Reconstructed Identity and the Cultural Politics of Tourism Investment
In 2006, the owners of the U.S. tourism company Thomson Safaris leased 12,617 acres of land in the heart of three Maasai villages in Loliondo. The lease granted a subsidiary company, Tanzania Conservation Limited (TCL), exclusive land rights for ninety-six years. The land, known to local people as “The Breweries” or “Sukenya Farm,” was used as grazing land by Maasai residents and contained an important water source, the oltimi spring. The land had also been the site of a government-run barley farm from 1987 to 1989, under the state-owned company Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL). After unsuccessfully trying to farm barley, TBL effectively abandoned the area in 1989, leaving the land to be used as it had for hundreds of years, for grazing and watering livestock. The land was particularly valuable as a grazing reserve, or olakari, for young calves, sick animals, and essential milking herds that needed to stay close to Maasai homesteads.
The Thomson Safaris owners created the company, TCL, a subsidiary of Thomson Safaris’ parent company Wineland-Thomson Adventures, Inc., to facilitate the deal.1 The owners of Thomson Safaris had been interested in starting a community conservation project in Tanzania for years, and this land, with no large-scale agriculture or significant permanent settlements, presented a perfect opportunity. As is the case throughout East Africa, wildlife largely coexist with pastoralists given their mutual need for rangeland, water, and minerals, including salt. Although most conservationists and ecologists recognize the compatibility of pastoralists and wildlife, representations of pastoralists degrading the land still abound. Historically, the belief that African pastoralism is an open-access grazing system that inevitably destroys rangelands contributed to the justifications for conservation lobbyists and state officials to appropriate vast pastoralist territories to create national parks and conservation areas. Conservation advocates argued that protecting these areas was the most effective way to protect African nature and would also promote national development through international safari tourism. More recently, with the rise of community conservation, donors and investors have seen pastoralist lands as promising places to conserve existing wildlife habitat outside core protected areas. Pastoralists understand current conservation projects through a historical lens of pastoral territories being taken in the name of conservation.
As the new owners of the old TBL farm, TCL promptly renamed the area Enashiva, a Maasai word for happiness that, according to the company, had been the Maasai name for the creek that ran through the property.2 According to the company blog, “Enashiva represents the culmination of nearly 30 years of Thomson’s commitment to Tanzania.” Thomson Safaris hoped that Enashiva would be a “model for community development, conservation, and responsible tourism.” Along with its goal to restore the Enashiva land to its natural state and increase wildlife numbers, the company planned “numerous local projects for the benefit of the community,” including drilling a borehole and water well; establishing a controlled grazing program; providing ongoing support to local schools; funding a women’s collaborative; and training local people to work for the company.3 Enashiva was to be a place where Thomson Safaris’ clients could see that their tourism experience was helping to preserve African nature and promote development in Maasai communities. On its face, the Enashiva Nature Refuge looked like an ideal community conservation project in Tanzania.
Much to the company’s surprise, Maasai leaders in Loliondo immediately protested the sale and plans to turn the land into a conservation project. The way Enashiva came into being stood in stark contrast to the village-based joint-venture tourism projects described in chapter 6, in which village governments granted ecotourism companies access to village lands. It was also viewed differently than was the OBC hunting concession described in chapter 4. Although controversial, until the evictions in 2009 and the subsequent government attempts to enclose fifteen hundred square kilometers of Loliondo Maasai land as a new game reserve for hunting, the land on which the hunting block stood was still legally owned by the Maasai. In the Thomson Safaris case, the Tanzanian government granted a ninety-six-year lease to a foreign private investor to manage the land as it saw fit. With state-sanctioned property rights, Thomson Safaris/TCL could do what it pleased with the land. That it decided to create a private wildlife refuge was a major concern to the local community, who depended on the land for grazing and water for their livestock. Residents viewed Thomson Safaris/TCL owners’ repeated statements that the project would bring benefits to the local community with more than a bit of skepticism—especially after their first actions were to burn all Maasai structures on the property and actively chase livestock from the land.
With a history of successful community tourism projects in Loliondo, the Thomson Safaris/TCL owners assumed that the Maasai villagers would be willing partners in their efforts to promote community conservation. In a promotional video, Thomson Safaris manager John Bearcroft explains, “We were trying to preserve a piece of heaven that we can share with our guests. . . . This was an opportunity . . . to give some value to the community for tourism.”4 Like many safari companies, the Thomson Safaris/TCL owners expressed their interest in bringing tourism revenue to local people as a way to encourage conservation and educate local people to value wildlife in new ways. But why then was there so much resistance to the project? Why didn’t large numbers of community members embrace it? How did community members think about benefits from tourism? Was revenue and funding for local development projects a sufficient trade-off for losing access to twelve thousand acres of grazing land? Money earned from tourism over the previous decade had helped villages complete infrastructure projects, sponsor students to go to secondary school and university, as well as pay for village leaders to attend meetings and workshops related to tourism. But the village tourism joint ventures described in chapter 1 and discussed in detail in chapter 6 were fundamentally different from this project. Not only had they generated new sources of income, but they reinforced village land rights by giving the Maasai some leverage within the state in managing tourism in village lands. The Enashiva project looked like an altogether different thing. Monetary benefits were not enough to offset the political economic costs of losing land and authority, compromising long-term access to grazing resources.
Tracing the struggle over Enashiva reveals how interests are produced and represented through different tourism projects and the different ways that markets are made meaningful to groups like the Maasai, state agencies and officials, and tourism companies. The village-based joint ventures promoted the idea that villages and investors could use markets to recognize and amplify local ownership claims over natural resources. In contrast, the Enashiva project bound community conservation to state agendas for controlling territory and natural resources by centrally regulating foreign investment. To prevent Thomson Safaris/TCL from taking their land, the Maasai of Loliondo drew on their conviction, even if it lacked tangible evidence, that village land claims were equal to, if not more significant than, national claims. In partnership with ecotourism investors, Maasai villages used market forces to bolster collective claims. This chapter shows how the idea of privatizing nature is contingent on mobilizing certain understandings of community and making them legible to different audiences, including state officials, journalists, and tourists. It illustrates how private safari tourism companies, state officials, and community representatives work within a framework of free-market policies and ideologies to try to tilt the understanding and implementation of resource rights and control in their favor.
For Enashiva to work as a successful community conservation project, it needed to attract tourists who would generate revenue to channel back into managing the property as well as support development projects for the surrounding communities. To entice those tourists, Thomson Safaris promoted several tours at the “private nature refuge,” including the twelve-day “Tanzania Discovery Safari” and “Wildlife & Cultural Safari.” Similar to the exclusive opportunities offered through the tourism joint ventures described in chapter 6, Thomson Safaris offered a unique experience that promised to connect guests with real African landscapes and people. “The private nature refuge gives travelers the opportunity to explore the wilderness as well as the culture of the Maasai,” according to Thomson Safaris promotional material.5 “Travelers will have an unforgettable experience . . . when they visit a local women’s group to witness how the women have started to plan for the future of their families. Later, the cultural exchange continues as your new Maasai friends gather around the campfire at your Nyumba [house] to share stories.” The promise of Enashiva was that tourists could experience authentic landscapes and culture and that their presence and money would help to preserve them. Tanzania relies on investors like Thomson Safaris/TCL to bring money and expertise to generate revenue for the country and its citizens. Such a narrative of foreign investment frames investors as generous actors helping to bring development to poor and marginal people and places.
Thomson Safaris/TCL paid $1.2 million to TBL for the Enashiva land and invested more to manage the area for conservation and to bring new tourists. The company also helped establish a nonprofit foundation, Focus on Tanzanian Communities, which provides benefits to communities living near the company’s tourism projects. As such, Thomson Safaris was in line with several ecotourism companies in Tanzania that were involved in funding and/or leading a separate NGO through which their clients could donate money for more philanthropic projects. Such affiliated NGOs further blurred the boundaries among the state, the market, and civil society and raised questions about the idea of a free market that operated independently. According to Thomson Safaris/TCL, purchasing land in Loliondo was not about making money for the company but rather about leaving a legacy for Tanzania. Even if profit was a secondary objective of the project, Thomson Safaris/TCL relied on free-market ideas to assert its legitimacy as a land manager and steward. Its reputation as a successful adventure tourism company gave it the credentials to promote safari tourism as a philanthropic development strategy.
For the Loliondo residents and leaders I interviewed, however, the Enashiva project delivered few real benefits. After TBL abandoned its property in 1989, the land reverted to a communal grazing area shared by Enadoshoke, Sukenya, and Monderosi, the three subvillages of Soitsambu village, where the land was located. The three Maasai ethnic sections or groups (olosho, pl. iloshon) that live in these villages, Laitayok, Loita, Purko, had come to agreement about using the land, which included a prohibition on large-scale agriculture. Managing wildlife was not an explicit goal of the communities’ land use, but it was a subsidiary benefit of Maasai practices such as cultural taboos against hunting, no fences, and the use of fire and other techniques in managing the land for grasses that appeal to both livestock and wildlife. The villages’ chief complaint against Thomson Safaris/TCL was that it was restricting grazing and water access on land that for hundreds of years had been a key pasture area and the primary dry-season water source for hundreds of families and thousands of livestock. For many Maasai, Enashiva was far from the “happy place” that Thomson Safaris planned to create.
Resistance to the Thomson Safaris project was largely associated with one charismatic leader, Lucy Asioki. Perhaps the most influential woman in Loliondo, Asioki was a Maasai from the Purko ethnic group, who grew up in the Monderosi subvillage of Soitsambu village. Maasai people come from a variety of ethnic sections and clans. Along with age-set groups, these social categories help regulate where people live, whom they marry, which traditional leaders they follow, and in times of conflict whom they organize with. Although it is increasingly common to marry across these categories, ethnic affiliation still has meaning, particularly in terms of political organization.
The Maasai are the majority ethnic group in Loliondo. As described earlier in the chapter, most Maasai in Loliondo come from one of three iloshon (sections). Iloshon are based on territorial and political affiliations that organize social relationships including access to grazing land and the selection of traditional age-set leaders. Like many categories of belonging, ethnic section is not a fixed identity but rather a cultural position that changes over time. The research for this book focuses on six villages in Loliondo that border Serengeti National Park. They are from north to south Ololosokwan, Soitsambu, Oloipiri, Olorien/Magaiduru, Losoito/Maaloni, and Arash. The Purko are the majority section in Ololosokwan and Soitsambu. The Loita are the majority in Olorien/Magaiduru, Losoito/Maaloni, and Arash. The Laitayok, who are the smallest group in the area, are the majority in Oloipiri.
As I discuss later in this chapter, the meaning of ethnicity was reworked in the struggle over Enashiva and became one of the project’s most significant effects. Asioki worked closely with Lazaro Parkipuny in the early 1990s, starting women’s groups throughout Loliondo under KIPOC, the NGO that Parkipuny had founded. In 1997, she founded the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), which, with more than eight hundred active members, has grown into the largest member-driven civil-society organization in Loliondo and is a powerful advocacy group in the region.
The PWC focuses on “three main problems facing women in Ngorongoro District,” including the Loliondo division, where the Thomson Safaris/TCL project is located: lack of property ownership rights; lack of participation in political decisions; and lack of education for Maasai girls.6 Over the years, donors and various partners have called on the PWC to focus more directly on “women’s rights” issues, especially female genital cutting or female genital mutilation.7 But the PWC has maintained that in order to address a range of pastoral women’s issues, it must first address education, political participation, and property rights. It is not surprising, then, that PWC members and other women throughout Loliondo have played a leading role in protesting land deals in the region. The organization consistently points out that the burden of land dispossession falls disproportionately on women. Loss of land and access to natural resources invariably means that women have to walk farther, work harder, and sacrifice more for the well-being of their children, husbands, and elders.
Asioki was one of the first people whom elected Soitsambu village council members went to when they heard about the Thomson Safaris/TCL land deal in 2006. Not only was the PWC active in all three subvillage areas of Soitsambu near the Enashiva project, but Asioki had also been elected as an at-large district councilor, a position created to promote women’s participation on district councils throughout Tanzania. As a popular councilor, she was a trusted voice in the district, and she knew the former Sukenya Farm area well. Hers was one of the four hundred or so families that shared access to grazing land and water sources at Sukenya. The PWC, along with village leaders, district councilors, and other civil-society organizations, quickly organized meetings with residents to discuss the land deal.
Persepo Mathew was another leader involved in this early effort to stop the land deal. Mathew was an elected leader from Ololosokwan village, which bordered Soitsambu village and which had itself negotiated an agreement with tourism investors who had acquired land under circumstances similar to the Thomson Safaris/TCL deal.
Mathew explained to me what happened next: “I was in the meeting. That was the first day the whole community, the whole [village] government, the whole clans [Maasai ethnic groups] were together. We sat in the meeting and chose people to do three things: first, to confirm if the announcement was real or not; second, if it was real, to find a lawyer and a way to stop this land from being sold.”8 The third thing, he went on to explain, was that they decided to publicize their views as quickly as possible. “We needed to tell people that the village [Soitsambu] was against this sale. We wanted to write in the same gazette [where the land sale was advertised] to say that this land is in conflict, and nobody should purchase this land, and if they do, they have bought trouble.”9 By saying that this land is in conflict, Mathew was referencing the ongoing dispute between Soitsambu village and the Tanzanian state over the Sukenya Farm. To avoid dealing with the messy land struggle, Thomson Safaris/TCL quickly inserted itself into the conflict. Shortly after purchasing the land, the public relations staff of Thomson Safaris/TCL recast the conflict as one of internal ethnic rivalry. The company used such stories to raise questions about the legitimacy of the Maasai opposition to the Enashiva Nature Refuge.
Village representatives met with journalists and filed a court injunction to stop the sale. “We were surprised to learn that the land is for sale,” Soitsambu village executive officer Saima Mbusia told the Arusha Times in February 2006. “The [former TBL] farm is a home of two Primary schools, a dispensary and a catchment for a number of local water sources. Whoever is going to buy the land, as advertised by the TBL, would have bought a row. . . . There are a lot of questions without answers. Most of us are asking how, when and who gave TBL our land that we inherited from our ancestors?” The paper cited TBL’s Northern Zone director in response, who insisted “that his company ha[d] all legal rights to own the farm.”10
The publicity notwithstanding, Thomson Safaris/TCL set up a campsite on the property in June 2006 and sent a manager to inform the village of the company’s status as “owners and neighbors.” In August 2006, the first Enashiva project manager, Peter Jones, arrived with the Ngorongoro District solicitor and other officials to announce at a meeting that Thomson Safaris/TCL had purchased the land. Regarding the villagers’ complaints, the district solicitor sternly said, “That is over now.”11 Village leaders and residents responded that they did not accept the lease and that Thomson Safaris/TCL should “go away.”
That Peter Jones was the Enashiva project manager did not help matters. Jones, a British expatriate who had lived in Tanzania since 1976, owned his own safari company, Tanganyika Film and Safari Outfitters. In a situation similar to that of Enashiva, in 1995 Jones purchased land in the Maasai area of West Kilimanjaro that was previously controlled by the state-owned National Farm and Agriculture Corporation. He bought the land in order to restore it as a wildlife area and created the Ndarakwai Ranch. Tourism companies, including his own, use the ranch, which the owners describe with the slogan “from wasteland to wildlife haven” for private safaris. In 2002, Jones helped to found the Kilimanjaro Conservancy to manage the area. The Thomson Safaris/TCL owners referenced Ndarakwai Ranch and the Kilimanjaro Conservancy as models for their own efforts to establish a nature refuge in the middle of Maasailand. In this context, the choice of Jones makes sense. However, most Maasai people did not share the Thomson Safari/TCL owners’ perspective of Ndarakwai as a successful model of community conservation.
Among Maasai activists and leaders, Jones had a reputation for his ego and aggressive tactics. Despite promises that his project would deliver benefits to the nearby Maasai communities, one of his first acts was to deny the Maasai the right to graze on the farm, which they had used for decades, including when it was managed by the state. Ndarakwai Ranch was known throughout Maasailand as “taken land” (ardhi ilichukiliwa in Kiswahili). If Jones was the choice to manage the Enashiva property in Loliondo, regional leaders feared the worst. Those fears were confirmed within Jones’s first few months in Loliondo. As manager of Enashiva, Jones ordered the destruction and burning of all structures on the property and prevented the Maasai from grazing and watering their livestock anywhere inside the Enashiva boundaries.
The Maasai living adjacent to Enashiva repeatedly told me that Thomson Safaris/TCL staff prevented them from grazing on their traditional lands. John ole Perseti, a Maasai man about thirty-five years old, lived in the Monderosi subvillage area bordering the Enashiva property.12 He discussed his sentiments about the Enashiva project. He contrasted the state’s previous effort to turn the area into a barley farm with the current effort to make it a nature refuge. We met in his house on a Sunday afternoon in July 2010. “The first time this land was taken by Tanzania Breweries [TBL], it was better,” he said. “The breweries came and farmed a small area and didn’t really give us any trouble and then they left.” After Thomson Safaris/TCL arrived, however, company staff drove around and mapped the property. One day, they came close to Ole Perseti’s homestead in Ilmasilik. He saw the vehicle in the distance, with a group of men “dressed like park rangers” walking around his family’s olakari (reserve grazing area for calves and milk cows who are too small or fatigued to travel long distances with the rest of the herds). Eventually, the car drove up to his boma. The men got out and asked him his name. After giving his family name, he asked them what they were doing. The men told him that they were mapping the land to show people the boundaries. “Even your boma is in our land,” they added. The men, who were all Tanzanians, went on, “You can no longer use this land. It is the land of a mzungu [Swahili for “white person”], not of Maasai.”
The area that Thomson Safaris/TCL had purchased had “the water and the grass” his family, as well as those of about four hundred other families from three Maasai areas of Enadoshoke, Monderosi, Sukenya within the Soitsambu village, and three Maasai ethnic groups the Laitayok, the Loita, and the Purko, needed to survive as pastoralists. “They [Thomson Safaris/TCL staff] also closed the paths for livestock.” And that, Ole Perseti said, is when the problems started. At first local residents did not heed the company’s threats to stay off the Enashiva property. Despite declarations by the company that the land was theirs, Maasai residents were confident that Soitsambu village leaders would eventually win their dispute and get their land back from the company. Rather than just passively resist, Ole Perseti explained that he and about ten other men decided to graze their livestock herds together in the middle of the Enashiva property. Eventually, the new project manager who replaced Jones, a Marusha Maasai named Daniel Yamat, approached the group in his vehicle. He asked the men why they had brought their livestock onto “the farm.” He then sped off in the direction of Loliondo town. About an hour or so later, Yamat returned with three vehicles filled with Tanzanian police officers. “They came close to our cows, honked their horns, and fired shots into the air to make [our] cows run,” Ole Perseti told me.
The herders tried to stop their cattle from fleeing and asked the police to stop harassing them. In their eyes, they were only grazing livestock as they always had. Instead the police arrested five of the men and drove them to the nearest jail in Loliondo town. Word quickly spread about the arrests. Families had to travel to town and pay fines the equivalent of hundreds of dollars, a significant sum, to get the men released from jail. “Children can’t herd livestock [currently],” Ole Perseti told me, because they “are afraid of the police.” In 2009 police arrested people nearly every other week. According to several sources, almost every man from Ole Perseti’s subvillage of Monderosi had been arrested. “I only know one man who has not been arrested, and that’s because he was too scared to go [herding in the area],” a Maasai woman in her thirties from Monderosi told me.
Paulo Silas, a Maasai man in his late twenties from Enadoshoke, another subvillage area bordering the Enashiva property, told me, “We will never stop grazing, even if we are beaten and arrested. If we see a car, we will run to the mountain.”13 I asked what happens when they are caught grazing on the Enashiva land. “We are brought to the Thomson Safaris/TCL camp,” he explained, and “beat .. with rungus [wood clubs].” Who beats you? I asked. Silas explained that Thomson Safaris/TCL hired Maasai from the Laitayok ethnic group, as well as members of the Sonjo tribe, as guards. The company has repeatedly denied employing guards, explaining that all its employees are game rangers. “The guards must have police [with them] to arrest herders,” Silas told me. “Otherwise, they beat young herd boys when the police are not present.”
As discussed in chapter 2, the Maasai in Loliondo come from one of three prominent subethnic groups, the Laitayok, the Loita, and the Purko. Such subethnic identity is one way that the Maasai distinguish themselves, but it does not necessarily mean there is division or conflict between the groups. The Maasai live together among different subethnic groups and marry across subethnic groups. These practices contribute to the blurring of ethnic boundaries and create a context of flexible ethnic identifications and understandings. However, ethnic affiliations do have material meaning and can be mobilized to create alliances, as well as encourage divisions.
Because the Purko and the Loita are the majority subethnic groups in Loliondo, many of the most outspoken challengers to the Thomson Safaris/TCL project were members of these ethnic groups. As the smallest subethnic group in the area, the Laitayok had fewer leaders in positions to oppose the project. The Laitayok—whom Thomson Safaris/TCL hired as rangers and camp staff—were a minority within Soitsambu village as a whole but the majority within Sukenya subvillage, the population center closest to the Thomson Safaris/TCL land. By hiring Maasai almost exclusively from the Laitayok ethnic group, Thomson Safaris/TCL created new leadership positions. The authority of these individuals was clearly tied to the legitimacy of the company and its claims over the land. One result of this tactic was that opposition to the Enashiva project was being divided along ethnic lines and creating conflict.
Empowering Individuals and Ethnic Groups
Complaints from village leaders and civil-society organizations led to a visit from the regional commissioner in late 2006 and from the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, in 2007. It was after President Kikwete’s visit that Judi Wineland, who along with her husband, Rick Thomson, co-owns Thomson Safaris, reached out to Lucy Asioki for help. Wineland knew that Asioki ran the largest Maasai women’s organization in Loliondo and hoped to appeal to her by discussing their mutual concern for women’s rights. In an August 2007 e-mail to Asioki, Wineland explained that Thomson Safaris was “currently working with the various village elders around Loliondo to begin a Community Based Tourism model.”14 She expressed to Asioki an interest in working with women: “If you and I are able to help these local women through tourism, then please let me know.” Wineland never mentioned the contentious history the company faced and did not indicate any knowledge of the role played by Asioki in challenging the Enashiva project. I had met Lucy Asioki during my first visit to Loliondo in 1992 and had come to know her well. She told me that she did not appreciate this “deceptive” introduction, as she was certain that Wineland was well aware of the widespread opposition to the Thomson Safaris/TCL project, especially among women. Asioki saw the e-mail as an attempt to use her against her own people, an all-too-common fate for dynamic leaders who must navigate the interests of foreign donors, international NGOs, and their own local constituencies.
In her response, Asioki told Wineland that it was always “good to help women,” but before they could collaborate on anything, they would have to address the current conflict in Sukenya. “I’m sure you know that Thompson [sic] Safaris bought the land from TBL with conflict. So your company should take full responsibility for settling this conflict.”15 By the time of Wineland’s first e-mail to Asioki, Thomson Safaris officials were refusing to meet directly with the entire Soitsambu village government. Instead they chose to work only with a few individuals, including the Soitsambu village chairman and the Sukenya subvillage chairman. “You should understand that the land belongs to three different Maasai tribes living in Soitsambu,” Asioki wrote to Wineland. “I understand that you had a meeting with the village chair and other few elders in Sukenya. I suggest that you hold a meeting with the village government which is the legal entity at the village level and express your interests.”16 Asioki reiterated that no one person owned the land in question, not even the village chairman. Reaching out to individual leaders like her was not the right way to resolve the conflict, Asioki told me. Leaders like Asioki continued to rely on the village as the representative body of Maasai interests. This was the only way they believed they could avoid the poisonous politics of individuals competing to be the authentic voice of the people and to represent the interests of Maasai culture.
Asioki went on in the e-mail to outline the legal implications of the Thomson Safaris/TCL land deal, recapping the community stance: “That on the 22nd June 2006 TBL, wrongfully, entered into the 96 years lease agreement with the Thomson Safari[s] on the disputed land. Thus TBL and Thomson Safari[s] acts have caused gross infringement and interference of the Pastoralists right to occupy and use the disputed land.”17 She then offered twelve specific recommendations for Thomson Safaris/TCL to make the situation right, most of it centered on the strong suggestion that the company return the land to the community as quickly as possible.
Asioki told me that Wineland’s subsequent response showed that her understanding of community conservation and tourism in Loliondo could not be more different from Asioki’s own.18 Wineland began by apologizing for her delay in answering, saying that she had been busy accepting an award for tour operator of the year from the Tanzanian government, as well as an unspecified humanitarian award for her work. She had also been to New York, where she had met with the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, the Tanzanian ambassador to the United Nations, and Tanzania’s president Kikwete. “It is disconcerting to receive your email,” she wrote. “Tourism has continued to be a great source of revenue for Tanzania. We [Thomson Safaris/TCL or Wineland and her husband, Rick Thomson] have continued to believe that in the past local communities do not benefit from tourism. Money goes to the parks, but not to the local communities. So we have made a concerted effort to move our camps outside the parks and to work with local communities to ensure that there is benefit for the people, the land, and ourselves.”19 But as Asioki later wrote to me, “Moving camps is not the same as taking land.”20
Wineland went on, “Loliondo could be the showcase for this [kind of conservation]. The land has potential to be a wildlife refuge. And if a wildlife refuge, then tourists will come, and if tourists come, then the local community will benefit greatly.”21 Asioki could not contain her anger, telling me, “We don’t want tourist money; we want our land.”22 Wineland concluded by making a final appeal to their mutual interests: “I can’t imagine why we would be at odds about this piece of land. I truly believe we want the same thing. Or am I being naive? [Rick and I] are good people. We do not oversee a large corporation with thousands of employees. We are dedicated to Tanzania and her future. It has been 30 years since we stepped foot on her soil and from that point on we have continued to be involved with the people of Tanzania.”23
This was the last direct correspondence between Asioki and Wineland for almost two years. Asioki was worried that Wineland would twist her words and claim that she had negotiated a deal on behalf of the community. Based on later correspondence, it appears Wineland believed that Asioki almost single-handedly directed the opposition against Thomson Safaris/TCL and could not be trusted. Whether Wineland knew as little as she claimed about why the community opposed the Thomson Safaris/TCL project is unclear. If her lack of knowledge is taken at face value, which many of the activists I interviewed did not, Wineland’s conviction that turning the land into a private nature refuge would be a boon for local Maasai communities was still far from the vision of Loliondo imagined by Maasai leaders like Asioki.
Blogging the True History of Enashiva: “Get the Facts Here”
When Thomson Safaris/TCL could not enlist the support of leaders such as Asioki, the company embarked on a strategy of questioning the legitimacy of Maasai leaders and organizations that opposed the Enashiva project and of recognizing Maasai from specific ethnic groups as the true owners of the land. The company set up a website that proclaimed, “Thomson Safaris Sets the Record Straight: Thomson replies to online rumors. Get the facts here.”24 The company claimed that opposition to its project was “irrational” and must be based either in personal corruption or ethnic conflict.25 Posts on the company website and articles by a Thomson Safaris–employed journalist, Jeremy O’Kasick, asserted directly or insinuated that opposition leaders came from the dominant Maasai clans of the Purko and the Loita and that the true members of the community came from the Laitayok ethnic group.26 Thomson Safaris/TCL directors and staff forged friendships with Laitayok leaders, who were the minority ethnic group in the region overall but the majority in Sukenya subvillage, closest to the Enashiva land. This treatment gave new meaning and value to existing differences among the Maasai (see chapter 2). The majority of Enashiva employees came from the Laitayok ethnic group, and the Laitayok Maasai benefited disproportionately by Thomson Safaris/TCL–supported projects.
According to Thomson Safaris, the underrepresented Laitayok—whom the company called “the people of Sukenya”—supported the Enashiva project:
The people of Sukenya are the largest population of Maasai around the Enashiva Nature Refuge, and they have lived in the area longer than any other Maasai clan or community. This is, of course, why the farm came to be called Sukenya. The leaders, elders, women’s groups, and community at large in Sukenya have given their overwhelming support for Thomson Safaris and the Enashiva Nature Refuge project. That support has gradually spread to other communities. . . .
A highly respected elder, Simat Loong’ung, speaks on behalf of the leaders and communities. . . . Simat has also explained how, throughout greater Loliondo, the people of Sukenya happen to be a political minority and the least educated group. They have not received benefits from tourism. They do not have any NGOs representing them. Their voice is often undermined in local politics.
Thomson recognizes the struggle of the Sukenya people and is honored to work hand-in-hand with them on countless ongoing projects. However, Thomson has also reached out to all communities directly surrounding Enashiva so that they will receive benefits and be instrumental in Thomson’s community-based conservation initiatives.27
Thomson Safaris’ conflation of “the people of Sukenya” with the Laitayok is significant because the company was asserting that land rights are associated with ethnic identity and not village membership. The benefits from the Thomson Safaris investment thus were framed not only as a form of economic development but also as an assertion and recognition of ethnic or Laitayok property rights. Several Laitayok leaders repeated this claim, saying that they have been sidelined in village politics and that Thomson Safaris was addressing historical inequalities and helping to restore Laitayok rights. Such a framing eschews the village as the representative local institution, and therefore the Tanzanian Village Land Act of 1999 (see chapter 3), in favor of ethnically derived rights. The issue is not that Thomson Safaris/TCL was necessarily trying to divide the community. But in the absence of widespread multiethnic support, and in the face of strong opposition from village leaders and residents, the company increasingly aligned its desire to develop the Enashiva property with the latent Laitayok sentiment of being politically marginalized. This connection allowed Thomson Safaris/TCL to represent opposition to its project as ethnically based jealousy rather than valid criticism.
Describing the conflict over the Thomson Safaris/TCL property as an ethnic conflict that “goes back in time” deploys perhaps the oldest and most enduring cliché to explain Africa’s underdevelopment and problems.28 This tactic used during colonial rule to divide Africans also lets Thomson Safaris/TCL off the hook. As Rick Thomson wrote responding to the critical article, “Tourism Is a Curse to Us,” written by journalist Alex Renton (2009) and published in the British newspaper the Guardian, “The inter-clan rivalries existed long before Thomson ever came to Enashiva, and to suggest that Thomson is what comes between clans is to grossly oversimplify the culture and history of the Maasai in this area.”29 Suggesting that the opposition to Enashiva is grounded in a history of inter-Maasai ethnic conflict has created confusion and uncertainty for many outside observers, journalists, and international organizations. And when journalists, academics, and community members have pushed Thomson Safaris/TCL to clarify its arguments that highlight racial and ethnic discrimination, the company has simply responded by appealing to a generic and universal notion of African ethnic difference and antagonism.30
One of the legacies of Tanzania’s socialist path out of colonialism was the undoing of ethnic-based local authorities established through colonial indirect rule. For Tanzania and its formative president, Julius Nyerere, villages were to be the cornerstone of development, rights, and community (as discussed in chapter 2). The varied effects of villagization have been discussed and debated widely.31 In the 1960s and 1970s, many intellectuals, politicians, and scholars had hope for Nyerere’s vision of development in Africa. Since that time, villagization has been more severely criticized as imposing a singular vision of African modernity and identity on otherwise diverse communities.32 Whether one supports or vilifies villagization, what is important is that the village has become the de facto marker of community in Tanzania. The state conferred specific powers of local government on villages, and village governments have the responsibility to manage economic and political relationships within their boundaries.33 Legal authority does not necessarily signify local legitimacy, but in Loliondo, as I have argued, the village has become a meaningful institution representing the interests of local residents as pastoralists.34
Few debate that there are inequalities among Maasai ethnic groups in terms of political power and clout. Yet through the struggles over the meaning of tourism investment, those lines of difference, which do not have a natural order, have become increasingly hardened and oppositional. By establishing its legitimacy through an authentic link to “the local community,” Thomson Safaris/TCL has contributed to a re-ethnicization of local politics. Safari tourism has become the crucible for generating revenue, legitimating land claims, and redefining the boundaries of ethnic belonging.
In June 2010, a law was passed that divided Soitsambu village into three villages, a process that was in train well before Thomson Safaris purchased the Enashiva land. Nevertheless, Thomson Safaris has described the demarcation of Sukenya village (changed from a subvillage in 2012) in particular as fulfilling the political aspirations of the Laitayok people. And once the boundaries of this newly constituted Sukenya village aligned more closely with the company’s existing alliances, Thomson Safaris/TCL was willing to recognize the village as a legitimate institution and partner.35 The mapping of village boundaries onto ethnic identities was precisely what President Nyerere was trying to avoid when he put Tanzania on its path out of colonialism. Hoping to undo the legacy of indirect rule, in which traditional authorities were empowered though ethnic enclaves, Nyerere created villages with democratically elected leaders to represent the diversity of community interests. In many ways the actions of Thomson Safaris/TCL to defend its investment by linking it with a claim of restorative justice challenges the idea of the village as a possible democratic space in which different ethnic groups live together and hold one another accountable through elected leadership. The indication that the tourism project belonged primarily to one ethnic group over another instead rejuvenated territorial ethnicization. There are no guarantees that grounding Maasai cultural practices in village membership and belonging will lead to positive collective outcomes. However, the alternative of grounding Maasai authority in private-public partnerships is a risky proposition. While the village is not inherently a multiethnic space, there is strong evidence that relying on the interests of foreign investors to help determine the values of the community can easily lead to ethnic division.
Scholars such as anthropologist Peter Geschiere have noted that a predominant effect of economic globalization is the increased reliance on local forms of belonging in order for marginalized groups to claim their stake in the market-driven division of resources.36 Although this strategic essentialism may offer the best position from which to negotiate with powerful foreign actors, it can also work against connecting multiple overlapping social struggles. Locating each struggle in an isolated context typically framed in terms of authentic and unchanging culture limits the possibilities for translocal collaboration. The perception that the conflict over Sukenya and the Enashiva property was an ethnic struggle reinforced the belief that, left to their own devices, African communities could not effectively organize themselves or overcome historical differences. Such narratives often lead to a call for an external actor to intervene. In the place of African people’s perceived lack of capacity, foreign investors can promote themselves as impartial experts who can educate the locals about development. In this formulation, companies like Thomson Safaris are literally invested with capital, knowledge, and moral authority.
Where Does Maasai Culture Come From?
In December 2008, Lucy Asioki made a crucial connection that would change the course of the fight against Thomson Safaris/TCL. At a Human Rights Defenders workshop in the Netherlands, she gave a presentation about the Sukenya Farm conflict and afterward was approached by Lucy Claridge, head of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG), who wanted to discuss the case in more detail. Based in England and founded over forty years ago, MRG “support[s] minority and indigenous people as they strive to maintain their rights to the land they live on, the languages they speak, to equal opportunities in education, employment, and to full participation in public life.”37 As an international human rights organization, MRG works on education, training, media, and advocacy. MRG is especially known for its use of legal cases to defend land rights. Through its work with the Enderois pastoralists in Kenya, MRG had become knowledgeable about pastoralist dispossession and activism in East Africa.38 Claridge said that the MRG might be willing to help. Asioki returned to Loliondo and met with Soitsambu village leaders about the offer. The village government and the PWC subsequently requested the MRG’s assistance to open a court case against TCL and the Enashiva Nature Refuge.
With some funds from the MRG and the help of the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-governmental Organizations Forum (PINGOS Forum), the largest indigenous rights group in Tanzania, and the PWC, the village hired Eli Furaha Laltaika, a young Maasai lawyer, and Emmanuel Sulle, an independent researcher, as consultants. Sulle visited Loliondo three times, meeting with village government representatives, district councilors, and Thomson Safaris representatives. The first goal of the consultants’ report was to investigate the social impact of the Thomson Safaris/TCL plan to determine if the company had “harassed the community or not.” The second goal was to examine the “legal merits and remedies of the lease,” basically to determine whether the land deal was legal.39 In August 2009, Laltaika and Sulle finished their report, which determined that there was sufficient cause to open a court case. And in September 2009, after reading the consultants’ report, the MRG agreed to help local lawyers and community members pursue such a case.
Rumors of the lawsuit circulated around Loliondo and reached back to Thomson Safaris/TCL, after which a large painted sign appeared at the road junction that led to the Enashiva property, announcing TCL’s intention to change the designated land use of its property from agriculture and pastoralism to conservation and tourism. The hand-painted signboard read further, “If there is anyone who will be affected by such changes, he/she is requested to submit his/her opinion via the office of the District Executive Officer within 30 days from today, the 27th day of October 2009.”40
It seemed as if TCL was seeking to preempt the court challenge by changing the Enashiva area’s land-use status, which was necessary if the site was going to be developed permanently for tourism and conservation. Tanzanian law requires that any such proposed change be announced to the public for comment. One of the legacies of Tanzania’s strong local government policies is that local authorities, including the village government, must approve any such land-use change. It was clear to almost everyone I spoke with that to maintain the possibility of returning the land to grazing for both wildlife and livestock, the land-use change had to be stopped before it got started. Other people I spoke with did not consider the change as significant. However, many Maasai believed that the land-use change was a part of the overall approach to turn their land into a new protected area.
Soitsambu village called a meeting of the village government on November 11, 2009. The following are excerpts from the minutes:
There is a significant conflict between the citizens [of Soitsambu Village] and Tanzania Conservation Ltd (Thomson Safaris) over the Sukenya Farm, and to change the use of the farm from agriculture and pastoralism to conservation and tourism is to plant bad seeds of conflict within the citizens of Soitsambu Village. It is best if the government solve the existing conflict first before taking any other action.
The Sukenya Farm is the property of the people since before and after independence, therefore to dispossess the citizens of their property is to place the citizens into a difficult situation economically and [socially] within their community, which is completely against the promise of CCM [ruling party] of improving the livelihoods of Tanzanians between 2005–2010 [reference to the national poverty-reduction strategy]. How are we to improve our lives, if we are dispossessed of our land?
This farm is used for grazing our livestock; it is very small and does not even satisfy the livestock of the three sub-villages, which are inside the farm. To change the area to conservation is to destroy the economy of the citizens and to leave us poor and destitute instead [of] benefiting within our country by working together, hand in hand to use our resources.
Finally, we respectfully request our government and the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) to be extremely cautious on the role of investors, they should not be used as a new road to exploit citizens and return us to suffering.41
The minutes were signed by twenty-three of twenty-five elected representatives and hand-delivered to the district commissioner, with copies sent to the Ngorongoro District Council; the national land commissioner; the Tanzania Investment Center, which helps investors identify opportunities and see them through completion; and the prime minister. The result was that the village and council were able to halt the land-use change. This did not change the status of the lease but gave local leaders hope that the land would not be irreparably recategorized. Maasai leaders saw stopping this change as critical to the village’s court case against TCL.
In January 2010, Soitsambu village employed another lawyer, Samson Rumende, who drafted a complaint on behalf of the village and filed it in the regional High Court of Arusha. He sent a copy to TBL (the official leaseholder) and TCL (the sublessee). Within days of sending the complaint, the Ngorongoro District lawyer, who represented the central government, called a meeting with the Soitsambu village government. At the meeting, he demanded that the village rescind the case immediately, threatening the village leaders by saying that the case was likely to fail and that the village would then be liable for all court fees incurred by TBL and TCL. In Tanzania if a plaintiff loses a legal case, he or she is liable for the legal expenses of the defendant. The village leaders did not back down. The district lawyer then asked who was funding the case, to which the village leaders responded that a legal aid NGO, the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC), was helping them. Under Tanzanian law, in a case opened by a village, the village can request an institution like the LHRC to represent it. The LHRC applies for a certificate from the court waiving liability for legal fees in case the village loses, on the basis that the case is in the public interest. Such an arrangement protects the village from liability if its case fails. According to several people at the meeting, the district lawyer told the village representatives to write a letter stating that it was an NGO, and not they themselves, who had opened the case. Grassroots groups like villages depend on the funding, expertise, and connections of a variety of NGOs to assist them in such struggles. Despite this almost ubiquitous relationship, state officials often accuse NGOs of using Tanzanian citizens to pursue their own agendas.
Soitsambu village continued pursuing legal action and opened two separate cases. The first was to stop TCL from developing the Sukenya Farm area as a luxury tented camp. The case called for TCL to stop any construction and to refrain from bringing tourists to the property. It also called for TCL to stop harassing and arresting people for trespassing. The second case, which Eli Furaha, one of the village’s attorneys, explained was the more substantial one, challenged the entire lease. In this case the lawyers argued that the land belonged to Soitsambu village and that the court should revoke the title deed and return the land to the village.
Many of the people I spoke with saw these court cases as a last resort. Previous court cases filed by village residents had met with limited success, and village activists have had a hard time finding lawyers who are willing to support their struggle. Nevertheless, one Soitsambu village government member described to me how he hoped that legal challenges might lead to a political solution: “The court case is good for us, if only for the pressure. We are not sure we will win but want the [Thomson Safaris/TCL] owners to come talk to us. They [Thomson Safaris/TCL] have never come to the village to talk. They don’t know what people want.” He went on to explain his frustration with the land deal: “They are owning the land through papers. That land is our traditional land. They have the right and protection of the government if they believe they own the land through papers. . . . Who to believe, paper or us? They have a legal paper from Dar es Salaam. What about people in this area? This is our ancestors’ land.”42
After Soitsambu village filed the more substantial case challenging the overall TCL lease in February 2010, Thomson Safaris/TCL began to feel increasing pressure and sought to avoid further harm to its reputation. Thomson Safaris/TCL staff complained to the district commissioner that a few people were deceiving the community. The village chairman, Boniface Konjwella, was brought to the police station and interrogated. Among the list of questions, they asked him if he gave women permission to demonstrate. He replied that women in his village would never ask for such permission. The police then asked who was behind the court case, “Was it the village or the NGOs?” Konjwella assured them that the village was behind the case. “If you want more information, then come to the village,” he told them.43
The case was postponed numerous times, leaving both Soitsambu village and Thomson Safaris/TCL uncertain about the outcome and possibilities. In May 2011, the judge dismissed the case, saying that it was essentially an attempt to reopen a much older case initiated just after the first TBL lease was granted: Civil Case no. 74 of 1987, in which fifteen defendants from Loliondo had challenged the allocation of ten thousand acres to TBL. The judge reasoned that since that case was decided on May 16, 1990, in favor of TBL, there was no reason to hear the new case.
Advocate John Materu, the lawyer representing the village in court, appealed the decision. He argued that the two cases were not the same. First, in 1987 the court case concerned land measuring 10,000 acres. The new case concerned 12,617.15 acres. If the 10,000-acre parcel had been determined to be the property of TBL, then what was the legal origin of the 2003 lease agreement for 12,617.15 acres? Materu also argued that the new case was being brought by the Soitsambu Village Council, the first such land case in Tanzania to take advantage of the 1999 Tanzanian Village Land Act provision enabling a village council to sue a third party. Finally, the defendants in the 2010 case were different from those in 1987. Both the dismissal and the subsequent appeal were based largely on technical legal procedures. In May 2012, the Court of Appeal of Tanzania at Arusha upheld the appeal and returned the case to the lower court for a new hearing by a new judge, ruling that there were many unanswered questions about the circumstances behind TBL obtaining a title deed in 2003 and TCL’s lease of the property from TBL in 2006. The Court of Appeal also declared that TCL was responsible for all legal fees associated with the case. This was an important legal victory for the village and its supporters.
In June 2012, lawyers from both sides met with village and company officials to say that while the land was in dispute, both parties could continue to use the land without interruption. Representatives from the MRG then met with village members and advised them to look for ways to negotiate. Village members expressed an interest in Thomson Safaris/TCL returning most of the land and entering into a contractual agreement similar to other joint ventures in the district. According to an MRG official at that meeting, village members approved the following position statement:
The village members recognize that Thomson Safaris has done investments on some part of the land. The village members agreed that Thomson Safaris could retain exclusive land ownership on 2000 acres around the [area].
The community members are to acquire back the ownership of 10,617 acres of the land and then enter into direct agreement with Thomson Safaris to allow Thomson Safaris to continue to use some of the land for tourism activities.
The process leading to the agreement between the community and the company should be participatory and transparent and stipulate the following:
1. Recognition of community rights ownership over the 10,617 acres of the land.
2. Unrestricted access to water points, foot ways from one sub village to the other, and specified grazing areas for the community.
3. Clear rules and procedures for implementation and management of the contract should be put in place.
4. Clarified roles and responsibilities for both parties in terms of security and other relationship resolutions. Items like the length of the contract, the annual land renting fees, the bed fee per nights per person (for tourists entering the community land) and the termination of the contract should be clearly discussed in the contract.
5. The village council will oversee the use of the income generated by the contract for equitable sharing among the three sub villages for their socio-economic development.44
Village leaders thought they were poised for a resolution to the conflict.
A Happy Ending at Enashiva?
Within weeks of the court case, Judi Wineland approached Lucy Asioki saying that she wanted a resolution to the issue. The Thomson Safaris and TCL owners remain convinced that their Enashiva project is a good one. When Judi Wineland met with Lucy Asioki in June 2012, she said that she was tired of all the conflict and wanted a peaceful solution. When Asioki explained that the best solution was to return the land and then negotiate with the village, Wineland asked who would repay Thomson Safaris/TCL for the money it had spent. Wineland also reiterated her belief that the Sukenya Farm area was a small piece of land, “less than one percent of Loliondo,” and that surely everyone wanted to reduce the number of cattle there.45 Asioki told her that this land was in fact quite large and significant for the communities that lived next to it and could not easily access “all that other land in Loliondo.” She also said that the Maasai did not share Wineland’s desire to reduce stock numbers and that taking the Sukenya land out of production would only exacerbate a resource crunch elsewhere.
For years Maasai leaders argued that they were not benefiting from tourism in national parks because revenues were never invested in their communities. By partnering with ecotourism companies to use their lands for tourism, Loliondo communities began to see profits from tourism in the mid-1990s. By incorporating direct tourism revenue into a system of land use and property rights that continued to promote pastoralism and the extensive system of communal grazing, the Loliondo village-based tourism joint ventures became a critical aspect in supporting the backbone of a regional pastoral political economy.
The underlying reason that the Maasai pushed for village-based tourism in Loliondo is that they believed it was one of the few ways for them to sustain their primary livelihood activity: livestock grazing. As discussed in chapter 6, the village joint ventures became a strategic way for communities to leverage their legal standing as villages and to use market mechanisms to earn revenue and make claims to land and natural resources. Despite the company’s trying its best to promote the project as community conservation, in the eyes of most Maasai leaders and residents the Thomson Safaris/TCL project was fundamentally different. First, the Thomson Safaris/TCL’s ninety-six-year lease was substantially different from the nonbinding five-year village joint-venture contracts. Also, in the Thomson Safaris/TCL case, it is the company determining the dominant land use by telling the community to establish a nature refuge. The meaning of community conservation takes on different value depending on whose interests and values are represented in the project.
At the heart of many of these projects is the idea that local people are partners and that by profiting from conservation they will come to embrace it as a value and an economic activity. As stated in the promotional video about the Enashiva project, Thomson Safaris/TCL “believe[s] that sustainable tourism can continue to empower local people to preserve fragile ecosystems and protect vulnerable wildlife populations.” But just as with national parks, which were supposed to cultivate a national appreciation for nature, as well as provide the country with a source of revenue, community conservation would take time. It would need leaders to show local people how to manage such projects. Tourism investors like Thomson Safaris/TCL were indispensable actors in this new model of conservation. As Judi Wineland conveys in the promotional video, “I’m not sure I think it is sustainable right this minute. I think what we are trying to do is make it sustainable. Rick and I ask ourselves, how can we pass the baton carefully over to other people that are there. The Maasai themselves need to be able to control this land and benefit from this land.”
Many Loliondo Maasai think that too much land had already been committed to wildlife preservation, and indeed the movement for community conservation was motivated by a search for different models. For Loliondo leaders, village rights to resources became a rallying cry against centralized control over wildlife management and the appropriation of Maasai land in the name of conservation. By grounding discussions of tourism in village governance, the Maasai attempted to shrink the scale of resource management from the national to the village level. Positing local authority as village authority had several effects. One effect was to fuse the meanings of cultural belonging, citizenship, and property rights. Many Maasai I interviewed explained that Maasai cultural practices were separate from the logics of global capitalism. Yet the increased ethnic conflict suggested that the logic of private property bled into the more communal understanding of Maasai culture and changed its form. Future possibilities rested largely on how property rights articulated with cultural categories like ethnicity and citizenship.
The village is by no means a perfect locus of Maasai interests. Rather, placing the village at the center of the political economy of pastoral production necessarily shifts cultural meanings and practices. We can understand the emergence of the village in shaping the meaning of Maasai identity as the process of cultural production. The prevalence of private group ranches among the Maasai in southern Kenya provides a similar grounding for the production of Maasai interests and values in that region, just across the international border that separates northern Tanzania’s Maasailand from Southern Kenya’s Maasailand. There is no question that villages and investors now play an important role in shaping Maasai culture. The important question is how such institutions will shape the ideas, beliefs, and values that may either bind or divide people and create future political possibilities.
How difference is produced and made meaningful is at the heart of questions in cultural geography. The cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall explains, “‘difference’ matters because it is essential to meaning; without it, meaning could not exist” (2001a, 328). We use difference to understand the world, construct meaning, and engage in dialogue. But difference is neither natural, nor is it determined completely by one group. Hall writes, “What it means to be ‘British’ or ‘Russian’ or ‘Jamaican’ cannot be entirely controlled by the British, Russians or Jamaicans, but is always up for grabs, always being negotiated, in the dialogue between these national cultures and their ‘others’” (2001a, 329). Looking at Maasai culture through this lens, we then see how it is informed by the interests, values, and ideas of others. In this context power can be understood
not only in terms of economic exploitation and physical coercion, but also in broader cultural or symbolic terms, including the power to represent someone or something in a certain way. . . . Power also seduces, solicits, induces, wins consent. It cannot be thought of in terms of one group having a monopoly of power, simply radiating power downwards on a subordinate group by an exercise of simple domination from above. . . . Power not only constrains and prevents: it is also productive. It produces new discourses, new kinds of knowledge, new objects of knowledge, it shapes new practices and institutions. (2001b, 339)
By positioning ethnic identity and belonging as ahistorical, as a timeless fact, Thomson Safaris/TCL challenges the idea of the village as a legitimate site of community and government. Instead the company relies on naturalized assumptions about ethnicity as the only reliable marker of true Maasai culture. Political scientist Mahmood Mamdani describes such narrative framings as a postcolonial dilemma or contradiction.46 How, he asks, can Africans be incorporated into modern nation-states as citizens if their status as ethnic subjects is their primary identity? Unlike Mamdani’s relatively clear boundaries between citizens and subjects, the Thomson Safaris/TCL case reveals how the relational identities of citizen and subject are constantly being negotiated. If ethnic groups like the Maasai are going to advocate as a marginalized and dispossessed cultural group, while also as part of a larger group of rural peasant and pastoralist citizens throughout Tanzania, then they need to be able to claim both a cultural and a political identity. Thomson Safaris/TCL’s tactics, grounding Maasai rights in ethnicity over livelihood-based identity claims, limit the ability of Maasai groups to establish their struggle in concert with other peasant and pastoralist social movements for land and resources rights. By reproducing the commonsense belief that Maasai rights to resources were derived through ethnic belonging, Thomson Safaris/TCL gave support to a historical narrative that limited the possibilities for the Maasai to resist transnational investments such as their own. And unlike Thomson Safaris/TCL, which can benefit from a simplified narrative of ethnic division and conflict, local leaders are forced to navigate the lived experience and contextual meaning of ethnicity, which is embodied only in relation to other categories of belonging and difference.47
To be clear, the issue is not one of outside groups questioning the village as a democratic institution. Holding communities accountable to their constituents is an important part of any active democracy. Rather, it seems significant that private investors—in this case, foreign private investors—were able to actively challenge the legitimacy of a locally elected institution because that local institution questioned the investment and the investors’ motives and tactics. Not only did Thomson Safaris/TCL raise such questions about local government in Loliondo, but it also influenced how national officials and international observers understood the conflict. All of this worked in part because of a commonsense belief that Maasai culture was stuck in some prehistoric space in which change could only be imposed from the outside.
Private investors come with their own interests, ideas, and values, which are not exclusively based on profit. When their motives or interests are questioned, they can derive power from two commonsense narratives: first, that they are apolitical actors, interested solely in fostering development; and, second, that they are agents of change helping to disrupt the backward-looking African culture and invigorate it with the entrepreneurial vision. Either way, investors have become central producers of knowledge about the meanings of development, conservation, and community in Maasailand.
What can this story tell us about how safari tourism investors in northern Tanzania reshape landscapes, people, and cultural politics? Understanding how companies attempt to gain legitimacy by highlighting certain histories and geographies over others is important in grasping how contemporary landscapes are being remade. The Thomson Safaris/TCL dispute is ongoing, and at the center of the conflict is the question of who should control land and natural resources, and for what purpose. Who determines why land is valuable and how it should be used and managed? The Thomson Safaris/TCL project is not without its supporters. As with any intervention—be it market driven or state sponsored—different people stand to benefit and to lose. One group of Maasai sees the Thomson Safaris/TCL project as a way to solidify its standing in the community and secure its access to resources by maintaining good relationships to the company. A much larger coalition of Maasai leaders and community members has steadfastly resisted the deal. The very fact that eight years after the land deal was consummated and sanctioned by the state it was still in dispute is a remarkable political achievement by those who opposed it. These Maasai have resisted efforts by Thomson Safaris/TCL to fund school classrooms and local women’s groups as a way to legitimate its investment locally; they have dealt with evictions, harassment, and violence; and they have listened as government officials declared them ignorant and obstinate.
One of the effects of this regional history of safari tourism in Loliondo is that different groups of Maasai have been reterritorialized as belonging to particular ethnic communities with specific and limited land rights. The discursive and financial power of foreign investment for safari tourism produces new meanings as it creates new value and values. These ideas and practices are linked to discourses about African nature and who is best positioned to care for it. As I describe in the preface, Thomson Safaris has positioned itself as an enlightened investor who is simply attempting to act in the best interests of African nature and in so doing believes it is providing important benefits to Tanzania as a country and to the local Maasai residents. In the process it is representing and translating the meanings of land, identity, and belonging in the greater Serengeti region.
What begins to emerge from this story in northern Tanzania is how transnational interests, through foreign investments, necessarily help reconfigure the relationships between localities, nation-states, and various organizations around the world. These new maps of belonging and rights have the potential to lead to new opportunities for regional solidarity and national recognition of historically marginalized peoples and their interests. But such mapping may also validate more discrete forms of identity and encourage the proliferation of ethnicized identity and authority leading to conflict and violence.