Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use.  Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.

“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Ngorongoro is one of the seven districts of northern Tanzania’s Arusha region. The over 5400 sq mile territory is originally the home of Tanzania’s Masai pastoral community, who gave it its name -Ngorongoro, from the sound of the cowbell (ngolo, ngolo).  The area is known for its lush plains and fertile lands, guaranteeing all-year pasture and water for cattle and other animals.  

But the area’s fertility also meant that it was an attractive habitat for a lot of other fauna, and in 1959, the colonial government gazetted the territory’s west into Serengeti National Park.  They relocated the Maasai pastoralists to the Ngorongoro crater in the park’s east, where they signed with them an agreement that allowed the Maasai to permanently settle and utilise the land.  However, in 1976, the Ngorongoro Crater was transferred to the management of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) which further pushed out the Maasai to create the Ngorongoro Conservation area.

“The more the authorities of the day tasted revenue from game-tourism, the more they pushed our people away from their lands, without regard to how long they had stayed there or where they would go,” says Kasale

 Pushed from their traditional and most fertile lands and with increasingly limited water and pasture, the Maasai lost their cows in thousands. In 2009, the NCAA placed new restrictions on human settlement and subsistence farming in the Ngorongoro conservation area, practically making it untenable for the Maasai to live in the area.

Kasale was 12 years then, and he saw his and his family’s life change because they could not carryout traditional farming on their own land.  “That was the first time I became conscious of the injustice happening all around us,” he says. Then in school, and forced to take turns at studying and resettling his parents’ cattle, he swore to study hard and confront the authorities behind his and his parents’ endangered existence. 

Last year, the Tanzanian government moved to gazette another 1500 sq kms of important pasture land for pastoral communities in Liliondo division as a hunting block for OBC – an Arab trophy hunting company that has been the subject of controversy in the area. Resident communities were forcefully evicted in an operation characterised by gross human rights violations.         

“Maasai bomas (houses) within the said 1500 km territory were burnt by game rangers. A lot of cattle were seized without compensation, and those who tried to resist were either killed or brutally injured. Moreover, those injured could not seek treatment in local health facilities for fear of being traced back by the operation enforcers, so they had to cross the border into Kenya for treatment,” says Kasale.

At the time, Kasale was doing his final year at university where he is pursuing a bachelors degree in science and education, and he decided he would let the world know about the human rights violations going on in his area. He mobilized fellow students from the Ngorongoro area to speak to local and international press about government excesses in the area, and invited journalists to Ngorongoro to witness first hand accounts of the human rights abuses taking place.

They also started neighborhood barazas to sensitise their people on how to report rights violations. When government started intimidating media houses not to carry stories of the government operation in Ngorongoro, Kasale and his peers turned to social media, exposing such violations on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the whole world to see.   For his efforts and relentlessness, Kasale became a marked man:

“ The NCAA reached out to the Ngorongoro Pastoralists Council (NPC) who are sponsoring my university education to warn me that if I didn’t stop my activism, they would withdraw my school scholarship. Between April - September 2022 my life was generally in danger because I was on the list of activists wanted by the government and the NCAA for sabotaging their project. As such, in June 2022, thanks to support from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, I was able to secretly relocate to Dar-es-salaam because I had gotten reliable information that I was to be kidnapped or even killed,” he says.

Despite the threats and intimidation, Kasale is not deterred. He says he will continue to speak up for the rights of his people because they have nowhere else to go.

“I must keep doing this. Our people are losing their ancestral land, their culture and cultural sites. We’re also losing our unique way of life -pastoralism, which is not only an economic activity but our very livelihood. Someone must stand up for the community,” he says.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

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