Monday, September 1, 2008

A Tribute to a friend and colleague, Trent Keegan

5th June 2008

I'm writing about a very good friend of mine, photojournalist Trent Keegan, who was murdered recently in Nairobi. Many of you will already have seen reports of his death, but may not have known of my connection with him.
Trent was a native of New Zealand, although he spent many years working in Ireland (Galway) as a freelance photographer.
Although I only met him about two months ago through a mutual friend, Trent stayed in my home, both in Kenya, and then, subsequently, when I moved to work in Tanzania. In fact, most of the time he was in Africa he stayed with me, and we became very close friends. Being a photographer myself, we had a lot in common, as well as our love for the outdoors and a desire to give a little of ourselves to expose the plight of the poor and oppressed of this world.
Trent was working on a very important story before he was killed, trying to expose the exploitation of the Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya by major tourism and safari companies, and in particular to the alleged harassment of local Maasai herdsmen in the Loliondo, Sukenia, and Soit Sambu region of Tanzania, near Ngorongoro Crater by the security guards of Thompson (or Thomson) Safaris.
One man, who Trent had interviewed and photographed in hospital, was allegedly shot by Thompson security guards, and there are many allegations that local people have been terrorised by the same guards. Seemingly, the company are trying to set up an exclusive game reserve, and locals say they are being forced from their land to make way for the Reserve. Naturally, Thompson's deny this and claim the local people are behind them in their venture.
Many people, including the Kenyan police, are very suspicious though, at why Trent's passport, along with about 4,000Ksh (US$50), and his visa cards and other valuables were found on his body, while his laptop computer, camera and mobile phone, containing all the information and photos of the stories he was investigating (particularly the Maasai story) were the only things stolen. According to one of the investigating police officers, if it were just ordinary thugs or murderers who had killed Trent, even his shoes would have been taken in preference to a computer, which might be difficult to sell or dispose of discretely.
The attached photographs were taken in the early morning of Friday 23rd May, just before Trent returned to Nairobi, and only a few short days before he died. As keen photographers, we had no problem getting up at around 5am to go walking through the bush to catch the beautiful sunrise and whatever else we might see. Little did we both realise that these would be the last photos of Trent.
If you're interested, there's a very good book which has many parallels with the present-day plight of the Maasai in Serengeti. "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown, tells the story of the genocide and decimation of the Native American Indians by the
US government and the advance of ‘civilisation’: - the destruction of their traditional way of life, their culture, and their language; it highlights the constant battles they were forced to fight until they were finally defeated and pushed into useless and barren Reservations. And yet, despite this, it was they who were branded ‘savages’.
Another book you might read is: "No Man's Land" by George Monbiot, which gives a graphic account of the present-day intrusion of game reserves, ranches, crop plantations and industry into Maasai grazing lands. Traditional pastures, and access to water sources and grasslands, are being cut off as whole communities are forced into the less fertile lands.
Wildlife conservationists, usually on behalf of their pay-masters in the tourism industry, often claim they are trying to protect the environment and wildlife. When land is taken over land for game reserves or ‘conservation areas, the Maasai are moved away in order to “protect the wildlife”. Stories abound of how the Maasai endanger wildlife species because they will kill to protect their herds or themselves. There is also the unchallenged myth that every young Maasai boy must kill a lion before he is fully accepted as a warrior of the tribe.
But these ludicrous claims conveniently ignore the fact that the Maasai have lived in perfect harmony with the wildlife and the landscape for thousands of years, and have been an integral part of the eco-system; an eco-system that now attracts thousands of tourists to the region every day, and which itself is now threatening to destroy the very environment that brought them there in the first place.
Ludicrously, now that the rapacious advance of so-called 'civilisation' has virtually destroyed the global environment, we have so-called environmentalists and conservationists dashing around in huge fuel-guzzling 4x4s to 'preserve' our environment and our planet, and pointing the finger of blame at the victims rather than the culprits.
The above photos were taken of Trent during his stay at Emanyata Secondary School in Ngorongoro District of Tanzania; taken on Friday 23rd May, only three days before his murder in Nairobi. The map of Tanzania shows the region, between Lake Natron and Serengeti National Park (outlined in green).
A beautiful landscape in the Maasai heartland of Tanzania, but with an undercurrent of bitterness and resentment felt by the Maasai community at how their traditional customs and lifestyles are being swept aside in the interests of big business, the tourism industry, and even in the sometimes dubious name of conservation!

1 comment:

Siranne said...

Thank-you Brian for writting this blog. It's good to know that someone out there is continuing Trent's story for him. I would love the story he was working on to really be blown out of the water, the way I know he would have done had he not been murdered by the souless people who were behind his death. Even if his murder is never pinned on them at least their downfall would be some recompense and bring peace of mind to many.
Unfortunately, as Trent I'm sure knew, the Massai people's suffering will not make it into the newspapers unless its linked to the Western world and there are many who don't want this link to be discovered. I pray that it will be by someone left standing that's as honest and brave as Trent was... is there anyone who can fill his shoes?