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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Praise of the Obnoxious: National Geographic Adventure on Thomson Safaris in Tanzania!

A very dear friend recently alerted me about an article published in The Arusha Times of January 24, 2009. The article featured the praises showered on Thomson Safaris based in Boston in the United States of America by National Geographic Adventure.

I run into my home library and picked up the copy of the weekly newspaper. I read, ‘Thomson Safaris earned top ratings for National Geographic Adventure's 2009 Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth, according to a press release by the company.’

The release added that for ‘the second year in a row, Thomson Safaris received among the highest honors for the African Safari category, including a 100 score for customer satisfaction. National Geographic Adventure recently featured the award-winning company in their February 2009 issue among other outfitters earning recognition.’

Judi Wineland, the New Zealander wife of Rick Thomson, is co-founder and co-director of Thomson Safaris. She gloated in the press release, ‘We are honored to receive such high marks from National Geographic Adventure and our guests.’

The chest thumper went on, ‘Nat Geo Adventure has done a tremendous job in providing a needed tool for travelers to find the best outfitters out there for their specific interests.’

How this praise escaped my prickly eyes when I first read the newspaper I cannot tell. I have been grounding the mortal combat the company and the Maasai are locked in.

In 1984 the Tanzanian state owned beer manufacturer, Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL), applied for 100,000 acres in Sukenya, Ngorongoro. TBL wanted to grow barley on the land. Led by their then MP, Moringe ole Parkipuny, the Maasai attempted to reject in total the alienation of their land. They depended entirely on this land for pastures as well as water. Some leaders, fearing the state, gave TBL 10,000 acres instead.

Barley production, however, collapsed following intense opposition by the Maasai fully supported by harsh drought. By 1987 the barley project was closed down.

The Maasai continued to use communally the land and water from River Pololet as they did traditionally. TBL forged signatures of the Maasai to obtain a title deed and increased the area to 12,600 acres. In June 2006, TBL sold the 12,600 acres to Thomson Safaris, through its sister company.

Thomson Safaris wanted to do tourism business on the land. What does American law says if you buy a stolen property? You are a thief, I guess.

Banding together like poisonous warms, Thomson Safaris and the Tanzanian state have been violently and corruptly preventing the Maasai from accessing pastures and water. People are reportedly beaten, arrested and forced to pay fines for impounded livestock.

Victims of this weird situation are many. One of them is Shangai ole Putaa, a Maasai traditional leader. Putaa seriously opposed selling of their land to Thomson Safaris. In March 2007 President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania visited Ngorongoro District. It is said that Putaa, speaking on behalf of his fellow villagers of Soit Sambu in an internal meeting of the Tanzanian ruling party, made a brief and eloquent presentation to the President. He told the President, in graphic terms, to give the stolen land back to its rightful owners.

About six months later, on November 7, 2007, the police killed Putaa. The Government had a strange, but hardly surprising, explanation for the brutal killing. Basilio Matei, the Arusha Regional Police Commander, claimed that the ‘police officers said Putaa was understood to know where the guns were hidden and that, when they asked him to show them the spot in question, he tried to run away and that was when they shot him.’

James Lembikas, the Soit Sambu Village Chairperson, disagrees. ‘The police should find a better excuse; Putaa was the most respected person in the whole Maasai community, being a spiritual advisor and was always with the council of elders.’

The second victim is Lesinko ole Nanyoi. He was shot in the jaws on April 18, 2008. Both the Government and Thomson Safaris denied strenuously being responsible for his shooting. To this day the Tanzanian Government is still covering the mad shooter.

In fact on July 23, 2008 The Arusha Region Peace and Security Committee called a press conference which was chaired by Arusha Regional Commissioner. Government officials, one after another tried to distance the police force and Thomson Safaris from the shooting. They also said that the Tanzanian Government should not be held responsible about the mysterious death of Trent Keegan killed in Kenya on May 28, 2008. I have high definition footage of that press conference.

Incidentally, the shooting of Nanyoi attracted Trent Keegan, a sympathetic New Zealand-born photo-journalist living in Ireland, to Tanzania. Keegan attempted to investigate the conflict. On May 28, 2008 he was assassinated in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to his killing, on May 16, 2008, Trent emailed his friend, Tim Gallagher, telling him ‘he was writing a story about a tribe that was being kicked off its land to make way for a safari park.’

Brian MacCormaic, an Irish volunteer teacher in Ngorongoro, was soon to be yet another victim. He now writes that he was contacted by Rick, and asked if he would meet with them to help them get to the truth. There was tension in the meeting.

Understandably Brian tried to leave to save his life. He was told that he was not allowed to leave. Suddenly, a Thomson Safaris vehicle sped into the compound and skidded to a halt beside Brian, raising a cloud of dust and loose gravel in the air. Before it had fully stopped, up to ten gunmen armed with guns jumped out, arresting him under the orders of the District Commissioner.

Thomson Safaris, like a host of other greedy land grabbers posing as investors, has support of the state. Terry Rice, a de facto spokesperson for the company, once wrote; ‘Rick Thomson and his wife, Judi Wineland, were invited last year to meet in New York City with President Kikwete in thanks for their investment in tourism in Tanzania!’ They even had this celebratory photo opportunity with the President!

Meanwhile Thomson Safaris is engrossed in a morass of lies. On January 31, 2009 The
Arusha Times
published a directive from its General Manager, Elizabeth McKee. McKee said that the company will lay ‘off 45 employees out of its 140 Arusha staff. The remaining ones will endure 10 percent cut from their usual monthly salary packages.’

McKee said in the directive to the obviously frightened staff that this was to be effective from the 1st of May, which is ironically the International ‘Labor Day.’ McKee claimed that tourists’ bookings had dropped by as much as 40 percent, a ‘serious economic blow’ to the company thus calling for measures to cut down overhead costs.

Around the time McKee was fixing two fingers up the noses of the 40 Tanzanians, on January 23, 2009 specifically, The Citizen quoted Ina Steinhiler, Sales and Marketing Manager of Thomson Safaris in Boston, crowing, ‘Few people are cancelling or postponing for economic reasons. We are more than pleased.’ Obviously Thomson Safaris had sinister objectives for retrenching the 40 workers.

Why it is using international financial crunch as an excuse for its acts of mindless vandalism is best known to it. What is clear is the record breaking mutual back scratching between the rich at National Geographic Adventure and those at Thomson Safaris.

It is shocking to the bones to read that the confused National Geographic Adventure heaped praises on such a brutal company owned and directed by greedy capitalists. Reading the color of the press release you get the impression of kith and kin defense.

The search engines have made authentic research possible. Not everything on the internet is true. However, an honest magazine wanting to elevate a company to sainthood should have been drawn to investigate with military precision its soon to be declared Saint.

Thus the praises bring to question the credibility of National Geographic Adventure. Next time it might as well nominate Adolf Hitler its greatest statesman of all times.

© Navaya ole Ndaskoi < navayand@gmail.com > (+ 255 754 453 192)

1 comments:

Scatt March 9, 2015 at 12:06 AM  

Right on! Wish I had seen this earlier - the situation is no better in March 2015 - maybe worse.
VIVA MAASAI!

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