Sap Slips

Sap Slips

Out there in the milky skies of a not-so-distant horizon I see the first sparkles of a mammoth explosion rising up from the yet slimy volcanoes just below ground: the travel bubble bursting.

Oh in this dismal world might also a Ukrainian nuclear plant or the world’s oldest democracies shatter like a CGI commercial for relieving your psoriasis, but truly you adventuresome soul, your airline ticket and safari price might soon be crumbling to pieces. Don’t blame me if I’m wrong. It’s happened before.
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Save The

Save The

At last a very important film on the human/wildlife conflict! Watch it. Wildlife documentaries are almost always directed towards fund-raising or scandal arousal. This film is different. It’s saying exactly what should be said, as I’ve been trying to do for years.

Lions are more threatened with extinction in the wild than any other big beast in Africa except possibly the rhino. “The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Lions” tells why. Yet I worry that many of you won’t imbibe the whole message. Let me explain.
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Hawking Democracy

Hawking Democracy

I hear a giant ho-hum following the grunt-grunt of the lion walking through the night.

Two days after the election with 10% of the polling stations still outstanding the two rivals for the Kenyan presidency are divided by less than 1 percent. It will be days before we know who is President. Maybe weeks as it gets hung up in the courts. Kenya is as tense as a cocked mousetrap.

But right now the country is peaceful. Young people didn’t vote. Parts of the country – particularly heavily populated parts near the coast – hardly turned out at all. The slums which account for more than half of the greater Nairobi population and which were instrumental in past elections’ violence, are quiet tonight.
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Ma Lives Matter

Ma Lives Matter

The “unlawful and forced eviction” of up to 70,000 Maasai in northeast Tanzania has turned bloody violent. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail an initial tear-gas episode in early June has escalated into outright warfare resulting in deaths and injuries.

“Shocking in its scale and brutality” this tragic situation is hardly new: Maasai have been driven from their pastures almost continually since their ancestors fled the Nubians in the 4th century BC. This complex story is one of the lectures I give on safari atop the Serengeti ‘Singing Rock’ that overlooks what was once the paradise of the Maasai before they ceded it to the government a half century ago.

The current conflict has its contemporary roots in a relocation of about 4,000 Maasai from northeast Tanzania in the 1960s right before Independence. A generation later in 1992 Maasai leaders formally accepted the government annexation of about 1600 sq. miles of their prime pastures which until then had remained an unresolved ownership issue with the British colonial government.

It remains uncertain whether the Maasai elders who ceded this huge area (the entire “Loliondo” district) understood exactly what they were doing or whether there was a lot of sugar spilled into the chai.

The area borders Kenya’s famous’ Maasai Mara to the north and Tanzania’s famous Serengeti to the west. These truly spectacular quintessential rolling grassland savannahs are perfect for cattle grazing, the traditional lifeway of Maasai.

Following the 1992 “treaty” the Tanzanian government quickly formalized smaller portions of that 1600 sq. miles as hunting reserves for Arab royalty. They had regularly hunted the area during their own insufferable summers ever since first being invited down by the British long, long ago for who knows what nefarious reasons.

After sectioning out hunting reserves for the Arabs who to this day claim they were given the whole of Loliondo by the British, the government declared the remainder “Wildlife Management Areas” (WMAs).

WMAs were and remain (intentionally?) so confusing that everybody and their brother ran up to this beautiful, game rich area to plant their own kind of stake. Including a group I was involved with for seven years.

In the early 2000s I had an interest in a company that had a remote wilderness camp close to where the Arabs were hunting. The mostly Jordanian militias that constantly harassed us claimed we were infringing on their area, but our WMA certificate had clearly delineated boundaries professionally surveyed for our 50,000 acres. Nevertheless, anyone coming into our “private reserve” would get a little beep on their cell phone, “Welcome to the Emirates!”

Ours was not the only non-hunting camp in the Loliondo area. By my last count in 2008 there were six. No one was ever able, however, to get a written document from either the Arabs or the Tanzanian government that would substantiate their claims to the entire Loliondo area.

I never got inside the Arab’s perimeter despite several attempts. Those who did reported “a little city” with an airport that routinely accepted the most modern private jet aircraft as well as C47’s that would disgorge limos and Range Rovers.

Maasai development was soaring by the end of the last century. Casual stock herding became true cattle ranching. In 1992 the price of a Maasai cow was around $70. Today it approaches $2000, a testament to Maasai’s rapid development and professional use of modern animal husbandry.

So more and more Maasai are choosing to “stay on the farm,” turning the tide that began in the 1980s when every promising young Maasai fled to the city. There are more and more cattle, more and more homesteads and guess what, no more land.

Disputes grew more violent after we left the area in 2008. Serious “wars” with Tanzania security forces occurred in 2009, 2013 and 2019.

I began blogging about this controversy in 2009. I ended that first blog by saying, “My take is that this is not going to get better, soon.”

The largest number of physical fights — not as deadly perhaps but much more acrimonious and self-destructive — have actually been between Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai ranchers.

Originally, of course, there was no border splitting the Maasai into three countries (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania). When the rain in the south was better, the Kenyan Maasai moved their cattle into Tanzania. And vice versa. So many more ranchers much better educated and lawyered up with many, many better cows are all fighting for the same number of blades of grass that grew here when the Maasai first arrived nearly 300 years ago.

In 2018 Tanzanian Maasai prevailed in the totally powerless East African Court of Justice which affirmed their historic rights to grazing throughout the area. This has sustained an increasingly articulate and powerful movement led by several courageous, young and very professional Maasai lawyers.

I think that Covid explains much of the current battle. No one came to Tanzania for nearly two years. Maasai in this area just naturally started grazing all over the place, including into the Serengeti National Park and the Arab hunting areas.

Covid’s over, the sheiks complained. Sheiks are rich and powerful. Maasai ranchers are not.

The piles of faulty treaties, questionable agreements and coerced submissions to informal modern use of deeply historical use, all compounded by an inept government that mistakenly tried to manage the area with incomprehensible regulations has just piled mess upon mess.

Untangling it is impossible. It’s time that the Tanzanian government emulate Canada with its First Nation policy or America with its modern Athabascan Alaskan policy and recognize the historical first principle of Maasai ownership of the lands and send the Arabs back in a heat wave.

Is that likely?

Haiwezakani sana…

Gutting Democracy

Gutting Democracy

Some of the best legal scholarship of our times created Kenya’s new constitution 15 years ago and South Africa’s a decade earlier.

In the end both Kenya and South Africa adopted a three-branch federal government like the United States. But both societies established a creed practical for the modern age. And it’s the reason both countries protect the right for abortion and the U.S. no longer does.
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OnSafari: Endless

OnSafari: Endless

The unexpected night at Hemingway’s resort in Nairobi refreshed and rejuvenated everyone. I love Hemingway’s. I thought of Raffles in the Seychelles, an over-the-top property specifically marketed as a “fancy resort and spa.” I like Hemingway’s better.

The rooms are bigger, the bathroom is just aw large and gorgeous, the woodsy grounds with flowered landscaping a fine substitute for the Indian Ocean, and the dozens of chirping swifts, grunting colobus and melodic bulbuls more relaxing to me than the crashing waves on the beach.

Hemingway’s is where you go to rest up, not worry about which jewelry worn to dinner will perfectly reflect the candlelight. I ordered a hamburger.
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OnSafari : 1st Impressions

OnSafari : 1st Impressions

My Uber driver somehow noticed my app came from America and greeted me in perfect English, “Where you from?” I told him Chicago. He thought a moment then sort of sardonically guffawed:

“Are you prepared for the trouble?”

I’d let my routine slip recently, not following Kenyan news as I usually do. I knew the presidential elections were coming up, always a bad time to be in Kenya. My mind raced through all the too many different times in my life I’d stepped into trouble in Africa, rarely accidentally. But I’m much older now. My heart didn’t race like it did when I was young. There was no adrenaline. I always got through it before. Would now. No matter what it was.

“So what’s wrong?” I finally prompted him.

“What?!” he asked incredulously. “You didn’t hear about the shooting of children in Texas?”
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Imminegration

Imminegration

Courtesy / The New York Times
Two of my closest African acquaintances are settled in America. Both hurdled right over all the obstacles to immigration into the States: One is a political refugee and one is an accomplished physician.

It’s left me scratching my head. What distinguishes these two individuals from the hundreds of thousands pounding on our southern border with similar motivations and urgencies?
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Far Out

Far Out

I was supposed to be in Paris with my wife celebrating our 50th anniversary. I’m in Dublin where I’ll be writing more about this interesting, unexpected journey due to Covid in later days. But today I just gotta write about Marriott!

Marriott is pleased as puddin pie that it’s opening a luxury camp in Kenya’s Mara. “The location and surrounding landscape will … create harmony with the natural world … drawing inspiration from the elements: earth, wind, fire and water.” Not sure about the fire.
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Unregulated War

Unregulated War

Last night EWT’s first large group since January 2020 arrived Nairobi on Air France. Quoting the leader, “It was a LONG DAY.” PCR testing, endless lines as health officials scrutinized and tested every entrant, and sudden new regs against the Yellow Fever outbreak… “Exhausting” he said. Then…

… two hours after they were tucked asleep in their Nairobi hotel, the Kenyan Government removed most restrictions regarding Covid as a result of the enormous decline in the virus locally. All you need now is a copy of your vaccination. How we want to celebrate! But we can’t because of Ukraine.
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African Cowardice

African Cowardice

“We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”

When Kenya’s Martin Kimani, ambassador to the UN, concluded his lambasting of Russia in the UN Security Council last Tuesday we waited for the rest of Africa to follow suit. They didn’t.

My surprise has turned to anger. A life of empathy with Africa’s condition riles my intellect. What the hell is wrong with Africa, the part of the world that has suffered more from foreign occupation than any other?
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Desmond Delivered

Desmond Delivered

There’s an intersection in the middle of Nairobi city which we used to call the Square of Churches years ago. There’s only one church there, the city’s main Catholic Cathedral, Holy Family Minor Basilica, and it’s a roundabout so I have no idea how the moniker developed.

Kitty-corner from the Basilica is Jomo Kenyatta’s Mausoleum. Between the two on the north end is the Intercontinental Hotel, and kitty-corner from that, City Park. If the new highway didn’t obscure my nostalgic memories I’d suggest that the name of the place be changed to the Desmond Tutu Plaza.
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Level Headed Up

Level Headed Up

The BBC just published findings from thousands of British Covid cases of which 581 were the confirmed Omicron variant. The preliminary conclusion is that even those who are fully vaccinated with a booster have a 1 in 4 chance of getting sick from Omicron. How sick? The BBC is careful to say this won’t begin to be known until next week and hastened to add that the British Health Minister believes it will be “mild” sickness.

What is “mild?” Should you go on your trip?
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