AIDS and I even asked one to – in case anyone from Tanzania should phone – confirm that I was a member of theirs. The reply that I was able to read a few days later was, “unfortunately we can’t help you and we suggest you contact the embassy”.
In the morning a person from the local NGO went to the Immigration Officer’s office to see if the coast was clear, but he didn’t even reach the office before running into a furious DC who had news about a gender festival in Dar es Salaam to where the NGO had taken women to protest about Loliondo issues like the Emirati hunting company OBC and the 2009 evictions that this company was involved in. The highest representative for the central government in the district felt he had been “treated like a dog” and his message was, “just let’s fight”.
The visit to the Immigration Officer’s office was definitely off. Both the DC and the Immigration Officer had gone to the guest house, supposedly to see me. In that case they were looking for the NGO’s potential donor and not the tourist who had asked questions about an unethical tourism “investor”, but I nearly panicked anyway. If they would come to the NGO office I was sure that the DC would recognise me, but others tried to assure me that he had seen many white people since I was interrogated and he would not remember me. It was slightly absurd to have to worry about this since the 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; Though this did not prevent the DC from having me thrown out of the country in 2010.
The DC never came to the NGO office, the NGO people were off on their field work and Paul and I got a vehicle and went to Ololosokwan on our own.
It should be noted that the Tanzanian government blame all problems in Loliondo on NGOs, while unethical “investors” like Thomson Safaris and Otterlo Business Corporation say that the NGOs make up lies about them to create problems and increase donor funding. On the other hand there are people in Loliondo who think that the NGOs could do a lot more about these “investors” if they weren’t so concerned about their nice jobs and not upsetting the DC too much. Anyway, I’d say most of the people in NGOs could find more comfortable jobs if they wanted to.
Since it was the dry season I’d expressed some complaints about the dust, but in Ololosokwan that catches the Lake Victoria climate, the inconvenience was mud. This also led to the land being a spitting image of the Garden of Eden, or maybe even of the Maasai Mara – which has its consequences. The village of Ololosokwan had recently received a dramatic letter from the District Executive Director’s office that acting on a request by the Land Commissioner demanded the handing in of the title deed for the whole of the village land. The “excuse” for this was supposed and unspecified conflicts with neighbours. Ololosokwan’s neighbours are the village of Soitsambu, the Republic of Kenya and the Serengeti National Park. I think my blog post about a planned “wildlife corridor” could give some idea of what the Tanzanian Government is after. It’s found HERE.
Another problem that had hit Ololosokwan during recent months was the poaching of a shockingly high number of elephants, and it was rumoured that people investigating this were around. I haven’t found more information about this issue than that everybody seems to think that the poachers come from the neighbouring country and are of a certain ethnicity.
I was surprised by extensive road work going on between Soitsambu and Klein’s Gate and the road through Ololosokwan village centre was already upgraded to excellent murram standard.
Another Ololosokwan sighting was Ward Executive Officer Amati on a motorbike. Fortunately he did not seem to recognise me.
While in Ololosokwan we made an excursion in a rented vehicle to Mondorosi that’s one of the villages affected by Thomson Safaris’ “Enashiva Nature Refuge”. We came across three women in the forest. At first they did not look too happy to see us and one of them started moving away quickly. I don’t know what Paul said, but then they didn’t have any problems expressing their views about Thomson. They told us that Thomson have brought problems and are disturbing grazing. People are harassed every day. Nobody likes them, not even those working for them – except the government that together with a few individuals do like them. The women don’t need and never wanted any change in land use. It’s their home and Thomson are disturbing them. They heard about the court case against Thomson but aren’t updated on how it’s going. “The land is ours”, they told us.
Then along the road came the chairman of Enadooshoke sub-village who also was very unhappy about Thomson that had brought conflict, harassment and many other bad things. He lived close to Lesinko Nanyoi who was shot in 2008 in a confrontation with Thomson guards aided by the police and one of his cows had been killed by a Thomson vehicle. He said there were Laitayok and a few Purko that support the company and these are after money. With the chairman was an older man whose boma had been moved because of Thomson. They had complained to the District Council, but there was no action. They were being updated about the court case that did not yet have an outcome. They needed their land back and said the court had to speak about the ownership.
When talking with a group of five women in Mondorosi we were told that the land that Thomson have turned into a “park” used to be called Olenairoti. (edit 16/1: others say that the land used to be called Ishguro). They said the guards are beating their children and that nobody in Mondorosi wants Thomson, but in Olepolos there are some corrupted people that are working for the company. These women were not updated about the court case. Then we talked with four men who, like everyone else had not been informed that Thomson were coming, but noticed it when people were restricted from entering the area. The land was for grazing and social uses and when Tanzania Breweries were there [in the 80s] grazing was not restricted. To regain their land they had opened a court case and twice talked to the government. In the court case nothing was yet decided either way, but they had hopes for justice. Now they could only graze their animals “illegally” and they were not even allowed to cross. They warned us that there were some really bad people in Sukenya that could get us into trouble if we asked about Thomson there.
The people of Sukenya from the Laitayok section are supposedly Thomson supporters, but when I visited in 2010 the people I met were not happy at all with the company. We decided to visit, as tourists, the new “cultural boma” next to the road that was built by Enyuata Women’s Collaborative with the support of Thomson and talk with the women there. Visiting Thomson’s camp would not be a good idea since last year as an innocent person looking to have a drink I was turned away by guards with poison arrows and notebook for vehicle registration numbers.
The “cultural boma” consisted of a large number of small empty Maasai houses placed in a circle and some sticks probably put up for a curio market. The place was deserted, but we stayed for a while waiting for some women to turn up when catching sight of us, but instead a guy on a motorcycle arrived. He was working for Thomson in cultural and walking tourism. This man told Paul that besides Enyuata Thomson were supporting two other women’s groups, built a teacher’s house and have many other projects. He said the village of Sukenya is in agreement with Thomson and that the people of Sukenya are allowed to graze their animals. Paul was worried that this man would suspect that we weren’t regular tourists.
Later in Ololosokwan we met a Laitayok elder from Sukenya who said the root cause was the former MPs Parkipuny and Timan giving the land away to Tanzania Breweries. Though I’ve been informed that Parkipuny actually fought hard against the District Council that took this illegal decision. The elder told us the problem is the lack of grazing and watering, and the harassment. Sukenya leaders have an agreement with Thomson, but many other villages (?) are involved and the best land use is pastoralism. Later in Wasso I was informed that the Thomson befriended Sukenya leaders take their cattle to Oloipiri, but that people there are getting tired of this arrangement. The Laitayok elder had heard about the court case, but was not updated. He hadn’t done anything about the return of the land. This was up to the leaders. He was quiet since there is no help and things had to be accepted as they are. This man had little doubt that the government killed the Laitayok elder Shangai ole Putaa in 2007 because he opposed Thomson.
Another day we visited the village of Kirtalo. There had been some rain and the air was cool, which was good, but it also contributed to an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Siberian tundra than the rolling hills of Loliondo. A group of seven men gathered. They were all more or less drunk and the chairman, Olekimiriayi, draped in a flowery bedspread of furry fabric, was among them. What seemed like a lengthy discussion ensued. After a while Paul told me, “Just ask these guys one question: Have you been involved in conflict resolution with OBC? And the answer is: Yes”. After some more talk the men finally agreed to give me a statement. They said they had been involved in conflict resolution with OBC and that all problems were solved. The villages that accepted had formed a committee and there were 20 people in this committee discussing pastoralist issues. All harassment had stopped and there was no longer any disturbance of grazing and watering. OBC was planning to build an office and a dispensary for Kirtalo, and the whole community had accepted OBC.
The chairman of Kirtalo had earlier provided Paul with information about the conflict with OBC, but now this group of men had been arguing that Paul was only writing about OBC because he got money from white people who were useless and had never helped against OBC. They said it was better to stick with this strong guy - the Arab. I was just collecting opinions, but in this case we should have got into a discussion about how “the Arab” will protect people form the “wildlife corridor” when OBC paid for the Land Use Planning that came up with the idea. OBC had organized a “reconciliation ceremony” in Kirtalo, slaughtering bulls and bringing crates of beer.
A few days later at the market in Soitsambu we met Efrem Kaura, a teacher from Ololosokwan. This teacher said people were back and leading the same life as before the 2009 evictions in the area that the government wants to turn into a “wildlife corridor” or Game Controlled Area according to the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 - but they fear what could happen. This man was in the conflict resolution committee, but told OBC they did not agree with the company. If they want conflict resolution they should remain as hunters and not wanting to turn into a Game Controlled Area. He said it would be better if another company with respect for human rights came. The problems with OBC during the years had been disturbance of grazing and harassment. The company had the support of Abdulraham Kinana (former Minister for Defence and National Service) and of the government, but the community did not want them. The teacher said he wanted the government to announce that the land belongs to the Maasai of the area that depend on livestock.
For years &Beyond’s Klein’s Camp has been put forward as an example of ecotourism benefiting communities and respecting land rights. In spite of this, in July 2011 the village of Ololosokwan filed a court case against the company. We asked Klein’s assistant manager Tawanda Munengiwa about it and he said he was shocked that the village had filed a court case. He vehemently denied any interest in becoming landowners. The company made a leasing deal with the village 14 years ago and nothing had changed. They pay land fees into the village’s account and since four year they pay bed fees to the Wildlife Division that pay the village 40 percent. Earlier they paid also the bed fees directly to the village. Apart from this the company has made important donations to Ololosokwan Primary School and is paying for the doctor at the local clinic. Tawanda wanted to reserve his comment about OBC, but said that the company is well connected politically. &Beyond want to keep good relations with everyone, but “there are challenges”. He said that Unique Safaris [like OBC] want to operate on Klein’s concession and that &Beyond had been told not to stop them. They had not made a deal with Unique since they are just leasing the land and can’t make a deal, but the Wildlife Division do not respect this. He said it would be great if the village can stop it, but that they don’t want to take sides and are waiting to see if the land will be Game Controlled Area [in Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009] or village land. Tawanda explained that there had been a misunderstanding regarding &Beyond applying for a TIC (Tanzania Investment Centre) certificate in which the company registered the location where their activities were going to take place, but this had nothing to do with landownership or the village. I had not got enough information about this issue before meeting Tawanda.
What I’ve been able to find out about the necessity of the court case against &Beyond is that there should be no ambiguity over who owns the land when the leasing contract is up for renewal in 2014. Some say the letter about the title deed and the corridor plans are more urgent issues and this court case could have waited, while others say that the land leased by &Beyond must be sorted well in time before the re-negotiation of the contract, since there’s a serious issue with the title deed being in the name of Tanzania Cattle Products that sold the land to &Beyond that handed it back to the village and got a lease agreement after president Mkapa spoke up publicly against the deal with Tanzania Cattle Products. The Ololosokwan people that I have talked with say that the court case was not at all a shock for &Beyond that were informed from the beginning that this was necessary. The villagers do not want to lease out such a big piece of land (a huge 24,700 acres) in the future, but &Beyond want this arrangement to continue, so there is a conflict. There is also a disagreement about if the lease agreement allows grazing on the land or not, with the manager of Klein’s arguing against any livestock at all on the concession while the villagers claim the agreement is to just avoid the area closest to the lodge. The fact that &Beyond have several times stated that they are not interested in ownership of land makes it possible to think of renewal of the contract when the time is up. There is however a big worry that &Beyond, like most tour operators, would prefer not to deal with Maasai landlords and the handling of the TIC certificate does not inspire trust. Ward Councillor Yannick Ndoinyo told me, “We will negotiate the new lease agreement based on our current needs and our priority is to maximize benefits from this venture: grazing, fees, employment, etc. Land ownership is not a factor to negotiate.”
We also made a visit, as interested tourists, to Unique Safaris’ Buffalo Luxury Camp. There’s almost no information at all about this camp, but it appears to be a nasty little case of a tourism operator wanting to be the owner of Maasai land. The manager showed us around the luxurious tents and the shop with pictures of the local women craftsmakers. There was livestock everywhere and calves hanging around in the bar area. In Swahili the manager explained that the government was going to help them get rid of the livestock. After this visit I’ve got a bit more of the picture. Safaris East Africa were given 148 acres in the 1980s – I don’t know why or how – but took 697. The village took the case to court and two brothers – Ally and Husseini – appeared claiming to represent their father Jubilate Munis whom the land had been given to. In 2007 they were chased away, but the ward councillor at the time fought hard to ensure the brothers would get the 148 acres claiming that they were his friends and that’s how the issue was resolved. Ally is reportedly married to one of the daughters of ex-president Mwinyi. Now they conduct their game drives on the land leased to &Beyond with the illegal permission by the government. For construction they collected gravel, sand and stones from the village, which they still haven’t paid for and they have a water pipe on village land without permission. Even worse, they have been known to charge fines from any person with cows crossing into their land. On their Buffalo Luxury Camp website Unique Safaris express support for the “wildlife corridor” even though they get all the terminology wrong.
While on our way to Soitsambu we were driving behind a Frankfurt Zoological Society vehicle with Thomson’s “Enashiva” manager, Daniel Yamat, at the wheel. He had resigned and was now working for FZS. The reason that people have heard for this is that he didn’t get enough appreciation (money) from Thomson. Though it sounds strange that the company would not make an effort to keep such a person happy after all the dirty work that he has done.
Paul had to return to Arusha and he did not think it was a good idea for me to stay on my own, but I could not leave. Unfortunately most of my last days in Loliondo, which were spent in Wasso, were a complete waste of time since I was too careful to even contact people that I had communicated with via email. I waited and waited for opportunities that then did not materialize. I did have a frightening episode hiding in the hotel room when the District Commissioner was around to open an Oxfam steering meeting. Though later I was told that he just opened the meeting shouting for 45 minutes about Oxfam being a political organisation and basically the same thing as the opposition party Chadema – and then he left. At least I did manage to visit Orkiu.
A partnership between Orkiu and Thomson Safaris was sought by the Enguserosambu Ward Councillor, Kaigil Mashati, via a letter sent in September 2010 that I would be very surprised if it wasn’t dictated by the District Commissioner or even by Thomson themselves. Since I met Mashati in early 2010 and know that he was very much aware of Thomson’s activities, this has for me meant an unpleasantly close look at the anatomy of corruption. First the councillor was arguing that he was just looking for help from an American organisation for Orkiu Primary School and that the organisation happened to work with Thomson, but then Thomson published the letter where he blatantly lies about a village council meeting and is clearly seeking a “partnership” with the landgrabbers. And of course, it’s extremely unlikely that Mashati didn’t know that Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FoTZC) is Thomson’s own “philanthropic” and propaganda branch.
FoTZC used to be called Friends of Tanzanian Schools, but after establishing a private nature refuge on Maasai grazing land there was a name change and a focus on “empowering women”. Initially, and maybe still, Thomson was arguing that all their problems were because of the founder and coordinator of Pastoral Women’s Council, Maanda Ngoitiko, who besides that her work is to protect pastoralists’ land rights, was born next to the disputed land. In fact, the reason I got caught in this land conflict was a comment on a travel forum by a business associate of Thomson saying that the cause of the conflict was a “Kenyan Maasai woman telling people to squat on the land”. This was long before I knew anything about Maanda or about Tanzanian authorities’ unpalatable habit of accusing “troublemakers” of being from the nearest neighbouring country, but I sensed the spirit of Thomson Safaris. I suppose they have picked up many other convenient stories at the DC’s office. Sadly I’m left wondering how active Maanda is in this fight at the moment. (edit 16/1: Maanda’s silence probably was because she was involved in trying to negotiate a resolution with Thomson through lawyers in the US, but this failed since Thomson were not serious about negotiating.)
An email from a FoTZC board member to the councillor is being circulated. I suppose it was shared by Mashati himself since it says that he shouldn’t worry and that FoTZC isn’t Judi’s organisation [Judi Wineland co-owner of Thomson Safaris]. It also says that the board member, as requested, has talked with the Regional Commissioner about “politics in Loliondo”. Mashati was interested in becoming council chairman, but he did not succeed even with the help of Thomson.
Mashati was almost a bigger threat than the DC himself since he would probably recognise me and had reportedly developed the habit of running to the DC for anything.
After a slightly hair-raising trip by motorcycle taxi up into the hills next to Loliondo Town I met Robert Kamakia from Ngonet who had finally agreed to accompany me. We went for a walk through the hilly forests of Orkiu that were quite lush even at the height of the dry season. Our destination was an orpul - a meat eating camp. A meat-eater at the orpul had some things to say about Thomson. Orkiu is generally thought of as right next to Loliondo Town, but the land of this new village is quite big and this man was living near the “Enashiva Nature Refuge” that had moved closer, to a hill near his home, and was a serious problem since he needed to take his animals there even though Thomson do not allow it and chase away livestock. He didn’t like the so-called “partnership” brought by Mashati and thought of it as cheating a baby with a sweet. This man wanted people to know that it’s not Thomson’s land. It belongs to the community.
We went on another rather long walk over high plains peppered with big holes while discussing who should be hiding in them, until almost reaching the place where Mashati lives. There we met a man who told us that unfortunately, the councillor was working together with the sub-village chairman and that the “Enashiva” vehicle had been outside Mashati’s home the whole day. This man mentioned how Thomson, through the District Council, had funded a teachers’ house at the primary school and then showed up at a handing over ceremony. The company wants the villagers to form some kind of organisation. I have not quite understood this, but it has to do with that they want to conduct tourist activities in Enguserosambu forest, where they with Mashati’s permission had already taken some guests. Thomson have donated fuel saving stoves to Mashati and to two influential women, and they want more women to buy this kind of stove at a reduced price. Though, apart for being too expensive, the man in Orkiu said the stoves are useless for Maasai houses where a stove serves the three purposes of light, cooking and heating while you can only cook with these stoves. Later I was told that women had been taken to Arusha to collect stoves and solar panels, but that the solar panels did not work.
It got dark and we went for a long night time walk down to Loliondo Town meeting small groups of inebriated old men on the way home from town.
I had to return to Arusha and the first six hours of the ten-hour bus trip were spent in a cloud of dust, and then I had to pay 50 dollars to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.
In Arusha a delegation from Ololosokwan had gathered to travel to Dar es Salaam to protest the letter they had got.
I don’t know what to do except to ask those reading this blog to please not travel with operators like Thomson Safaris that participate in the Tanzanian government’s war against pastoralists.
Unfortunately I’ve had to leave out some possibly important developments from this report since almost everyone in Loliondo is too busy to fact check or share information and I have already waited far too long to publish this blog post. One worrying development is reports about a secret meeting between OBC, government and sadly also ward councillors to come up with a strategy to move people from the “corridor” “without force”.