Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Model for Community-Based tourism Through Violence and Dispossession – More About Thomson Safaris’ “Enashiva” in Loliondo

In memory of Moringe ole Parkipuny, sadly missed for one year now.

-There have been some meetings.
-In a meeting with the District Commissioner an agreement was made that cows and herders will no longer be harassed on the occupied land, but will graze freely.
-What happened when Olunjai Timan was shot because of Thomson Safaris’ occupation of Maasai land.
-And a reminder of what the “philanthropic” land grabber has been doing during these years.

Olunjai Timan (I’ve earlier been spelling his name “Olonjai”) left hospital returning home to Mondorosi on 16th July, one week after being shot by a policeman working for Thomson Safaris. His wound still needs regular cleaning and dressing.

The meetings
On Sunday 13th there was a big meeting in Mondorosi calling for the government to take action against the shooting and against Thomson Safaris. People were bitter and shocked by this shooting that happened while they were contributing money for Torian Karia and Kotikash Kudate that have had trespass cases filed against them by Thomson. The following day, Monday 14th the meeting continued and people resolved to burn down Thomson’s camp – but were persuaded to wait until after a meeting with the District Commissioner and Mondorosi leaders that would take place the following day, Tuesday. On Monday night there was a news piece on ITV from the meeting in Mondorosi where warriors wanting to attack the camp were being asked to calm down by leaders. In this piece the chairman of Mondorosi, Joshua Makko explains what has happened, villager Daniel Laizer talks about being hunted like animals and about a long cold war and having to prepare for hot war. The councillor for Soitsambu Daniel Ngoitiko – and also the district council chairman Elias Ngorisa – talk condemning the incident. It’s a short, but clear and factual report – far from the usual puff piece about a philanthropic tour operator.

The demands that the community agreed on were:
- The land should be left free for the Maasai community.
- The main land case should be won.
- Community solidarity should be strengthened.
- Compensation for the cost of all the harassments and shooting.

The District Commissioner was present and met leaders also at this Monday meeting and some – like the lawyer William Olenasha who was there and had some serious words for the District Commissioner - say that this one was the important meeting.  The government was asked to remove police presence on the occupied land and the police have been removed. Cattle were grazing on the land without disturbance on the 18th. The government was also asked to transfer and prosecute the policeman responsible for the shooting, to ask Thomson to remove their manager Daniel Yamat, and for Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland to immediately come to Loliondo for a district wide meeting about the company’s future presence in the area. Support from the District Council in the pending land case was also discussed – it was recommended that the District Council and also the office of the District Commissioner should consider writing a letter to the commissioner for lands for the title to be revoked.

However, the gathered community that possible sees things more clearly strongly expressed the will to burn down the camp and get rid of Thomson once and for all.

On Tuesday 15th July there was a community meeting with the District Commissioner (great friend of Thomson), District Executive Director and District Security Officer. The meeting was attended by over 1000 people – men, women and youths. Besides people from Mondorosi and Sukenya, there were also those from Soitsambu, Enguserosambu, Oloipiri and Ololosokwan. The chairpersons of the mentioned villages were present with the exception of the Oloipiri chairman. The staunch Thomson supporter, the councillor for Oloipiri ward, William Alais, was also absent.

This is what the District Commissioner was told by the attendants to the meeting:
-We will never continue to stay with Thomson Safaris; they either go or let the government shoot all of us here. Big chorus: Thomson must go, Thomson must go, must go, must go, must go. No Maasai owns land in America and it will never happen….
- We are tired of daily harassment and we have energy to respond, we are now set to do so and we would like you to know that.
- Our land must be free for our use, and this has to happen when Thomson Safaris is no longer there.
- The police who shot Olunjai must be taken to court or otherwise we will revenge because we know him.
- Daniel Yamat, Thomson Safaris’ farm manager must go.

The District Commissioner said that he had no power (or will?) to get Thomson out of the area, adding that the tour operator was there legally and difficult to chase away. The government and especially his office was very concerned about the shooting though. The case was already taken to the Director of Public Prosecutions for decision. The District Commissioner also said that Olunjai was shot at night, which made things unclear. The security and investigation team had found that it was the other policeman, Jumanne, and not David, that was missing two bullets from his gun. These comments by the District Commissioner have raised some fears that the usual “nobody knows what happened and no action will be taken” could be in the making. The District Commissioner spent three unsuccessful hours trying to persuade the attendants not to burn down Thomson’s camp, but instead be cool and wait for the government to investigate the shooting. Not getting anywhere with this, the District Commissioner asked the community for a short meeting with the leaders, which was refused since they could be corrupted, but after a long discussion the gathered community ultimately agreed.

The “recommendations” that the District Commissioner, village leaders and ward councillors came back with were as follows:
-The community should not fight Thomson Safaris. Instead they should be calm and use the legal system to support their case
-The government will revitalize a committee that was established in January 2014 and was meant to coordinate grazing and tourism in the area.
-The committee will arrange for cattle to continue grazing on the disputed land.
-The government will hold the police to account for the shooting.
-The District Council will join the villages in the principal court case

That the District Council as former defendant will join the villages in the court case is good news indeed – even if one can wonder what William Alais and another councillor that once fell for the land grabber’s charm (or something else) will do. And really, after years of humiliation and mistreatment the recipe is - a committee? Thomson Safaris have had many years to negotiate and start conducting their business without interfering with grazing and passage of herders and cattle. This tour operator has proven to be of an unusual arrogance and will not change unless some direct action – hopefully not as violent as burning the camp – is taken to make their business activities impossible. The committee will have to be very active to stop the disturbance of grazing. These recommendations sound like more of nothing, but I hope I’m wrong and this will be the end of the land grabbing Thomson Safaris.

The local NGOs also held a meeting and agreed on undertaking fact finding and supporting community organisation and media coverage. Let’s hope it’s kept up!

On Thursday 17th the Ngorngoro Member of Parliament, Kaika Saning’o Telele, attended a meeting with Mondorosi village council. The MP who has earlier lent himself to Thomson’s PR spectacles more than once now said that if the council set up a delegation with people from the three villages and organise funding he will come with them to Dar es Salaam to meet the Prime Minister and Tanzania Investment Centre.  

On Friday 18th there was a meeting - walking the occupied land - between Thomson’s sinister Daniel Yamat and the committee consisting of the chairmen of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Soitsambu, three traditional leaders, three women, and the councillors for Soitsambu and Oloipiri wards. Yamat made a proposal, maybe rattled by serious coverage on national TV, of “allowing” grazing in wooded or bushy areas, but not on the plains that form the larger part of the land. This was refused by the committee that demanded access to the whole area without harassment. The situation is absurd. As a man in Sukenya once told me, it’s Thomson that have to sit down and ask the landowners how and where they can conduct tourism, but instead they came with “power from the government” saying that the land was theirs, and using violence to impose their management. 

The case had to be taken to a meeting with the District Commissioner on Monday 21st. Several district officers and the executive officers of the two wards attended this meeting together with the earlier committee, ward councillors and Thomson’s Yamat. The meeting ended with an agreement that cattle will graze on the entire 12,617 acres starting immediately and continuing until the court case is over. Yamat resisted till the end wanting to restrict grazing to bushy parts and to far from to camp, but was pushed by the government officials -Thomson’s friends - to agree. Yamat was advised by the officials to work with the committee to coordinate grazing and tourism. If this can be kept up – and there are obvious reasons for distrust – it’s a very positive change indeed.Update: the harassment and chasing of cattle started again on 15th August.

Ndolei´s sentence
On Tuesday 22nd Ndolei Musa from Sukenya was released with a fine of 150,000 TZShillings for on 4th June having beaten up Thomson’s guard Lucas Semat who was chasing cows. Ndolei was told that if he does it again he will end up in prison. Initially the sub-village chairman was accused of this beating, but on 13th June Ndolei was identified by the guard at Wasso market. Ndolei has never denied the beating. When in the usual manner being asked who “sent him” Ndolei said that he feels obliged to protect his land..

The shooting
As mentioned in the latest blog post what happened after dark (I’ve heard 8pm and 7.37pm) the night from 8th to 9th July was that Olunjai Timan and some other herders from Mondorosi were looking for lost cows on the land occupied by Thomson Safaris. They saw car lights supposedly driving the cows towards Olunjai’s boma, so they went towards the vehicle. There were many voices, almost all Thomson’s guards were there together with two policemen, David and Jumanne. Olunjai heard, “mko chini ya ulinzi” (you are under arrest), and a Thomson guard said, “piga huyo, piga huyo, washa risasi” (“shoot that one, shoot that one, open fire”.) I’ve later also been told that Olunjai was ordered to kneel down, which he didn’t do. There were two shots fired. The second shot one hit Olunjai in the left buttock and he continued running for 50 metres before losing energy and falling down. He was found by his neighbour, Kitenge Daniel Saing’eu, who saw blood all over. Olunjai was already weak by the time he was found. He told the neighbour that he was shot by David - a policeman stationed at Nginye police post. The village chairman called the ambulance from Wasso that came and rushed Olunjai to hospital. Reception at hospital was first slow and the police form needed for these cases was not collected.

The background
The whole problem started in 2006 when Thomson bought the 12,617 acres of grazing land from Tanzania Breweries Ltd that had cultivated a small part of it for a few years in the 80s and then fraudulently got a right of occupancy in 2003. The megalomaniac aim of this tour operator was to establish its own private “Enashiva Nature Refuge” on other people’s land. Since this had to be done restricting grazing, the base of people’s lives and livelihoods, it could logically not happen without some measure of violence – and many cases of beatings and arrests followed, especially in 2008-2009, but also frequently later people have been beaten, arrested and in some cases also taken to court for “trespassing”. Many of Thomson’s victims have been minors, and minors have also been taken to court by the tour operator. In April 2008 Lesingo Nanyoi from Enadooshoike (Mondorosi) was shot in the jaw in a confrontation with Thomson guards aided by the police and to this day no action has been taken against those responsible.

Thomson have been disturbing grazing and passage to water, inflicting humiliation and physical injury while pretending to be doing “community empowerment”.

Of the few people who have wanted to report about this land grab several have encountered problems. In 2008 photographer Trent Keegan felt threatened while investigating and left for Nairobi where he was killed in a still unsolved street murder. Later Trent’s friend Brian MacCormaic was held up at gunpoint after trying to leave a meeting with Rick Thomson  and Judi Wineland - and Daniel Yamat seemed to have been in possession of documents from Trent’s and Brian’s laptops. In 2009 reporters Alex Renton and Caroline Irby had an invitation to “Enashiva”, but Yamat wasn’t pleased with the visit and minutes after leaving they were picked up by the police, taken to the District Commissioner’s office, and escorted out of the district. In 2010 this blogger, just as a tourist, asked some questions about Thomson to the wrong person who called the District Commissioner and next day I was picked up by the police, interrogated by the Ngorongoro Security Committee that confiscated my passport and in Arusha declared a “prohibited immigrant”.

What characterises Thomson Safaris is an extremely aggressive propaganda machine presenting their land grab as a model for community-based tourism and conservation. And they are emboldened not only by anti-pastoralist Tanzanian authorities supporting them – in 2009 Tanzania Tourist Board awarded them for their land grab – but also by organisations supposed to work for responsible tourism - some of which have Thomson people on their boards - and therefore have no credibility at all. To those that have heard of the conflict they like to present themselves as victims of a “minority with selfish interests”, and often they boil it down to one evil local Maasai woman. It will be “interesting” to see their reaction to this shooting. They are still denying having anything at all to do with the shooting of Lesinko Nanyoi and years ago they were even saying that he had admitted that the whole story was a lie (he never said such a thing, but Thomson have no limits to what they can claim). Thomson are quite free to make up any lies since nobody in Loliondo is particularly good at reporting, which I hope will change some day soon. Meanwhile I will continue chasing information and blogging

Some anonymous people based in Tanzania did in 2012 start an excellent website called Stop Thomson Safaris. Thomson, probably knowing that those that need to be anonymous can be intimidated, sued this website. They are still anonymous though - and fighting back. An interesting fact that surfaced with this lawsuit is that Thomson pay thousands of dollars per month to an agency specializing in search engines, social media, online reputation management and analytics.

In 2010 a court case was, with the support of Minority Rights Group International, initiated to regain the land grabbed by Thomson. After some complications, a land case is still ongoing. One complication has been that the land was taken from Soitsambu village that has later been split up and now “Enashiva” falls within Sukenya and Mondorosi villages.

In the most classic way of any invader Thomson have used division between three Maasai sections living around the occupied land – Purko, Loita and Laitayok. Copying the manner of operating of another threat to land - the UAE hunting organisation OBC – they have worked with the Laitayok and were for a long time close to the chairman of Sukenya, Loserian Minis. Though in June 2013 Minis decided to join the fight against the land grabber and is going from strength to strength in this. Currently the closest ally of the invader is the councillor for Oloipiri ward, William Alais.

Even in the unlikely case that Thomson would have been too ignorant to understand the consequences of giving oneself the right to manage other people’s land, after all these years of violence and propaganda to keep up this “community-based tourism” there are no attenuating circumstances whatsoever – and neither are there for the tourists choosing to use their services, unless they have no idea of how to search for information online.

Thomson Safaris came and declared their “Enashiva Nature Refuge” on Maasai land. Too many years have passed, they have refused to rectify and instead upheld the occupation through violence, authorities working for investors and against people, lawyers and mad propaganda. This has to stop!

Susanna Nordlund


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