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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: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Leon Ntakiyiruta

As a child, Leon wanted to be a magistrate – whom he saw as agents of justice. Born in 1983 in Burundi’s Southern province, he came of age at a time of great social and political upheaval in the East African country. In 1993 when Leon was barely 10, Burundi was besieged by a civil war that would last for the next 12 years until 2005, characterized by indiscriminate violence and gross human rights abuses in which over 300,000 people are estimated to have died.In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Aida Musa

In August 2011, Aida crossed into Uganda, pregnant, and barely able to communicate in another language other than Arabic. The transition was a difficult one, she says: “It was my first-time outside Sudan, and yet I did not know any other language. The first months were very difficult.”
In 2012, still struggling to find her footing in Kampala, Aida was introduced to DefendDefenders, where she was introduced to the organisation’s resource center, and assured, it (the center) would be at her disposal whenever she needed to use it.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pamela Angwench Judith

For most of her life, Pamela Angwech’s existence has always been a defiant and simultaneous act of survival and resistance. In 1976 when she was born, the anti-Amin movement was gathering pace, and her family was one of the earliest victims of the then dictatorship’s reprisals in Northern Uganda. Her father, a passionate educationist in Kitgum district was one of the most vocal critics of the dictatorship’s human rights excesses, which made him an obvious target of the state’s marauding vigilantes.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

The situation of South Sudan’s women and girls remains one of those enduring blights on the country’s conscience. The country retains the unenviable reputation of having the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and at 51.5%, one of the highest cases of child marriages. It is even worse with gender-based violence(GBV): A 2019 study by UNICEF found that one in every two South Sudan women have experienced intimate partner violence, while a recent UN study, alarmed at the widespread nature of conflict-related sexual violence in the country, in which women are tread as “spoils of war” described it as “a hellish existence for women and girls.

Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.