A network for all who care about the conservation of our world and who want to see it achieved with justice, compassion, dignity and honesty.

A Decade since Trent Keegan was Murdered and Thomson Safaris Continue Occupying Maasai Land.

View from the Termite Mound A blog about threats against Maasai land in Loliondo - Thomson Safaris, OBC and ruthless hypocrisy.

In this blog post: - Tanzania Breweries Limited; Thomson Safaris take Maasai land as their nature refuge; Lesinko shot at Enashiva Nature Refuge; Trent murdered; 2009 drought; The sign; First international article; The PM’s “report”; Unanswered UN letters; The court cases; Becoming a blogger; The negotiations; Children beaten; Five herders prosecuted for trespass; Killing a website; More journalists in trouble; Olunjai shot; The big intimidation campaign in Loliondo; Charity as a weapon – and recently buying who could not be bought; Current silence.

Read the most recent blog posts to understand what’s going on with OBC and the 1,500 km2, and the further increased intimidation campaign. Thomson Safaris is about another, unrelated, tourism company in Loliondo, but with the same “friends”, and benefitting from the same lawlessness and repression.
This blog post is far too delayed, and it’s because of unexpected bad news, both about OBC and Thomson, and because it’s been impossible, and continue being impossible, to get hold of people whose view I need to hear.
Thomson Safaris, a Boston-based safari company that furiously insists that Maasai grazing land is their own Enashiva Nature Refuge (a.k.a Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge), and with a police state at their service to silence their critics feel sorry for themselves because nobody listens to their side…
A decade

On 3rd June friends of Trent Keegan gathered  in Ohau, south of Levin, in the north island of New Zealand and remembered their giant-hearted friend whom it’s ten years since they said goodbye to, and to commemorate him they had a tree-planting ceremony. I didn’t know Trent, and I never met him, but the murder of someone who’d tried to find out what was going on came at a moment when I was getting entangled in a discussion, in an online travel forum, about Thomson Safaris’ decision to turn Maasai grazing land into their own private nature refuge, a business associate of the tour operator was explaining the problem as a “local Kenyan Maasai woman that encouraged all locals to squat on the land and use it for their benefit” when the brewery left, which he said turned into an issue when the legal title was transferred to Thomson, adding that Thomson have “projects” for the said locals, and want to return the land to wilderness. I did not then know why he was saying such a thing, which I would have known if I’d been familiar with Loliondo, but the choice of words was like an alarm. After some time, I got in contact with a Tanzanian (my dear and very distant friend Navaya) who had researched the issue, and not much later was I contacted by a representative of Thomson Safaris who made me experience the company’s pompous insincerity first hand, and then, somewhat later, another such person. It all made me spend many hours searching for information, first trying to make others document and report what was going on, and then doing it myself, talking to people on the ground and getting in contact with those online, before I not only was banned from visiting Tanzania and my fingerprints thoroughly registered, but every crack in the Loliondo wall of silence was glued up with fear. 

Tanzania Breweries Limited
In 1984, 10,000 acres in Soitsambu village were allocated to the then parastatal Tanzania Breweries Ltd (TBL) for barley cultivation totally free of charge. According to the sadly missed Moringe Parkipuny, TBL had first requested 100,000 acres which he managed to stop, but “soft-headed” people in the District Council went along with the 10,000 acres (Ndaskoi, 2008). Some say that the village council allowed TBL to use the land for five years, but there was never any contract made. There are some highly anomalously looking meeting minutes in which Soitsambu village council is supposed to unanimously have agreed to the land transfer. For example, the headline and stamp do not refer to Soitsambu village, but Sukenya village (kijiji cha Sukenya) – an entity that would not exist until 25 years later. At the time Sukenya was a sub-village (kitongoji). And the signatures are by mostly unknown people who have never been part of the village council. In the court case, the then district council chairman, Ngorisa, testified that these minutes were forged by a land officer called Hillu, apparently to be used when TBL obtained a certificate of occupancy in 2004.
TBL cultivated 100 of the 10,000 acres in 1985/1986 and some 700 acres in 1986/1987 while the Maasai continued using the rest of the land as before. Thereafter TBL stopped cultivation altogether and left due to conditions that were too dry, wild animals eating the barley, long distances to the head office in Moshi, and, as Moringe Parkipuny has also mentioned, there was conflict and sabotage of some TBL equipment. The whole of the land reverted to Maasai pastoralist use.
In 1987, 15 elders, assisted by Moringe Parkipuny, initiated a court case - case No 74 of 1987 - against TBL, lost in 1990, and did not follow up properly. They already had the land back anyway.
In 1993, South African Breweries International (that later became SABMiller) acquired 50% of the shares in TBL that now is a subsidiary of SABMiller.
More than 16 years after having stopped all cultivation and left the land known as Sukenya Farm, or farm no. 373, on 24th May 2004 TBL – using forged minutes and without paying any compensation at all to the villages - obtained a 99-year certificate of occupancy with starting date on 1stOctober 2003 from the Commissioner for Lands. A total of 2,617 acres was added to the 10,000 acres. The specified land use in this certificate is “plant and animal husbandry”. TBL left a guard on the land to look after buildings, and this person who  went away for months (or persons according to TBL) never did anything to hinder, interfere, or oppose complete Maasai repossession of the land, which means that the land had been repossessed through adverse possession, for which twelve years would suffice under Tanzanian law, while in this case more than sixteen years had passed.
There are several other farms in Loliondo acquired under very dubious circumstances in the 1980s, and it’s a mistake not to make real efforts to have them revoked. Leaders know this and are stressed over leaving a legacy with even more land lost, and everyone is affected if someone turns up and wants to manage the land restricting grazing. The worst possible scenario happened to the Sukenya Farm – Thomson Safaris came.
Thomson Safaris enter
In January 2006 TBL announced that they were selling the 12,617 acres (51 km2). The villagers protested, and said that anyone buying the land would have bought a conflict. This was reported in a somewhat confused article in the Arusha Times. The brewery found a buyer in Thomson Safaris – a Boston-based tour operator part of Wineland-Thomson Adventures, Inc. owned by the married couple Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson. For this purpose, Thomson had formed the company Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL) and since foreigners are otherwise not allowed to buy land in Tanzania they obtained a certificate from the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC). A family of four from Boston was now considered the legitimate owners of 12,617 acres of Maasai land. Thomson paid only US$ 1.2 million for the by this time 96-year right of occupancy. A more reasonable sum, mentioned during the court case, would have been some US$ 19.2 million (current exchange rate). A piece of land of the same size across the border in Kenya, but not very close to Maasai Mara, would currently cost some US$ 25 million, according to advertisements.
To mark their arrival, it’s been reported (and vehemently denied by the tour operator) that Thomson started by setting fire to several temporary bomas located on the land. A plan (that I’ve never seen) for Thomson’s use of the land, prepared by Tanganyika Film and Safari Outfitters is said to be found at the District Headquarters. The owner of TFSO, Peter Jones, was Thomson’s first manager at the land they wanted to turn into their own private nature refuge.  Peter Jones has a similar establishment in West Kilimanjaaro, also “bought” from TBL, Ndarakwai Ranch, where the tourist accommodation was burnt down to the ground by local Maasai in November 2014. To the Nipashe newspaper in December 2006 Peter Jones said, “Sisi tuliwataka waondoke katika eneo hili ambalo ni mali yetu sasa. Tulichoma ili wahame.” (We wanted them to leave that area that now is our property. We burned so that they would move.) In the court case traditional leader Sandet ole Reiya (who sadly passed away since then) testified that he had a boma on the disputed land and that it was burned down by Thomson’s guards in 2006, and that several other villagers also had their bomas burned, like Shangwe Isata Ndekere, who testified as well.

President Jakaya Kikwete visited Loliondo on 22nd March 2007 and met with CCM elders, led by Soitsambu sub-village chairman, and traditional leader, Shangai Putaa, who very strongly spoke up against Thomson’s occupation of the land and demanded a revocation of the certificate of occupancy. Some say that they should have tried a politer approach.
On 8th October 2007 announced that“The company's American founders, who run their own African ground operation and employ full-time Tanzanian-born guides, recently purchased the private Loliondo wilderness area expressly to give their clients more activity options. "Because it is 12,000 privately-owned, unspoiled acres, guests will be able to move about freely with their guides and not see any other tourists," says Ina Steinhilber of Thomas Safaris. "The area also allows for walking, hiking, [dining in the bush], and night wildlife viewing drives. All of these activities are heavily restricted or forbidden within the parks, but we can do it all. "Sandet ole Reiya  photo: MRG
Thomson advertised the acres as “unspoiled”, although have later had a story of “recovered” land.
Initially this land was in Soitsambu village, Soitsambu ward, but since the village has been split up the land now falls in the new villages Sukenya and Mondorosi. Sukenya with most its population from the Laitayok section and a big minority of Loita now belongs to the new Oloipiri ward, while Mondorosi with a Purko majority is found in Soitsambu ward. This has greatly helped Thomson to – just like OBC that organises hunting for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, and for years have been lobbying for the government to alienate from the Maasai the 1,500 km2 where they have their core hunting area - use divide and rule techniques working closely with the “investor-friendly” councillor for Oloipiri, William Alais, and they have basically carbon copied the rhetoric of government officials that work for foreign “investors” against local people, and like to accuse everyone who speak up for land rights of being “Kenyan”, and working for destructive NGOs.
Thomson Safaris have always denied any wrongdoing, and claimed to be the victims a small group with selfish interests that’s making up lies about them. Often, they reduce this group to just one woman, Maanda Ngoitiko, founder and director of the NGO Pastoral Women’s Council, born and bred in Soitsambu, and this could be seen from the first comment I ever heard from anyone associated with Thomson, about a “Kenyan Maasai woman”. In 2014 Thomson’s managing director was telling an American that had just found out about the conflict that it’s “one person conducting a campaign of harassment and lies that is truly extraordinary and that this woman’s NGO has made an astounding amount of money off demonizing them” in an email that was forwarded to me.
On 7th November 2007 the earlier mentioned sub-village chairman, Shangai Putaa, was abducted and killed by the police, and his dead body was found two days later at Wasso Hospital. According to the police, and as reported in the Arusha Times, Shangai had tried to flee when he was to show them the location of hidden guns. This accusation seemed very unlikely to everyone who knew Shangai Putaa. Regional Police Commander, Basilio Matei, ordered an investigation, but the result never even reached Shangai’s family. He left behind two widows and eight children. Shangai was Laitayok, from the sub-section with a couple of influential leaders that welcome being approached for divide and rule purposes, but as said, he led the delegation asking the president to revoke Thomson’s certificate of occupancy, and he had also spoken up against OBC.
Thomson Safaris claim to be developing 12,617 acres of Maasai grazing land into a model for community-based tourism and conservation initiatives, with the goal of fostering a symbiotic relationship made possible by ecotourism.  They call the land their own private Enashiva Nature Refuge (online often “Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge”).
As I was told in Sukenya 2013, “Thomson did not come to sit down with people to ask if they could do tourism on the land; they came with power from the government and said that the land was theirs”.
Lesinko shot
Thomson’s guards increased efforts at restricting grazing in their claimed private nature refuge, that they were to include in their regular itineraries for the 2008 season. In April 2008, there was a clash between Maasai taking their animals to water and Thomson’ guards aided by the police. As Lesinko Nanyoi from Enadooshoke told me in 2010, the herders 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 Lesinko in the jaw, people fled, some cows managed to get water. Lesinko was first taken to the nearest dispensary which lies just metres across the border in Olpusimoru, Kenya – which led to the standard allegations that Lesinko was “Kenyan” - and later in the evening to Wasso hospital where the doctor arranged to have him flown to Muhimbili Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he had to stay for one and a half month. Eight other herders were taken to Loliondo and remanded for four days and later released with a bond of TShs 1,200,000 paid in cash from selling cattle in Kenya. At a press conference in Arusha on 23rd July 2008 government officials were competing in absolving both Thomson’s guards and the police from the shooting and Lesinko has to this day not obtained justice. In 2009, in a “rebuttal” to a newspaper article Thomson said, “Lesingo Ole Nanyoi was not involved in a confrontation at Enashiva and has since admitted that his injuries did not occur there”. When I met Lesinko in 2010 he was very angry to hear the lies Thomson were writing about him, nobody from the company had ever talked to him; only their local manager, Daniel Yamat, approached his father trying to corrupt him when Lesinko was in hospital. Lesinko wanted to personally inform the owners of Thomson Safaris exactly what happened. When I met Lesinko again in 2013 he was bitter about being used to talk to journalists, but never getting any justice after being shot. He said that Thomson were at the time less aggressive and didn’t come anywhere near his boma, except for one market day when all adults were away, which worried him. Thomson have with the passing of the years moved from denying that any violent confrontations have taken place to claiming to be the victims of violent herders sent by their opponents.
Trent murdered
Trent Keegan, a New Zealand-born photographer, based in Ireland at the time, in early May 2008 came to Loliondo to investigate the conflict between Thomson Safaris and the local Maasai. He sent emails to his friends about being approached by Thomson’s guards and the police, and since he didn’t feel safe he departed for Nairobi where he was murdered in the street on 28th May 2008. Trent’s laptop and camera were stolen, but not the money he was carrying or his Visa card.
Some weeks after the murder, on 15th July, Trent’s friend, volunteer worker Brian MacCormaic, who at the time was working as an adviser to Emanyatta Secondary School in Ololosokwan, went to a meeting in Wasso with Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland trying to clear things out. The owners of Thomson Safaris had flown 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. Thomson and Wineland were staying in Wasso and were also supposed to have a meeting with the Village Council in Soitsambu that lies between Ololosokwan and Wasso, so Brian was surprised that they insisted on meeting him in Wasso. It was clear that Wineland and Thomson would not meet the Village Council. Instead they were having a meeting with a “grazing committee” handpicked by the DC (at that time Jowika Kasunga) and they insisted that Brian, who had come for a private talk, should join the meeting. Accompanying Thomson was “a bishop” (most probably the then Lutheran bishop of the Dodoma diocese) and a woman saying that she was from “state house”. The committee spoke Maa and the translator was Thomson’s local manager, Daniel Yamat. Almost immediately the atmosphere turned 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 sped into the compound, and these men started blocking his departure. Brian was told that they were policemen ordered by the DC. After some considerable time and a phone call to the Regional Commissioner Brian was finally let go. A few days later Brian was summoned to the DC’s office to be questioned by the Ngorongoro Security Committee. Outside he met Daniel Yamat who boasted about having files from Brian’s computer, naming several of the files. Later the same day headmaster of the school witnessed in a meeting with the DC how Yamat presented prints of personal files from Brian’s, and also from Trent’s laptop. The DC seemed unconcerned about what Thomson were doing, and much more interested in if Brian had the right documents and permits, and in questioning him about his relationship to Trent.
Different suspects have been charged with the murder and then acquitted for lack of evidence. It does not seem like the Nairobi police ever extended the investigation to include Thomson Safaris.
2009 drought
The harassment, beatings and arrests of herders continued into the terrible drought year of 2009 that would see the extrajudicial evictions for the benefit of OBC.
One case that’s been detailed is that of Taraiya Meitaya from Irmasiling who in May 2009 was confronted by seven Thomson guards and two policemen near the land occupied by the tour operator. He was severely beaten and taken to Loliondo police station for questioning the boundaries of Thomson’s nature refuge. Taraiya was held for two days without food and seven days in total. (When I spent two nights in a dirty, ice-cold, and mosquito infested police cell at Loliondo police station, the graffiti informed me that not feeding those arrested is a common practise. I was however fed by some police staff.) After four days, Taraiya’s case was heard by the magistrate and after three more days he was released on the condition that he should pay TShs 300,000 to the court. Unable to pay the full amount he was caught when trying to sell cattle and locked up again until he got help with paying a new fine of TShs 800,000 (the alternative was 16 months in prison). Thomson complained that Taraiya had used their vehicle demanding that he should pay TShs 300,000 for this. Taraiya had to return to Loliondo and pay TShs 200,000 to Thomson’s guards.
Despite these harassments, Thomson safaris was awarded the 2009 Tanzania Conservation Award by the state-run-marketing board, the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB). The award specifically recognized the company's efforts in establishing and supporting the Enashiva Nature Refuge, “a community-based conservation project east of the Serengeti”. In May 2009, Daniel Yamat, received the award on behalf of Thomson Safaris at a ceremony in Cairo, which was attended by the then minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Shamsa Mwangunga, among other distinguished guests. Thomson Safaris have also received various awards from magazines like National Geographic, Outside and Travel +Leisure.
In late June the same year, the District Council approved a formal complaint about Thomson to the PM and the president, and even the new DC, Elias Wawa Lali – who would soon live up, or down, to the colonial roots of his office, controlling the natives to facilitate natural resource use by foreign “investors” - requested Thomson Safaris, as a temporary measure, to allow the local pastoralists to graze their animals on the land – that, I’ve been told, per traditional arrangements is more for the early and late parts of the rainy season - to save them from starvation. There was never an agreement from Thomson of allowing grazing, but they became wary of arrests after their supporter, the DC, had spoken. There was some harassment in July, but then it stopped for a while. Later Thomson have kept making a big issue of how they helped the Maasai “save their cattle” during the drought.
The DC’s request was written about in the Arusha Times, but after that the newspaper turned to publishing press releases by Thomson’s own long-time American project manager and journalist, Jeremy Swanson O’Kasick, who together with his Tanzanian wife, Happiness Mwamasika, who served as coordinator for Thomson’s charitable branch, using political and other contacts to make “friends” for Thomson, were for years key persons in the whole conflict, but they seem to have moved on. The articles were about Thomson joining the organisation Sustainable Travel International (that later claimed that Thomson Safaris no longer was a member, even if the logo was on the website, receiving awards or distributing government food aid in September 2009, which Thomson of course made a big issue of and bring up when approached by international media. Later the focus was on the huge benefits made by women selling beadwork to Thomson’s tourists.
The Sign
In October 2009, a sign was put up next to “Enashiva Nature Refuge” saying, translated from Swahili, “The Government hereby intends to change the land use in farm no. 373 which is situated in Sukenya and which is owned by Tanzania Conservation Ltd from agriculture and pastoralism to conservation and tourism. Any person liable to be affected by the changes should express their opinions via the office of the District Executive Officer within 30 days from the 27th of October 2009.” Both Soitsambu Village Council and the District Council held meetings and produced minutes strongly opposing the change in land use. There had already been a letter prepared by Tanganyika Film and Safari Outfitters in September 2006 requesting this change in land use. Though Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) have claimed that “relevant committees” - whatever they could have meant by that when only the villages are relevant and were not involved - at the District Council had approved the change in land use in January 2008. No change in land use classification has taken place, even if Thomson during the court case have claimed that it is “pending”.
First International Article
In February 2009, British journalist Alex Renton, and photographer Caroline Irby, went to Loliondo to cover the ongoing land conflicts. They talked with Lesinko Nanyoi and other people affected by Thomson, and were accompanied by the allegedly Thomson-befriended chairman of Soitsambu at the time, but who later after having been ousted repented and claimed having been intimidated by the DC. When upon an invitation by Thomson's Arusha manager the reporters visited "Enashiva Nature Refuge" Thomson’s local manager, Daniel Yamat, made a phone call and in ten minutes the police appeared, taking them to the DC’s office, and then escorted them to Arusha. The DC’s secretary told the reporters that they were acting on a complaint by Thomson. On 6th September 2009, the article appeared in the Observer and Thomson were prepared with a new blog and a rebuttal with some wild claims and denials that has since been removed from the blog. Among other things Thomson wrote that the communities surrounding Enashiva have expressed strong support for Thomson and its vision for the refuge, they don’t employ guards but “unarmed wildlife scouts that have never initiated or engaged in any acts of violence”, the extremely offensive lies about Lesinko, and that they were “not aware that Trent Keegan was working on a story until after his death”. Sadly, this not perfect article that was not followed-up, must have informed Thomson that tourists don’t really care that much at all.
Regarding the “unarmed wildlife scouts” people living around the land occupied by Thomson have confirmed to me long ago that these always carry traditional weapons, and also firearms when there are guests, and to this should be added the fact that the police for years were known to work as Thomson’s de facto guards. It has recently surfaced in sworn testimony to EarthRights International – assisting with discovery for the court case in 2014 – that Rick Thomson revealed that the company employs security staff both from the Wildlife Division and from local police on a temporary basis. When Moringe Parkipuny, the first MP for Ngorongoro, in 2010 took me (as his friend, a “church person”) to Enashiva to have a drink, we were turned away by a guard with poison arrow ready in hand. The guards also have the most formidable of arms, which is a vehicle.
One blog entry that Thomson haven’t removed is their early description of Enashiva Nature Refuge. Phrases like:
 “Long ago, Maasai cattle herders called the creek Enashiva, the Maasai word for happiness. Today, Thomson Safaris is working alongside the Maasai to conserve this vast wilderness of wooded savannah and open grassland covering 12,600 acres within the Serengeti ecosystem.”,
“purchased the land in an open bidding process”,
“saw its potential to be a model for community development, conservation, and responsible tourism”,
“The council has officially voiced its support for Thomson Safaris and actively collaborates with Thomson on Enashiva initiatives.”,
“dedicated staff has led explorations of the land for prestigious researchers”,
“remarkable increases in wildlife numbers”,
“authentic cultural exchanges”,
“Enashiva represents the culmination of nearly 30 years of Thomson’s commitment to Tanzania.”
In this way, Thomson Safaris over the years, pictured an ideal environment for undisturbed wildlife viewing, benefitting the local economy and its people, whereas the reality on the ground for these same people had resulted in exchanges that had been far from the painted scenario. And, nobody seems to know about any creek with that name.
The PMs “Report”
In July 2008, thirteen members of Soitsambu village government went to Dodoma to face the Prime Minister over the ownership of the 12,617 acres. The PM set up a committee to investigate the conflict and this committee visited Loliondo in November 2008. The committee interviewed some community members, but it also spent an entire day at Thomson Safaris’ camp. A summary of the report was made public in Thomson Safaris’ blog in February 2010 and it concluded that Tanzania Breweries Ltd obtained the farm in a legal manner from the village, Tanzania Conservation Ltd legally purchased the land from TBL, conservation and photographic tourism was an appropriate land use and the problem was unnamed jealous tour operators, NGOs, Kenyans, and the Purko Maasai. Surprisingly, the report summary says that the Loita and not the Laitayok are the traditional residents of the area, maybe because the writer was not competent enough to follow Thomson’s instructions. When asked questions by media, Thomson and Wineland very often bring up this report.
Unanswered UN Letters
Despite the “all is well”- propaganda, a growing number of international groups had taken notice of some of the wrongdoings. In March 2009, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – after Minority Rights Group International had lodged an urgent action request - sent a letter to the Tanzanian Government requesting information about the situation, but they did not receive a reply. The committee 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 did not happen. CERD sent another letter in March 2011 and a third letter was sent in 2013. In April 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also sent a letter to the Tanzanian government.
The Court Cases
In February 2010 Soitsambu Village Council, assisted by Minority Rights Group International, initiated a court case against Thomson Safaris (Tanzania Conservation Ltd) and Tanzania Breweries Ltd. The court hearings faced many delays due to technicalities despite the urgency requested for. On 31st May 2011, the main case was dismissed on a preliminary objection being that it was “exactly the same” case as brought to court in the late 1980s. An appeal was sought and granted after another year had passed for a full trial in the High Court. On 10 October 2012, there was an injunction hearing for the land case. On 17 January 2013, the High Court upheld the objection against the injunction and ruled that Soitsambu Village lacks necessary legal status since it was split up into four villages in 2010. On 17 May, the land case was struck out by the judge who was not following proper procedures since she had earlier agreed to amendments to the case including Mondorosi and Sukenya.
On 4th July 2013, despite ferocious divide and rule tactics, Land Case 26 2013 was filed: Mondorosi Village Council, Sukenya Village Council and Soitsambu Village Council versus Tanzania Breweries Ltd, Tanzania Conservation Ltd, Ngorongoro District Council, the Commissioner for Lands and the Attorney General. The villages currently affected by Thomson Safaris are Sukenya and Mondorosi, but Soitsambu wanted to be included. There were many postponements, but on 4th April was there a verdict on the injunction that the judge did not admit. The main case continued.
Court hearings started on 8th December 2014 and were postponed several times. The case is based on adverse possession - a clear case since the Maasai had got their land back and used it undisturbed for well over the required 12 years. TBL only ever used a small part of the land, while the Maasai continued with their land use, had stopped using it sometime between 1987 and 1990, and Thomson Safaris did not arrive until 2006.
The judgement came on 28th October 2015 when the High Court in Arusha, ruled against the Maasai on all points except a minor one concerning TBL adding 2,617 acres in 2004. The Maasai’s lawyers, Wallace N. Kapaya and Rashid S. Rashid, expressed their disappointment and stated “We are tremendously dissatisfied with this judgment and intend to appeal it at the first opportunity. Based on the evidence at trial the court did not come to a fair decision, and this judgment only serves to cement the marginalisation of the Maasai in Ngorongoro in the name of conservation.” (MRG, 2015).
The villages appealed the injustice of the judgement that in practice legalized the questionable loss of Maasai land to an American tour operator that had bought it from TBL, the brewery that cultivated some barley for a few years in the 1980s. At the same time Thomson Safaris also decided to appeal the judgement insisting that all the 12,617 acres had been correctly acquired. At least that’s what I was told in 2015. I haven’t been able to confirm that Thomson appealed as well. As far as I know, the case is still in the court of appeal.
The need for international litigation seems obvious.
Becoming a blogger
I personally experienced how the Tanzanian authorities shielded Thomson Safaris when in February 2010, moving around as a tourist who had become involved in internet travel forums, after having met several people in Sukenya, I asked Soitsambu Ward Executive Officer, Amati, if whether the online statements by Thomson were true indeed (people in Sukenya had said that very little of it was). The WEO almost immediately phoned the DC who promised to answer my questions the following day, then the WEO showed off his phone display that said, “Thomson manager” and a Thomson vehicle loaded with USAID mosquito nets was parked next to where we were sitting.  The following morning, when waiting for transport to Soitsambu to meet the DC – without much faith but thinking that maybe he’d set up some propaganda spectacle for Thomson - I was instead picked up by the police and taken to the Ngorongoro Security Committee, headed by DC Elias Wawa Lali, that, after considering other kinds of “crimes”, decided that I had been doing “research” without a permit, and confiscated my passport. I had to go to the Immigration office in Arusha where I was declared a prohibited immigrant. Following this experience, I started this blog View from the Termite Mound. In 2011 and 2013 I returned to Loliondo without problems, but in 2015 I was arrested, locked up for two nights at Loliondo police station – where DC Hashim Mgandilwa was hovering around. Thereafter I was brought for another night to the Arusha police station – without being allowed to contact anyone (though fortunately someone had contacted Onesmo Olengurumwa of THRDC who sent lawyers to Immigration in Arusha) nor granted bail – and instead of being taken to court, I was again declared a prohibited immigrant and deported to Kenya from where I had entered. In Kenya, I discovered that the hard drive of my laptop had been stolen while in custody with Immigration. Manyerere Jackton, the most fervent anti-Loliondo “journalist” (close the OBC), wrote articles with the most bizarre claims about my arrest, like that I would have researched the Loita-Sonjo conflict without permits, and had sided with the Maasai (Raia Tanzania, 2015), that I’m out to destabilize the Serengeti ecosystem for the benefit of those who have “sent” me (Raia Tanzania, 2015), that I’m a western agent out to destabilize Tanzania for neo-colonial reasons (Jamhuri, 2015), that I’ve fundraised billions of money and given a lot to Maasai NGOs (that would have been nice…) (Jamhuri, 2015), that I would have said that I’d make sure Swedish aid to Tanzania is cut unless authorities stop harassing me (I wish I had that influence…) (Jamhuri, 2015). That was the level of reporting, and it worsened considerably in 2016. I haven’t been contacted by Thomson themselves since early 2010 when I was urged to come and see for myself, then turned away when doing so (anonymously as Moringe Parkipuny’s friend), and thrown out of the country for the first time.
The Negotiations
In 2011, Minority Rights Group International approached Thomson’s lawyers through an international law firm called Hausfelds and asked if the company would be interested in an out of court agreement. The safari company’s lawyers came back with the information that Rick Thomson said he would be interested.
The last days of October 2011, a representative from Minority Rights Group was present at several well attended community meetings. All Maasai sections joined in, even though the Sukenya chairman, who at that time was befriended by Thomson, chose not to attend. The meetings were arranged by the Pastoral Women’s Council and took place in Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke. The MRG representative asked the community for a negotiation package that, instead of justice, would look for an agreement where fundamental stakes of both parties would be considered. The result of these meetings was to offer the safari company to keep 2,000 acres while the remaining 10,617 acres would return to the community and could be used by Thomson on a contractual basis considering the needs of the community. Thomson’s lawyers were informed about this outcome. However, the owners of the company told the Arusha RC that they had never talked about any negotiations and everything was a hoax made up by PWC (MRG, 2012).
Children have often been targeted by Thomson’s guards. For example, on 30th May 2011, two young Maasai boys herding cattle – 11 years old Tajewo Nanyoi and 13 years old Tobiko Nanyoi  - were beaten with a stick and injured by a Thomson guard. When Tobiko’s father returned from a journey he tried to ask the guard why he had beaten his child and got the reply that “we will beat them until you stop grazing your cattle at this farm”. Two children were also dragged through court for “trespassing” for several months 2012-2013. Most of the people I’ve met on the ground have complained about the Enashiva guards beating children. When in a vehicle in 2013, I could personally see how some young herders who had brought cattle onto the occupied land, in apparent panic upon seeing the vehicle, started running at full speed towards a wooded area.

Five herders

The harassment of herders continued and in January 2012, a colonial era cattle crush situated on the disputed land and used for dipping and vaccinating by the communities of Irmasiling and Enadooshoke was destroyed by Thomson. On 12th June, the DC held a meeting on behalf of Thomson talking with village leaders about grazing. Besides the DC, Thomson were represented by the District Executive Officer, the company’s manager, their attorney from Dar es Salaam and the representative from FoTZC, Thomson’s “charitable” branch. Most people present were Laitayok, but reportedly nobody agreed with Thomson about grazing.
On 27th July 2012 three young men and two children, Kikana Rogei (15), Shashon Kiritani (18) and Somiti Ming’ini (14) from Sukenya, and Keng’otore Nanyoi (25) and Sambao Soit (25) from Mondorosi, were beaten by Thomson’s guards and the police for trespass on the occupied land, then re-arrested and released on bail. The DC was trying to make an example of them and many court hearings were scheduled and adjourned so that Thomson could “gather more evidence”. After almost a year the case was finally dismissed on 5th June 2013. The people testifying on Thomson’s behalf were contradicting themselves and each other too much and the judge established that it was crystal clear that the complainant, Thomson Safaris, according to the prosecution itself - that talked about Tanzania Conservation Ltd when the charge sheet said Thomson Safaris - was not the owner of the land, so there was no case. I met Sambao and Keng’otore in July 2013. They did not want to be anonymous, and were full of praise for their lawyer, Shilinde Ngalula from Legal and Human Rights Centre. They told me how Thomson were emboldened when Shilinde had a car accident and they thought he had died, but then he returned and won the case. Spending so much time in court had been very costly, but the herders were happy and felt that with unity they could defeat Thomson.
It's too painful to think of how lawlessness in Loliondo later went to such extremes that in July 2016, Shilinde was arrested – accused of incitement and espionage – inside the court precincts complete with his full court attire while waiting to represent his clients who were illegally arrested to intimidate and silence anyone who was even thinking of speaking up against the “investors”, Thomson and OBC. Not to mention the fact that the Mondorosi chairman has now “welcomed” Thomson’s projects.
Killing a website
On 14th February 2013 two young men, Mbekure Olemeeki (21) and Oloimaoja Ndekerei (18) and one young woman, Narikungishu Olemeeki (19), were caught by police and “Enashiva” guards when tending cattle near the land occupied by Thomson and taken to a place where they were kicked and punched and told to jump up and down. Later, the police showed an unusual interest in questioning these young people, that preferred to keep away. Eventually, it transpired that the police were trying to assist Thomson in the case against the Stop Thomson Safaris website, which they did via a written statement saying that the youngsters couldn’t be found. 
In late April 2013, the anonymous people behind the website Stop Thomson Safaris were informed that Thomson Safaris had sued them in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco, for “defamation and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage”. The safari company had used a subpoena to make the web host, Weebly, disclose their identity, but Weebly refused. This website was started in August 2012 by some people who had seen first-hand the effects of Thomson's land occupation on the residents of Loliondo and decided to raise awareness about the situation, and for some time the reported about different cases of abuse. Thomson had written declarations from Josiah Severre (local manager while Yamat was working with FZS), Daniel Yamat, and another employee called Emmanuel Lorru, and of course from the councillor for Oloipiri, William Alais. Most telling was Judi Wineland’s declaration anticipating that a business competitor would be revealed as creator or co-creator of the website (I know this is totally untrue), shamelessly invoking the “investigation” from 2008 and mentioning that the website had made Thomson incur fees of thousands of dollars per month to an agency specializing in search engine optimization, online reputation management and analytics. Although others (like me) without any commercial intentions, had reported the same information about Thomson, and more, the court seems to, for inexplicable reasons, have taken Thomson’s claims seriously and the case against the website continued. On 5thDecember 2014, the Cyberlaw Clinic of Harvard Law School filed an amicus letter on behalf of two organisations, Global Voices Advocacy and the Media Legal Defence Initiative, saying that by allowing this frivolous lawsuit the California Court of Appeal created a dangerous environment of persons reporting anonymously on issues with governments and corporations outside the United States. The amicus letter didn’t help, and in early 2015 those behind the website were forced to agree to a settlement to keep their anonymity and safety in Tanzania, and it was taken down. 
More Journalists in Trouble
In December 2014, the American journalist Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and photographer Noah Friedman-Rudovsky interviewed Daniel Yamat and were taken to a community meeting arranged by the councillor for Oloipiri and in which Gabriel Killel of Kidupo held a speech. Alais was not totally happy with the reporters, phoned the DC and a lengthy and threatening interrogation by the Security Committee followed. What saved these reporters was explaining that they would spend their last day in Loliondo visiting Thomson’s projects, talking to their supporters and interviewing William Alais, whose men were told not to leave the reporters alone. Still, the Thomson supporters the reporters were introduced to had their own complaints about harassment by the company’s guards. The article was published in Vice magazine on 12th May 2015, and like all about Loliondo it could have needed some proofreading, but it was a powerful reminder of what could happen in Loliondo before things got even worse. (Friedman-Rudovsky, 2015). 
Gabriel Killel, coordinator of the Laitayok dominated NGO Kidupo, who appeared in a video in the article, is working closely with William Alais to defend the “investors” that threaten land rights in Loliondo. Both have a background as catholic priests that somehow managed to get fired. In October 2014, Killel went to Dodoma with a delegation, of course also including Alais, to support Thomson and OBC on a visit to the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office for Investment and Empowerment, and has since behaved in an increasingly violent and deranged way, starting with threatening everyone he suspected of having informed his Norwegian Sami donor – that’s for and not against indigenous people’s rights - that he had begun working for “investors” against his own land rights. Killel spent some time in prison after multiple court cases, like insulting a district magistrate, physically assaulting special seats councillor Tina Timan, and another case filed against him by his wife. He got out very soon though.
On 13th and 14th January 2014 Thomson’s guards, together with the police, physically assaulted several herders: Songori Nkoitoi from Mondorosi was caught by the guards and was badly beaten.
24-year-old Munjaa ole Musa from Sukenya was looking for lost cows when he got caught by Thomson guards and the police. He was beaten with sticks and belts on legs and arms. He got a knife-cut in the arm which led to considerable bleeding. A policeman holding a firearm told Munjaa that he would be killed. The attackers wanted Munjaa to provide information about a man he had not heard of who had fought with a policeman. Munjaa was taken to Thomson camp where he was detained for unknown reasons.
Kendo ole Maiwa from Sukenya was found by Thomson’s guards and police when grazing calves near his home together with two young sons. Kendo was beaten with sticks, handcuffed and taken to Thomson’s camp. He was released after seven hours.
Naboye Ngukwo, from Sukenya, was also approached by Thomson Safaris guards and local police when he was grazing his cattle in the nearby “Enshiva”. He was knocked to the ground and his hand badly injured where he was hit with a rungu. X-rays in Wasso hospital showed broken bones.
On the 15th villagers were holding a meeting about the attacks by Thomson’s guards and the police. At the meeting, much bitterness was expressed about Daniel Yamat. People resolved to continue grazing on the occupied land. While the meeting was taking place, Thomson detained a big number of cows. Upon hearing about this, warriors headed towards Thomson’s camp wanting to burn it down. Thomson called in police from Loliondo and the police fired shots into the air. The cows were released in the evening. But the next day, the Sukenya leaders were summoned by security officers and warned that they were going against the “government’s prohibition” of grazing on the land occupied by Thomson.
The village chairmen of Sukenya, Mondorosi and Soitsambu went to Arusha to consult with lawyers. In the meantime, Yamat instigated the women of the “cultural boma” in Sukenya to complain that their leaders wanted to stop tourists from doing business with them.
Two weeks later, on 3rd February 2014, a meeting was held in Sukenya called by the DC and attended by security officers, councillors, village chairmen, and villagers. Thomson’s Arusha manager, John Bearcroft, was also present and said that the safari company and the villagers are fighting over a fish. “One gets the head and one gets the tail while the lawyers and village governments get the fat middle part.”   As I wrote at the time, Thomson were obviously munching on a fish belonging to thousands of Maasai that are supposed to be grateful for having a market for fish-bone handicraft (and to be the objects of fish “charity”). The village governments weren’t getting any fish fat and the community lawyers got low-fat fish from Minority Rights Group. Only Thomson’s lawyers get corporate fish. A committee, including the Thomson-friendly councillor for Oloipiri, was formed to look into grazing. All three village chairmen stayed united.
On 6th March villagers refused to attend a meeting organised by the committee arguing that the it was not legitimate and was lobbying for Thomson.
From 3-7 May 2014, there was a District Council meeting attended by the village chairmen on the 4th, a team was set up to investigate how the council could get out of the court case and support the villages instead. The major hurdle was that many council employees supported Thomson.
In early June 2014, Torian Karia and Kotikash Kudate from Mondorosi were caught by Thomson Safaris employees, beaten and forced into a Thomson vehicle. The prison magistrate under pressure from the manager initially refused bail and after a few days were bailed out after efforts by the chairman of Mondorosi, Joshua Makko. They were accused of being “Kenyans”, threatening Thomson staff with spears and rungus, and trespass. The case was to begin on 20th June. The outcome was that the herders had to pay a fine.
On 13th June 2014, at Wasso market Ndolei Musa from Sukenya was identified by Thomson’s guard Lucas Semat as a herder that had beaten him up on 4th June when the guard was chasing cows. Thomson’s manager Daniel Yamat had reported the matter to both Wasso and Loliondo police stations. It was decided that the group of leaders, including the village chairman, should consult Daniel Yamat to try to resolve the matter, but this attempt was refused by Yamat who wanted a court case (which those attacked with the occupier’s guards can only dream of). Ndolei Musa was released on bail and told to appear in court on 18th June. There were several postponements. Ndolei did not have a legal representative in court and he admitted without regrets of beating up the guard, who was chasing away cows in preparation for the arrival of tourists to “Enashiva Nature Refuge”. The sentence was supposed to have been read on 4th July, but was postponed until the 11th. On the 22ndNdolei was released with a fine of TSh 150,000. Ndolei was told that if he does it again he will end up in prison. When in the usual manner being asked who “sent him” Ndolei said that he felt obliged to protect his land.
In the evening of 8th July 2014, 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. Almost all Thomson’s guards were present as well as two policemen. 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”.) Olunjai was ordered to kneel, which he didn’t do. The herders were running, and two shots were fired. The second shot hit Olunjai in the hip and he continued running for 50 metres before losing energy and falling to the ground. 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 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. Olunjai was discharged from hospital after one week and recovered completely.
Information from the police said that it was another policeman that had two bullets missing from his weapon. He was under custody and his case had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution. Later on, doubts were aired by local people, who reported that they saw him walking around in Ololosokwan and Soitsambu for weeks until he was transferred to Karatu together with his colleague. It’s very unclear if any investigation at all has taken place.
On the 13th and 14th July 2014, there were meetings in Mondorosi calling for the government to act against the shooting and against Thomson Safaris. Warriors wanted to burn down Thomson’s camp, but were calmed by leaders asking them to wait until after a meeting with the DC. People were bitter and shocked by this shooting that happened while they were contributing money for Torian Karia and Kotikash Kudate that had trespass cases filed against them by Thomson. There was a short news piece on ITV about the protests, but the written press never published the story.
On 15th July there was a very well attended meeting with the District Commissioner, District Executive Director and District Security Officer. The DC told the enraged attendants that wanted Thomson removed from the land once and for all that he had no power to do so, but that the government was very concerned about the shooting. The gathered community fearing that the leaders could be corrupted wanted to prevent them from having a closed meeting with the DC, but did eventually give in.
The recommendations that the DC, 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 (the one including the councillor for Oloipiri) 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.
On 18th July 2014 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 held a meeting, walking the land, without reaching an agreement about grazing. Yamat could only stretch to agree to allow grazing in wooded areas.
The case had to be taken to a meeting with the DC on the 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 would graze on the entire 12,617 acres starting immediately and continuing until the court case was over. Yamat resisted till the end wanting to restrict grazing to bushy parts and far from the camp, but was pushed by the government officials, who in the past had always been friendly to the company, to agree. Yamat was advised by the officials to work with the committee to coordinate grazing and tourism
At a district council meeting on 26th July councillors made a statement saying that they wanted Thomson Safaris to leave community land. The councillor for Oloipiri kept completely quiet and the councillor for Enguserosambu, who in 2010 was corrupted by Thomson, spoke aggressively against Thomson this time. 
The harassment stopped, but there was a relapse on 15thAugust when Yamat returned from a trip and started chasing cows. After this Thomson seem to have restricted from this aggression towards the local community.
The Big Intimidation Campaign
Alais and Killel continued their destructive path in defence of OBC and Thomson, even working together with OBC’s “journalist” Manyerere Jackton, who besides campaigning for the alienation of 1,500 km2 of grazing land - which at least Alais can’t possibly agree with (Killel’s mental state admits anything) - has gone as far as claiming that 70 percent of the Loliondo Maasai would not be Tanzanian. Some Laitayok traditional leaders spoke out against the efforts to separate them from the rest of the Maasai, but to no avail. Killel also appeared in an anti-Loliondo “documentary” in Channel 10 together with OBC’s director, Isaack Mollel.
2015 saw the arrival of a new DC, Hashim Mgandliwa, who was even crazier than his predecessors working for the investors and against the people. In May, after some warriors had beaten up corrupt policemen extorting people at Ololosokwan market, the DC used the occasion to arrest leaders suspected of being able to speak up against the “investors” and made them walk from Wasso to Loliondo in front of police vehicles.  Then an “anti-Kenyan” operation was used by William Alais (Oloipiri councillor) and the Officer Commanding District to attack the village of Kirtalo where OBC have their camp.
When I visited Loliondo again in June 2015, I was arrested, or rather kidnapped since I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone (see above), for three nights and deported to Kenya before having the opportunity to go to Sukenya and Mondorosi, but people who should know told me that herders were still entering the land occupied by Thomson, the guards were still ignoring them as decided after Olunjai Timan was shot. One of Thomson’s drivers was boasting about having seen me, but it’s unclear if or how he and Thomson were involved in the arrest. Killel was, regardless of what he actually did, of course also boasting. Another driver was definitely involved, while the one I first tried to arrange things with decided that it sounded to risky to go and have a look at Thomson’s private nature refuge. The arrest unfortunately made some people even more afraid of communicating with me.
Sadly, Alais continued as councillor for Oloipiri after the elections 2015, the new MP was William Olenasha, which at that time sounded like wonderful news … Joshua Makko – who at that time, and for years until recently, was believed to be very serious - stayed as chairman for Mondorosi, and the new chairman for Sukenya was Ledamat Maito who was described as a great guy and big against Thomson, but was reportedly soon gifted with a motorbike and became “like Thomson’s wife”.
Then, when I visited Kenya in June-July 2016, since my prohibited immigrant status hadn’t been revoked – my fingerprints were registered at border crossings, and I didn’t have anyone brave and competent enough to assist me with a Loliondo visit under such circumstances - I couldn’t go to Tanzania. The Jamhuri published several anti-Loliondo articles, including another one about me, upon the occasion of Manyerere Jackton and by now ex-DC Hashim Mgandilwa having got hold of my request for revocation – which they also boasted about via email and in social media. In one email Manyerere Jackton informed me that, “Finally you will know who’s the worst journalist and who’s the worst mzungu”. Starting on 13th July there were multiple illegal mass arrests of up to ten days, while the law requires that those arrested should be granted bail, or taken to court, within 24 hours. The first person arrested was the secondary school teacher Clinton “Eng’wes” Kairung who had visited me in Kenya. Among several people who were arrested for shorter periods of time was the chairman of Mondorosi. Clinton was eventually charged together with the secondary school teacher Supuk Olemaoi and the NGONET coordinator Samwel Nang’iria. A special task force from Dar es Salaam came to Loliondo for the interrogations, and it later transpired that Samwel and Supuk were beaten during the interrogations, and that Thomson’s and OBC’s big “friend” Gabriel Killel of Kidupo had been meeting with this task force before its arrival in Loliondo. Bail wasn’t granted until advocate Shilinde Ngalula from Legal and Human Rights Centre was himself arrested in full court attire, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition filed a habeas corpus application, lawyers in Arusha held a manifestation, and the Tanganyika Law Society issued a statement. Later was Maanda Ngoitiko of PWC, when summoned to Arusha Police Station to collect her passport, arrested illegally for three nights, taken to Loliondo, and added to the rather bizarre espionage and sabotage charges. Hearings kept being postponed. On 22nd December 2016, 60 days had passed since the last extension, and the plan was to file for dismissal, but as the magistrate chamber was full of police with handcuffs ready for re-arrest upon dismissal, the defence agreed to postpone until 19th January 2017 so that the prosecution could get more time for “investigation”. On 22nd February 2017, the judge dismissed the case since it couldn’t go on forever and the prosecution had now had more than enough time to prepare something coherent. Then followed a very swift re-arrest and the victims of malicious prosecution had to report at Loliondo police station every Friday, while the Office of the Public Prosecutor continued the “investigation”. Though after some time these very cumbersome visits to Loliondo police station were dropped.
Those prosecuted were not those who had shared the most information with me, nobody believes that I engage in “espionage and sabotage”, and the other charges – being in possession of “government documents”, and mentioning “a stupid government” – aren’t even illegal in any way, but that’s not the point. The point was to intimidate everyone in Loliondo into silence, and I could be used as a “dangerous foreigner”. Very sadly, the intimidation campaign was quite successful, and even more so in the Thomson case. Since this blog post is about Thomson Safaris and one of those maliciously prosecuted, Maanda Ngoitiko, is their pet obsession, I must add that when arrested I hadn’t had any contact with her for a very long time, since she kept being very badly harassed about my blog (though never telling me to stop blogging), and after the intimidation campaign, nobody even associated with PWC is allowed to contact me. Neither have I ever got any assistance from PWC, or anyone else half-organised, when on the ground in Loliondo, but have had to arrange things with whoever has taken pity on me, which sometimes has been highly unsuitable people (more than one have later been employed by OBC).
Some time in early May 2018, started a clampdown on the villages that had sued the Tanzanian government in the East African Court of Justice for the illegal operation with mass arson and other crimes in 2017, and to stop the attempt to alienate 1,500 km2, lobbied for by OBC. In a stream of arrests common villagers are severely harassed and intimidated by the Officer Commanding District and several police officers working under him. Their authority to sue the government is questioned, and they are interrogated about who, within and outside Tanzania, is supporting them. The police have demanded that the applicants withdraw the case and that signatories to the minutes of village meetings that authorized the litigation withdraw their signatures, or state that they did not sign the said minutes. They chairmen of Ololosokwan, Kirtalo, and Arash were arrested and released on bail, and now have to report to Loliondo police station on Fridays, which prevented them from attending court on Thursday 7th June. They have been charged with instituting a case against the central government without permission; holding a community meeting without permission from the government; contributing financial resources to pay the lawyers without government approval; and, being involved in the production of a report by the Oakland Institute, an accusation that according to Oakland themselves is unfounded and false. The chairman of Oloirien was arrested for 25 days before being taken to court and granted bail on 1st June, then re-arrested and bail applied for the same day. – and when summoned to Loliondo police station on Monday 4th taken to Simiyu by a task force. Most terrifying of all is that almost nobody dares to speak up and share information about the current abuse, overtly calculated to interfere with the court case.
Under this climate of fear Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland came for a very happy trip to Loliondo, in close company of district officials.
Charity as a Weapon – and Recently Buying who Could Not be Bought
Thomson Safaris have been very active using charity, fundraised for by their former clients, to gain support among Maasai communities and keep their hold on the land. This is another characteristic that they share with OBC. Money raised from tourists by Thomson’s charitable branch Focus on Tanzanian Communities (FoTZC) – has been used to initiate many projects like the construction of teachers’ houses, school dormitories, a dispensary, lately water projects in Oloipiri ward under the “investor-friendly” leadership of William Alais. The tour operator took the US ambassador for the inauguration of the teachers houses in July 2010. Their most advertised project is support to Enyuata Women’s Collaborative – a group which had already formed before Thomson’s arrival with the help of the Laitayok dominated NGO Kidupo – whose sale of beadwork to Thomson’s tourists has featured widely in Tanzanian media. Maasai land is full of compromised people who don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, how accepting charity from wealthy forces that are trying to take your land and destroy your way of life, is bad for one’s credibility. Too many think that you can have the cake and eat it, but Mondorosi village, maybe because of the particularly aggressive hypocrisy of Thomson Safaris, has refused FoTZC projects and has resisted intense pressure, and threats, from district authorities. In May 2015, Mondorosi villagers protested Thomson Safaris and not least the increasingly “investor-friendly” MP for Ngorongoro, Telele, who was in Sukenya to inaugurate the dispensary. The Minister for Health who had also been flown in, left early because of the protests. Though it seems like the Mondorosi chairman in 2017, finally gave in to pressure (he had been one of the victims of illegal arrest), and wrote a letter about opening the door to Thomson’s projects, since they’d been using Mondorosi land for years without any benefit to the village, later clarifying that it had to be done through the District Council not to endanger the court case to regain the land. This is however definitely something that Thomson will (and do) use in their propaganda, and in the court case, and nothing that the chairman can decide on his own. I wish I could get hold of the chairman for a comment about this. I know for a fact that he in December 2017 - when he had already sent those letters – complained, or lied, that Thomson were trying to enter Olepolos sub-village using an employee and a maize milling machine.
On 10th June 2018, a Sonjo youth who’s Loliondo’s worst wannabe corruptee published a post on Facebook of an inauguration of a water project in Mondorosi. He has often done the same with OBC’s “charity”. In a video Joshua Makko is thanking FoTZC and Thomson Safaris while Judi Wineland is seen looking extremely pleased filming it all with a pink phone, Rick Thomson standing behind her. Most attendants consist of DC, security committee and district officials that apparently have taken a break from the ongoing intimidation campaign against the villagers that have sued the government in the East African Court of Justice to stop the threat against the 1,500 km2. While Joshua stands there, three of his fellow chairmen will not be able to attend court since they must present themselves at Loliondo police station, and one chairman has been taken to Simiyu by a special task force.  The wannabe corruptee quickly removed the post, but then published another one without the video, but with photos of the water project, the said maize milling machine, and teachers’ housing under construction.
District Primary Education Officer, District Security Officer, District Commissioner/human rights criminal, Judi Wineland, Rick Thomson, current FoTZC coordinator Elizabeth Mwakajila, Daniel Yamat   photo: Paul Dudui, 2018.
Most telling is that in 2013-2014, and probably also before and after, it was the coordinator of Thomson’s charitable branch that was in charge of finding and training witnesses for the court case. It does however seem like eventually, it was their Arusha manager who was Thomson’s only witness.
Another job by the coordinator for FoTZC was to in 2010 acquire the councillor for Enguserosambu, Kaigil Ngukwo Mashati. This councillor had spoken up clearly and loudly against the evictions for the benefit of OBC in 2009 (he was then councillor for Orgosorok) and when I met him in early 2010 he also had a lot to say also about Thomson and was convinced that the tour operator was involved in the killing of Shangai Putaa. Therefore, it was something of a shock to see Thomson declare in their blog that a new village, Orkiu, in the new Enguserosambu ward, was seeking “partnership” with Tanzania Conservation Ltd accepting funding for their primary school. The school of this village is at quite a distance from the disputed land and closer to Loliondo town. This partnership was reported as having been sought by the councillor, and a letter that the councillor obviously had got a lot of “help” with was attached.  The councillor claimed he had sought help for the primary school from an organisation that just happened to work with Thomson. However, Thomson Safaris themselves reported in their blog that he had told them, “There are some people, even a few leaders, out there who say a lot of things” “They don’t speak for the majority of your neighbors, including us here in Orkiu.”. There are reports that Thomson Safaris approached the Regional Commissioner about this councillor who was known to be interested in becoming District Council Chairman. An email was circulated, apparently shared by the councillor himself in an attempt to justify his actions, where the coordinator of FoTZC, is confirming having talked with the RC about "politics in Loliondo", as promised. He was not elected though. A teachers’ house was built. Thereafter, the councillor kept a low profile about this partnership, but in 2014 FoTZc started building classrooms at Orkiu Primary School. Though after Olunjai Timan was shot in July 2014 it was reported that the councillor spoke out strongly against his “partners”.
How Thomson want to view themselves could can be seen in their interest in the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) in Kenya. In early December 2012 (and maybe also at some later time), some Thomson staff and selected villagers, facilitated by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) went to Laikipia in Kenya to learn about community-based conservation. After the trip, findings were presented at a meeting in Arusha to representatives of FZS, TNC, Ngorongoro District Council and the Honeyguide Foundation. Also in Laikipia, TNC had a few years earlier, provided funds for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to purchase land (Eland Downs) which led to brutal evictions of the local Samburu. When the Samburu fought back with a court case the land was given as a present to the Kenyan government for a national park (Survival International, 2011). TNC later claimed that their only involvement with the Kenya trip was putting Loliondo communities in touch with the NRT. NRT is an umbrella organization, started in 2004 by Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy in Laikipia, a white settler ranching area. Relationships between the local communities and these settlers have been at times been very tense. Notably in 2004 when the pastoralists claimed that the 99-year lease had ended and that the Laikipia grazing lands should be returned to them. To partly take away the risk of having to return the land to the pastoral communities Lewa and others started working with the neighbouring communities, making them profit from conserving wildlife was considered a win-win-win situation for the settlers, wildlife and communities, respectively. Outside support has since been provided by many international conservation and development-oriented donor groups, from the USA and Europe. Over the years NRT has expanded and nowadays includes a membership of over 30 conservancies. That’s one side of the story while the other side tells that NRT now controls 8% of the Kenyan territory via co-opting local leaders as members of the trust board, which has led to loss of grazing land, and NRT is expanding into the oil-rich Turkana County with US$11.5 million donated by the Tullow Oil Company for the establishment of more conservancies. (see: A Conspiracy in the Wild) Anyway, whatever one’s view on NRT is, Thomson Safaris are a century too late if they want to emulate the white settlers.
“In Kenya the Northern Rangelands Trust's so-called community conservancies are no more than buffer zones, intelligence gathering stations and gatekeepers to keep white-owned ranches safe from the pastoralist menace”, is how Dennis Morton, who has studies the issues and particularly Tullow Oil, sums it all up.
As said, TNC deny any involvement with Thomson, though in 2012 Thomson’s project manager and journalist conducted research for a university degree at the occupied land through a fellowship with TNC. TNC sponsors NRT, AWF, and the Honeyguide Foundation.
FZS, have been scheming against Maasai land rights since the 1950’s, Thomson’s notorious local manager, Daniel Yamat, went to work with them for around two year before returning to Thomson, but meanwhile kept being of help to his former employers, currently Masegeri Tumbuya Rurai, who as district natural resource officer was involved in the 2009 illegal evictions for the benefit of OBC and some years ago was mentioned as the most dangerous person in Loliondo driving around in a Nissan Patrol gifted to him by OBC, is working as FZS’s Project Leader of Serengeti Ecosystem Management Project.
Honeyguide Foundation is an organisation “dedicated to the long-term support of communities and their conservation of wildlife and natural resources” and it does this using tourism. In October 2012, Responsible Tourism Tanzania, an auditing and certifying organisation that originated from the people behind Honeyguide, announced that Thomson Safaris had kindly provided office space for RTTZ’s researchers and auditors. In 2013, Honeyguide employed Thomson’s long time “journalist” and project manager for some time. And, Thomson’s Arusha manager, John Bearcroft, is on the board of Honeyguide. Though, in social media, a RTTZ representative has claimed that they are independent from Honeyguide, and don’t have anything to do with Thomson.
AWF, openly have a “partnership” with Thomson that’s frequently mentioned by Thomson, and sometimes also by AWF themselves.
Current silence
Thomson Safaris are getting away with almost everything, but at least they were featured in a recent report by the Oakland Institute. To the report writer Judi Thomson again complained that nobody has written their story, or come to visit them when Tanzanian press and some travel sites will publish their press releases without question, Green Living Project made a vomitive PR movie for their land grab, Tanzanian authorities will stop journalists interested in the story or, like in the Vice case, physically force then to only listen Thomson’s side, tourists (me) that ask questions will have their passports confiscated and be deported, and bloggers (me later) will be illegally arrested and deported. And what’s worse, Thomson’s local critics (like those criticising OBC) are threatened and defamed by local authorities, their citizenship is questioned, and they are illegally arrested and maliciously prosecuted. Proudly, Judi Wineland brings up Thomson’s relationship with the DC - Rashid Mfaume Taka, who first seemed like another kind of DC, but then ordered an illegal operation, full of human rights abuse, in 2017 – the District Executive Director, and “the councillor” (William Alais of Oloipiri) that keep committing these crimes that have led to an intense climate of fear in Loliondo, recommends talking to them, and think that if the DC doesn’t know, it means that researchers haven’t made any work in the area, when at this stage involving the DC means that any kind of research will be made impossible.
As far as I know, the case is still in the court of appeal, and Thomson continue with ruthless hypocrisy presenting their land grab as philanthropy, rabidly defend their “landownership”, working closely with William Alais, and now also having entered Mondorosi, while bringing many tourists and student on “study abroad” programs to their “Enashiva Nature Refuge”. Judging from the stories by such students, Daniel Yamat says that there was barley cultivated on the land before Thomson came in 2006, the Maasai also used it for grazing and collecting firewood, and poaching occurred, that once designated as conservation land, grazing was significantly limited and community-based conservation initiatives were begun, and that Maasai herders are now permitted to water livestock at Enashiva and to graze herds sparingly during the dry season, while the students can observe “illegal” grazing.
As far as I know, and I’m now almost completely cut off from information, Thomson’s guards still, as decided after Olunjai Timan was shot, ignore the herders that enter their cattle onto the land, which is the only silver lining in this long and sad story, but the land must be returned to the Maasai for proper land use planning, and security for their coming generations, while the repression against those working for this is worse than ever.
There have now been too many years waiting for justice.
Susanna Nordlund