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The Negotiations – Another Update on Thomson Safaris’ Land Grab in Loliondo

From Susana Nordlund's blog - View from the Termite Mound

"It’s been reported that people thanked God for being able to see the beginning of the end and that they would get their land back. Some also talked about the owners of Thomson Safaris being misled by their employees about the situation on the ground since they have never talked with the community face to face, but any “innocence” on the part of the owners seems very unlikely after so many years and after reports by various people, and it seems especially unlikely to someone who has followed their ruthless hypocrisy online. Some people attending the meeting asked MRG to help them against the harassment by Thomson."

I have got some information from Loliondo that I’ve tried to check with different sources and would like to share here on my blog.
Let’s start with the rare good news: the appeal was successful! On 31 May 2011 the case against Tanzania Conservation Ltd (Thomson Safaris) and Tanzania Breweries Ltd was dismissed on a preliminary objection. The objection was that it’s exactly the same case as in the late 80s, which is not correct. An appeal was sought and in May 2012 it was granted. Now there will be a full trial in the high court. The court case moves slowly delaying the deliverance of justice. I’m worried, but it seems people closer to the happenings seem confident that justice will prevail and the land will be returned to the community.
In late October 2011, after my latest trip to Tanzania, well attended – by all three sections (Purko, Loita, Laitayok) - meetings were held with the communities in Sukenya, Mondorosi and Enadooshoke to come up with a compromise solution for an out of court agreement with Thomson Safaris. I heard some rumours about this, but since the communication between lawyers was ongoing I couldn’t get the full story until January 2012.

The international law firm Hausfelds offered to Minority Rights Group International– the international organisation that is assisting the community with the court case – to mediate a peaceful solution to the conflict. Hausfelds approached Thomson’s lawyers to ask if the company would be interested in an out of court agreement and the lawyers came back with the reply that Rick Thomson said he would be interested in hearing more.

The last week of October 2011 a MRG representative attended community consultative meetings, arranged by Pastoral Women’s Council, to come up with a realistic proposal for a negotiating package with Thomson. A person from a Loliondo NGO shared with the community members “various successful community agreements with tourism companies in the country” and the MRG representative presented different negotiation options. People were encouraged to express themselves about what they would want from the negotiations and equal time of speech was given to men and women. The MRG representative “drew community members’ attention on the fact that the agreement of any negotiation will not necessarily be ideal or perfectly fair but that fundamental stakes of both parts will globally be taken into account”. The meetings were among other community leaders attended by the allegedly Thomson befriended Ward Councillor for Oloipiri and by the District Health and Development Officer delegated by the District Commissioner. The District Commissioner himself came to the last meeting and held a speech in favour of the way of negotiation. The DC is the highest government representative in the district and important part of his work is to protect “investors’” interests against the people, and he is the man who in 2010 had me thrown out of Tanzania for as a tourist asking some questions about Thomson Safaris, which I’ve written about HERE
The negotiation package that the community came up with is, if the option of Thomson returning the entire land under dispute to the community is not met, to recognise that the company have made investments in some part of the land and therefore allow them to keep 2,000 acres of the 12,617 acres of Maasai grazing land that they claim as their private “Enashiva Nature Refuge”. Then a participatory and transparent contract for Thomson’s use for fees of the 10,617 acres that are to be returned to the community could be worked out. Mapping was made to establish water points, foot paths and grazing areas that the community need access to.
It’s been reported that people thanked God for being able to see the beginning of the end and that they would get their land back. Some also talked about the owners of Thomson Safaris being misled by their employees about the situation on the ground since they have never talked with the community face to face, but any “innocence” on the part of the owners seems very unlikely after so many years and after reports by various people, and it seems especially unlikely to someone who has followed their ruthless hypocrisy online. Some people attending the meeting asked MRG to help them against the harassment by Thomson.
I’ve been told that the Thomson befriended and employed chairman of Sukenya was in Arusha and did not attend the meeting, but he made his presence felt by phone and was not supportive of the process.
It’s not up to me to decide, but to reward a violent invader with 2,000 acres of land is too far from justice to be even slightly digestible.
The above described is the negotiation package that was returned to Thomson’s lawyers and what then followed was that the owners of the company told the Arusha Regional Commissioner that they did not know anything about negotiations and that everything were lies made up by Pastoral Women’s Council.
More meetings were held the first months of 2012, including a Laitayok meeting allegedly sponsored by Thomson. The Laitayok arguments were that they respect the government’s decision, like they did siding with OBC in 2009, that the court case will likely fail anyway, that Thomson have promised them development projects, and that the Purko and Loita are too dominant.

The harassment, violence and arrests were reduced when the court case was filed in 2010 and people ventured more into the occupied land in defiance of Thomson to graze their animals. Though it still happens that they are chased away and young boys are beaten by Thomson’s guards. On 23 December 2011 Mbario, a 17 year old boy from Sukenya, was brought to Wasso police station for trespassing and he had to spend the night there. 

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.The week leading up to International Women’s Day 2012 Thomson had women from Loliondo exhibit themselves at the Impala roundabout in Arusha next to a big sign explaining that Thomson were sponsoring them. It’s also been reported that these women said they sang at the airport and met American journalists.

In early April 2012 there was an operation with Thomson rounding up and detaining 200 cows in various herds and the police demanding fines from the owners. Somehow they happened to also lock up cows belonging to the shockingly corrupted councillor for Enguserosambu. The councillor phoned Thomson apologizing and the cows were released, but the police followed up trying to collect fines.
The detainment of cows led to the lawyer for the court case writing a letter explaining why the police had broken the law. This upset the District Commissioner who summoned community members to his office where Thomson’s manager at the disputed land was also present. I’ve been told the District Commissioner tried intimidation tactics but the community members seem not to have backed down. A representative of Pastoral Women’s Council was not allowed to attend the meeting, but was abused separately. The District Commissioner accused the organisation of having been involved in the killing of a giraffe on the disputed land and he said he would prosecute them. This allegation is not being taken seriously.

Despite intense pressure from authorities Mondorosi village is still refusing to accept money from Thomson for a teacher’s house. In June 2012 two men from Mondorosi were detained by Thomson and brought to the police station. They had to spend two days detained without food before being brought to court and charged with illegally cutting tree branches for fencing of their bomas. I was informed that one of the men was released on bail and the other was still in prison, but I haven’t been able to get updates on this, and don’t know what these men have to say about the charges brought against them.

In June 2012 I got information that Thomson’s owners Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland were visiting Sukenya. At the beginning of the month they were holding long meetings with Laitayok leaders demanding they chase cows belonging to Purko and Loita clans off the land. They were offering dispensaries and more classrooms. This is clearly attempting bribery and trying to create serious clan conflict. They lied to those present, denying that they were involved in the land case and saying it is only with Tanzania Breweries, not them. They were also pressurising the District Commissioner to stop the community grazing while the case is ongoing, whereas the fact that the case is unresolved means the community should have full access to the land.

The District Commissioner then held a meeting on 12th June with village chairpersons and key leaders to tell them to stop grazing on the disputed land until the case is decided. Thomson were represented by the District Commissioner, the District Executive Director, Thomson’s manager, Thomson’s attorney and the usual representative of Focus on Tanzanian Communities. The community was assisted by a representative of Legal and Human Rights Centre. Since the meeting was held in Sukenya the majority of those present were Laitayok, but nobody agreed with Thomson about grazing. The outcome was that the communities would go on to hold general meetings to come up with a proposal. Mondorosi and Sakala held a meeting where also some people who have worked with Thomson participated. They decided they should graze their animals without interference and everyone agreed this notion which they would report to the District Commissioner and Thomson’s manager. Their argument was that if Thomson can bring tourists they can bring livestock. It’s so sad and bizarre that the communities would need that kind of argument. The who, when and how of grazing on Maasai land should be managed by the affected Maasai, with maybe arguably the involvement of Tanzanian authorities, if these had the best interest of the people and the land in mind. A tour operator from Boston with landowning ambitions should have nothing to do with such things, and definitely not be allowed to own Maasai land.

The latest I’ve heard was that on 20th July Thomson brought two men to the police over grazing and that they were locked up.

The case with Ololosokwan village discovering that the title deed of the land they have been leasing to &Beyond’s Klein’s Camp for many years was still in the name of the old land grabber Tanzania Cattle Products has been solved. In May 2012 the court decided that after going through the District Council and Land Commissioner it would be returned, and in June the title was revoked and returned to the village. When the contract with &Beyond ends in 2014 it will be renewed – or not – depending on the best interest of the village. I’ve been told that one important effect of this title deed, apart from reducing the obvious danger of some external force attempting to become the landowner, is that it could offer some protection against the plans of a Game Controlled Area as in Wildlife Conservation act of 2009. I wrote about this issue in my latest safari report that can be read HERE.
I’m having problems getting any straight information about OBC and have got reports that the community and OBC have reconciled and the hunting company is involved in all kinds of philanthropic projects (haven’t they always?). I have also got reports that almost all village leaders and ward councillors have agreed to vacate OBC’s area during the hunting season that has now begun, but that this will fail since people really need this land for grazing their animals. I’m not even sure how big this area is. I’m not updated about what is happening regarding the “corridor” in danger of being converted into a Game Controlled Area as in Wildlife Conservation act of 2009, but find it puzzling that some people don’t seem to link this issue to OBC. Lately I’ve only been told that OBC are very “quiet”, but that young people would like to know what kind of agreement leaders have with the company and why cows have again been chased away already before the current season started. OBC rangers are also reported to be investigating recent elephant poaching. This is part of a worrying mix of “investors” and authorities that endanger the rule of law. Worrying in a similar way is leaving basic education and health facilities to donations from “investors” involved in ugly power games (and from their unsuspecting guests).
About the constitutional case, I’ve only heard that it is moving extremely slowly and like in the Thomson case there are defendants that are prone to witness tampering. The problem is that three judges are needed in a constitutional case and it’s not easy to make three judges sit down at the same time. It can take years. I’ve written a summary of the history of OBC HERE
I would be very grateful for receiving via email any Loliondo information or any suggestions about how to get rid of the land grabbers. Questions are of course also more than welcome.
And, with all the tour operators organising Tanzania trips, please don’t travel with Thomson Safaris!
Susanna Nordlund