Archive 2003

 

Loliondo Hunting: Kenya Urged to Take Dar to ICJ 
A JOINT REPORT SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTS 


Monday, December 8, 2003 

KENYAN WILDLIFE conservationists are pressing the government to take Tanzania to the International Court of Justice in the Hague over Dar-es-Salaam’s decision to allow seasonal hunting in its Loliondo zone, which straddles the common border, in a dispute that has defied settlement for close to a decade. 

At the heart of the simmering dispute are claims that the Tanzanian firm Ortello Business Company (OBC), which is associated with a top military man from Dubai, is involved in the indiscriminate killing of wildlife migrating from Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and outlying areas. 

The firm is also being accused of contravening Tanzania’s hunting regulations, by setting on fire huge areas of grass and bushes adjacent to Serengeti game reserve. They then trap the scared animals by baiting them with salt and water. 

The Serengeti is the Tanzanian half of the world-famous Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya, which is a popular tourist destination because of the seasonal migration of wildebeest across the common border. At a function organised by the East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) in Nairobi recently, Kenyan conservation organisations, which included the Born Free Foundation and the Maasai Environment Resource Coalition (MERC), called for international intervention to end what they described as the wanton killing of wildlife across the common border under the guise of game hunting. 

The Born Free Foundation’s Ms Winnie Kiiru suggested that Kenya should take the matter to the international Court of Justice for arbitration. “We need to know whether the Court would have a role to play in this,” she said. MERC director Meitamei Ole Dapash said his organisation, which is a coalition of grassroots Maasai community groupings in Kenya and Tanzania, has raised the issue with both the European Union Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly, urging them to debate the matter. 

“The EU parliament responded positively late last month, requesting us to submit additional information before the matter is taken up in debate,” he said. 

The latest flare-up in the row was provoked by the recent release of a highly damning report, The Killing Fields of Loliondo, by Mr Dapash. He claimed that the hunting licence granted to OBC by the Tanzanian government contravened the 1978 amendment of the country’s Wildlife Act. 

But in a swift rejoinder, the Tanzanian government dismissed the claims. “All allegations against OBC and our government are baseless since there’s no evidence to prove the company has been violating the law of this country,” the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Zakhia Meghji, said last week. 

“We have different hunting blocks or zones,” she told The EastAfrican. “The rules or procedures to get the hunting licenses are the same and OBC followed these rules prior to getting its licence. But why Loliondo every time? she asked. “We as a country have our own regulations set by the parliament of Tanzania, whereby everything is done according to our laws, not external pressures. I personally went to Loliondo to investigate the matter, but I didn’t find anybody who is ready to tell us how the company is violating the law set by my ministry. We, therefore, believe that OBC follows all rules and regulations set by the Tanzania government.” 

But the Kenyan conservationists are far from convinced. Mr Dapash said: “Recently, we gave a copy of our findings to officials of National Geographic magazine, who were so shocked that they sent a reporter to investigate the matter.” 

EAWLS executive Ms Pat Awori said Kenya needs to engage Tanzania in cross-border conservation campaigns for the good of both countries. “We have to start now, otherwise there will be very little left to conserve.” 

Mrs Meghji also played down the threats from Kenyan conservation groups that they would seek their government’s intervention to raise the matter before the international court at The Hague. She said the Tanzanian government had not received any official communication about Loliondo from Nairobi. 

“We have been hearing or reading about these allegations in the media since 1992, but we have not received any official complaints from our counterparts in Kenya. We welcome any complaint if they have evidence to prove the allegations,” she said. 

Citing allegations of plundering of wildlife by OBC, the minister said everything was done according to export procedures set by the Tanzania Revenue Authority, to which the company is supposed to declare every single animal it intends to export, whether dead or alive. 

“We believe that all allegations are baseless and are raised by people who have a hidden agenda. When I went to Loliondo I met the villagers and their leaders, we discussed the issue and reached a conclusion that everything was fine, but later I came to hear the same allegations. I don’t know what is behind this,” she said. 

But EAWLS chairman, Nairobi surgeon Imre Loefler, said that he had first hand experience of the goings-on at the hunting zone during his time at Loliondo hospital in early 1990s. He said that his organisation has sought the views of the OBC on the matter on three different occasions without success. “Each time, OBC refused to co-operate saying that there was nothing to discuss and matters pertaining to its operations in Tanzania should be referred to the Tanzanian government.” 

“Secrecy and underhand dealings between the company and the Tanzanian government have all along been OBC’s modus operadi,” charged Mr Dapash. He recalled that when members of MERC’s investigative team visited Loliondo two years ago, they came across hundreds of Tanzanian paramilitary troops guarding OBC’s camp. “On this particular occasion in late 2000, Prince Abdalla of Jordan had visited the camp.” 

Two years ago, when The EastAfrican wrote about OBC, it turned out that the firm had been given the go-ahead to engage in hunting in Loliondo by the former Tanzanian president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, in the late 1980s. 

Hunting in Loliondo is an exclusive pastime for royal visitors from the United Arab Emirates and other kingdoms in the Middle East. 

The company has also been accused of killing animals indiscriminately and also of exporting large numbers of live animals from the area. These animals are carried in huge military planes that fly in directly from Dubai and land on local airstrips. 

OBC has also attracted the attention of the international media since it acquired exclusive concessions to operate in Loliondo. This has placed the Tanzanian government in something of a fix, as the company is reputed to be a significant contributor to the country’s exchequer. 

Kenya, conservationists say, has been on the losing end since OBC embarked on its operations. Nairobi has pursued a largely non-utilisation wildlife conservation policy ever since the founding president Jomo Kenyatta banned all forms of hunting in 1977. But Tanzania’s policy is different as the country’s wildlife areas are split into either national parks or hunting zones. According to Tanzania’s 1974 Wildlife Act, which was reviewed in 1978, nobody is allowed to open up any photographic-tourism venture within a hunting zone. 

Complaining that the killings of animals orgies in Loliondo defy all these regulations, community representatives approached MERC for assistance in late 2000, leading to the investigations. “Our findings have been a subject of lengthy discussion in many international fora,” said Mr Dapash. 

THE EAST AFRICAN http://www.nationaudio.com/News/EastAfrican/current/Regional/Regional081220030.html 
Reported by John Mbaria in Nairobi and Richard Mgamba in Mwanza 

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