Sunday, September 14, 2008

Follow-up to Maasai Dispute

(a lot of reading, I know, but please do your best to get through it)

After you’ve read this Journal, please pass it on to all your contacts, and seek the support of your government to demand a full and independent inquiry into all of these events!


I write this as a follow-up to my previous Journal (attached), on the death of my friend Trent Keegan, including some worrying events that have taken place since his murder.
Trent Keegan hailed from New Zealand, but had worked in Ireland for many years as a photographer and freelance photojournalist. He was murdered in Nairobi only a few days after staying with me in Tanzania, where he had been investigating a story about alleged attacks on local Maasai herdsmen by the security guards of Thomson Safaris and local policemen.
According to Trent’s report, several herdsmen have been beaten, while one was shot and badly wounded. Women have also been attacked and beaten and dumped far away from their homes, having to walk up to 10km to get home. One pregnant woman miscarried after being attacked and abducted; while another, who was seven months pregnant, gave birth prematurely and lost her infant four days later, according to Trent.
The Arusha Times of 17 May last, reported that Thomson’s have been trying to stop local Maasai herdsmen from grazing their cattle at the Sukenya Farm. The company had intended to begin using the farm for tourist activities in May last, hence their determination and urgency to ban or exclude the local herdsmen from the area.
The land in question, which is close to the Serengeti National Park and the Kenyan Masai Mara, is a pristine and beautiful landscape. This is, in no small way, as a result of the traditional grazing methods of the Maasai, which ensured that land is not overgrazed, and wildlife is left unharmed. For many Maasai, the animals represent their forebears, and as such, are allowed to go unharmed. They live off the produce of their own herds of domesticated cattle and goats, and will only hunt in times of severe shortage or drought.
The Maasai don’t see this as ‘wildlife conservation’ as such; they see it as self-preservation: avoid a snake or lion and it will normally leave you alone. And just as zebra, impala and wildebeest will often graze together to increase their chances of detecting predators, so too will herds of wild animals act as a very effective early-warning system for Maasai herdsmen.
Occasionally, during ceremonial passage rites into manhood for young Maasai Warriors, lions are hunted and killed. However, despite condemnations by so-called conservationists, this bears no comparison to the massive slaughter, to this day, by tourists taking part in game hunting safaris in private Game Reserves in the region.
The land at Sukenya was originally leased by Tanzania Breweries Ltd, and subsequently sold to Thomson’s, although the Maasai insist that TBL didn’t own the land in the first place, and had “forged fake Maasai names .... giving them permission to buy the land”, according to Trent’s report.
The restrictions which have now been put in place effectively prevents the local Maasai from the Irmasiling Location from reaching the District hospital at Wasso, and the market town of Loliondo; forcing them to detour across the border into Kenya and back to Tanzania via the villages of Soitsambu or Ololosokwan. Likewise, grazing and water sources are restricted now, causing great hardship to the herdsmen, and leading to conflict with the Thomson Safari guards: “a battle did ensue between the company guards and a team of Maasai men who had taken their cattle to drink at a brook which runs between the Sukenya farm and the Maasai settlement at Irmasiling”, according to Robert Ole Nyangusi, Thomson Safari’s assistant camp manager at Loliondo, as quoted in the Arusha Times.
When Trent was in the area carrying out his investigations, he was approached by Thomson guards in this particular area. He told me later that he felt very threatened by their behaviour, and felt so unsafe that he decided to leave Tanzania and return to Nairobi as soon as possible.
At first impression though, when Trent’s body was found face down in a storm drain in Nairobi’s busy Uhuru Highway, it seemed likely that he was simply the unfortunate victim of a mugging that went terribly wrong, in a city where muggings are not uncommon. However, the strange thing about this particular attack was that Trent’s laptop and camera were apparently the only items stolen, while his cash, passport, visa cards, and many other valuables he was carrying were left untouched by his killers. His laptop and camera have never been recovered by the police, despite some confusing reports to the contrary.
After his death, many people, including the Nairobi police, suspected some more sinister motive than mere theft, with some suggesting there might be a possible connection between Thomson Safaris, whom Trent was investigating, and his killers. This is further compounded by the fact that Thomson’s manager later produced files which would appear to have come from Trent’s computer.
Obviously upset by the adverse affect this was having on their business, two directors of Thomson’s, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland visited Tanzania recently to try to get to the bottom of the allegation against their staff in the land dispute; and also to try to clear their company’s name in relation to Trent’s murder.
The two claimed to be anxious to talk to as many local people as possible to get the full story, and it seemed, during my initial contacts with them at least, that they were genuinely interested in finding out the truth, and coming to some satisfactory conclusion for all concerned.
I was contacted by Rick, and asked if I would meet with them to help them get to the truth. Strangely though, Rick was unwilling to come to my home to meet (despite having a virtual fleet of safari vehicles at his command), and asked me to travel the 45km to where they were staying at a guest house in the compound of the district hospital. Although I don’t have transport and would have to hitch a ride, I was anxious to help in whatever way I could, and agreed to meet them at the hospital. However, Rick’s unwillingness to go out of his way to meet me rang some alarm bells in my mind about the sincerity of his ‘fact-finding’ mission.
When I arrived, despite my previous insistence that we meet alone, they insisted I join a meeting they were already having with some people who, it seems, were a hand-picked committee selected by the local District Commissioner. I was later informed that this group was not delegated by the Village Government to represent them in negotiations with Thomson’s, and few of those present even knew what their precise function or role was. The Village Government in fact, had been waiting patiently since the previous day in Soitsambu, having been requested to meet with Rick and Judi; (the Village Government is the democratically elected representative body for the people at village level, and is a primary link in the Tanzanian democratic system, right up to parliament and the president).
Against my better judgement I eventually agreed to join their meeting, although on entering the room, I immediately sensed an atmosphere of hostility against me, as if my arrival had been anticipated and discussed beforehand. I felt very uncomfortable, and made a number of attempts to leave the meeting, but was delayed each time on some pretext or other. Eventually though, I simply stood up, excused myself, and left. This obviously upset some plan they were hatching against me, as everyone in the room followed me outside as I left.
Suspecting something was afoot, I immediately rang a friend and asked him to contact the Irish embassy if he didn’t hear from me within the hour. Sounds a bit like John Wayne I suppose: “If I’m not back within the hour, send in the Posse”! However, this was serious stuff, and after losing a close friend to murderers only weeks before, I didn’t want to take any chances.
I began to leave the compound, but was told I was not allowed to leave. I insisted that I was free to go wherever I pleased unless I was under arrest.
With that, (and I promise I’m not exaggerating), a Thomson Safaris vehicle sped into the compound and skidded to a halt beside me, raising a cloud of dust and loose gravel in the air. Before it had fully stopped, up to ten gunmen armed with rifles and machine guns jumped out and took up positions, military-style, around the compound, effectively preventing me from leaving.
I’m no hero by any means, so I suppose I should have been scared for my life. But somehow, although I strongly believed I was about to be taken away to be beaten or shot, the only emotion I felt, and the only defence I could think of at the time, was anger and rage. As they say, I ‘flipped my lid’ and demanded of Rick and Judi why I was being detained against my will by their gunmen, after I had come, at their invitation, to try to help them resolve some of their difficulties with the local community. I was informed that these were the local police force, which had been ordered to detain me by the local District Commissioner, (although I’ve never been able to fully verify this).
And why, I demanded to know, did the police arrive in a Thomson’s vehicle? Ludicrously, Judi tried to justify this by saying the police can commandeer any vehicle they wish, and it was a mere coincidence that they just happened to find a Thomson’s vehicle to commandeer at that particular moment.
Come on Judi, give us a break!
Understandably, she didn’t pursue that line of argument any further.
The real coincidence though, is that in Trent’s investigation (a copy of which is attached below) he refers to allegations of collusion between the police force and Thomson’s: “Maasai herdsman have been attacked, beaten, shot and bribed or charged horrific fees by Thomson Safari guards and police acting it seems on TS’s behalf”. So if these were actually members of the police force, then here was the evidence of that same collusion taking place, right before our very eyes; and under the orders of the DC too, as I had been informed!
I realised that earlier suspicions I had about Rick’s insincerity were justified: that I had been set up from the start to discredit me in some way. But thankfully his plan backfired, and the large crowd which had gathered from the nearby hospital to watch the spectacle, witnessed their bullying tactics at first hand. One kindly, if somewhat insensitive man asked why such a large force had been sent to arrest ‘an old man’ like me.
The gunmen looked decidedly uncomfortable now, and seemed ill at ease as to what to do next; while Rick looked decidedly embarrassed that some idiot had sent in the troops prematurely, with so many people around; and understandably, the crowd looked on with sheer delight at the whole fiasco, delighted at the diversion from their own troubles at the hospital. I suppose some were secretly hoping I’d be shot, just to add some additional drama and excitement to the spectacle.
After over an hour of me shouting and arguing for my release, and probably due in no small way to the embarrassing scene I was creating for them, I was allowed to leave and make my way home. Tellingly though, a Lutheran bishop who had accompanied the “Punch Rick&Judi Show” on their ‘peace mission’, advised me quietly not to take my normal route home for fear of attack. He was however, obviously unfamiliar with the area: it had already reached darkness, and other than travelling through bush and forests, with elephants, hyenas, lions and leopards roaming freely, there was only one road I could take home.
Thankfully though, I arrived safely, and without further incident, but still ‘hopping mad’. As we passed through Soitsambu village on the way, I met with some members of the Village Government who had been there since the previous day waiting to meet Rick and Judi. They were understandably angry at being snubbed by the two, yet none seemed too surprised.
Rick and Judi demonstrated their insincerity and lack of consideration later though, when neither thought to show me the courtesy of calling to see if I had arrived home safely, or to apologise for all the trouble and danger they had put me through - an indication of their true cold-hearted nature perhaps. And yet, even after all that had happened, I was still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and tried repeatedly to ring them and text them, to see if we could salvage anything from the day’s fiasco. To this day, I’ve received no answer or reply!
Next day I received a letter from the DC demanding that I report to his office the following morning, where I appeared before the District Security Committee. I was questioned at length, like some sort of criminal, about my presence in Tanzania, and my association with Trent in particular.
The DC later produced files he had apparently been given by Thomson’s manager, which appeared to have been downloaded or ‘hacked’ from my computer. Perhaps more disturbing and sinister though, is the fact that he produced files which appear to have been downloaded from Trent’s computer. As you will be aware, Trent’s laptop was stolen by his killers, and has not been recovered since. It would therefore seem fair to assume that they (his killers) are the only ones with access to his computer now!
When I asked the DC for copies of the files in his possession, so that I might try to identify how they had been accessed, particularly in relation to Trent’s files, he flatly refused. It seems, in his view, any allegations that staff of Thomson Safaris are attacking, beating and shooting ‘his’ community, or might be somehow associated with Trent’s murderers, are unworthy of any investigation or serious attention; while my presence as a potential donor, at the invitation of the local community to help in the development of a secondary school for Maasai children; and Trent’s investigations into attacks on local people, are serious felonies worthy of his full attention.
I can’t honestly say that Thomson Safaris were involved in Trent’s murder. I don’t even know at first hand if the allegations about attacks on the local community are true. But from my personal experience of their self-serving and ruthless hypocrisy which I witnessed on that day, I can just about believe anything of them now.
But whether they like it or not, all of these allegations and suspicions need to be investigated fully; and the real truth MUST be exposed. However, since the Maasai have no real voice outside Tanzania, this will only happen if the whole world is aware of what is being claimed, and demands answers. Without this, the story might conveniently be hidden away in the hope that it is quietly forgotten. If true though, and nothing is done to expose them, then local people will continue to suffer attacks and brutality, eventually being moved off their land entirely, with their rich and valuable culture, and their lives destroyed forever.
And why should I be concerned?? Well, I remember a promise I made to a good friend when police came to question him about his activities in the region: “Brian, keep these files safe just in case anything happens…” Trent Keegan felt passionate about this story and he was not being melodramatic – that wasn’t his style – just practical.
I suppose also, I remember my feelings of utter helplessness and deep-deep sadness and shame at the plight of the American Indians when I read Dee Brown’s ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ for the first time. I remember asking myself how I might have reacted had I been there at that particular moment in history: would I have spoken out in protest? Or would I have sat idly by like so many others at the time?
If I fail to make my voice heard in protest against the self-same physical and cultural genocide which appears to be taking place against the Maasai today, then, to my eternal shame, I will have my answer.
I would appeal to you to forward this email to everyone in your address book and mailing list.

PS. As far as I am aware, Thomson Safaris has no connection with the European based Thomson Travel, and no connection or involvement in these events is intended.


jim_burr said...

Thank you for fulfilling your promise to Trent. I know his loved-ones appreciate your efforts. And thank you from me, for taking the risk. said...

Terribly disturbing insights, and I admire your courage

misokasick said...

I am afraid people such like Brian are the ones who come to Africa under the umbrella of freeing African people from the misery, but ended up destroying the lives of the people they had intended to work. I am currently working on my research regarding this conflict, and it is disturbing to read such untruthful events as narrated by Brian. I am sure Brian had good intention of bringing an awareness of poor policies implemented by the govenment instead of cooking malicous accusation. I think for us who are educated Tanzanian, would appreciate if you would join a group that would work on advising the government in this conflict instead of potraying such negativity about this conflict. This does not distinguish Brian from other so called volunteers, but yet destroy communities by instigating violence. Mind you Brian, some NGO's are benefiting from this conflict, because they get more funding if the conflict keep going. Please white people wake up and learn on how to work with communities. You can never bypass the government and succed.

I expected with your age you would tackled the issue more truthful and with fairness. The issue is not about Thomson Safari's the issue is on policy implementation from colonial era to current government.

God give you wisdom and peace in your heart.

Tembo said...

I read with disgust the racial slur on Brian MacCormaic. This is infuriating to be ignored.

‘Please white people [stupid!] wake up and learn on how to work with communities,’ Misokasick starts off the assault. Listen carefully Misokasick. We are in the 21st Century. Racists like you must shade their teeth and horns. Short of that they will die out. Adolf Hitler, the greatest racists that ever existed, died out. I do not see you being able to debate anything.

Brian might be an Irish but that does not warrant you to insult him and like minded as ‘white people.’ Empty headed brutes will pull insults from the sky instead of arguing.

You also boasted that ‘you can never bypass the government and succed (sic!).’ I am going to avoid minding your broken English.

Instead you should remember that the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania has in many cases being acting unfairly.

If criticizing the Government is bypassing it and that is, to you, like criticizing the institution of motherhood so be it. I make no apology. I should rather remind you of the followings. In 2006 Zitto Babwe MP for Kigoma North did ‘bypass’ the Government and the parliament which is dominated by the ruling CCM and exposed the looting of the country’s resources by BARICK and he was thrown out of the parliament for months. In the end it turned out that Zitto was absolutely right and now he is a national eye.

In 2006 the Government defended, unfairly, the American Richmond company. The likes of Dr.
Willbroad Slaa MP for Karatu did ‘bypass’ the Government and succeeded to ring the bell. Finally Edward Lowassa, Prime Minister, was forced to resign due to corruption.

People ‘such like [sic!] Brian,’ ‘some NGO's [sic!]’ and other activists are struggling to ‘bypass’ the Government to find answers for the following questions and likely will succeed: (1) Can a company legally buy a stolen property? (2) Is Thomson Safari and the Tanzanian police banding together like poisons worms in Loliondo? (3) Who shot Lesinko ole Nanyoi in April 2008? (5) Who murdered Trent Keegan in Nairobi in May 2008? (6) Is it fair for a family of four to buy 12,600 acres land which is pastureland for hundreds of people who have traditionally and communally owned that land? (7) Does President Jakaya Kikwete have any personal interest in the company in question?

You also said that ‘I think for us who are educated Tanzanian [sic!], would appreciate if you would join a group that would work on advising the government in this conflict instead of potraying [sic!] such negativity about this conflict.’ Is that a wishful thinking?

Who are you? Are you a Spokesperson of the Tanzanian state on this conflict?

I offer this, to Misokasick. Any time, Misokasick, my boy. Call a public debate. Any show. Any place. Any platform. Just alert the public in time. Let us see what you are made of.

If Misokasick had had his way, Edward Lowassa would still be the Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania. Daudi Balali would still be the Governor of the Central Bank of Tanzania.

Daniel Yana and Basil Mramba would still be walking free after abusing power in support of the so-called investors to loot the minerals of the country.

With grave concerns,

Cyn said...

Brian, thank you for your safekeeping and distribution of Trent's story and the story he was working on re the Maasai. It's a very important task you have completed on his behalf. I never knew him, but wish I'd been fortunate enough. I have posted your blog link and Trents web site to my facebook page and hope others will also. P.S. Your Nairobi drivers entry was a hoot. Glad you're out of that place now. Regards, Cyn

curious said...

you are asking the wrong questions. What does Thomson have to gain from a "close" relationship with the government. Check into the land deal, find the deed. Was any money really exchanged? Seems like a fairly large piece of property. What did they pay for it. Did they pay for it or was it an exchange of favors? Money is the ultimate motivator.
Have we not learned anything from African history? It is not the people, it is about wealth and power.
Keep digging, you will find the answer

Luarley said...

Tanzania is my country but it's such a shameful perpetrator