Tag Archives: Tanzania

Remnants of al- Qaeda Fueling Muslim Youth in Zanzibar

1 Sep
the guardian.com

the guardian.com

During the month of February, 2014 alone three Christian churches on Zanzibar were targeted by Islamic extremists. On February 15th, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a second bomb was thrown into the same entrance the very next day. Another bombing took place at the entrance to the Evangelical Assemblies of God Church on February 23rd- only eight days later. While the very next afternoon, two bombs exploded at the entrance to Christ’s Church, the Anglican Cathedral located in Stone Town as well as at Mercury’s Seafood Restaurant a popular tourist destination also located in the historic center of Zanzibar City. These were only the latest in a host of bombings and burnings committed against Christians throughout the city.

In January 2014, a bomb exploded outside a Zanzibar mosque in Stone Town killing one person and wounding seven after a handmade explosive device was thrown from a car as worshippers left the mosque. A cleric visiting from the mainland had preached a sermon that morning urging all Muslims to remain peaceful in spite of the Jihadi’s use of violence to achieve their aims.

In August 13, 2013, two British teenagers, Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup were victims of an acid attack as they walked through the streets of Stone Town on their way to supper. Two young men on a moped threw a jerry can of battery acid onto the girls as they sped by causing serious damage to their faces, chests, and backs

Two Catholic priests were victims of shootings; the first severely wounded on Christmas Day, 2012 just after he’d arrived home. Then again on February 17, 2013 a second Catholic priest was shot and killed. On September 13, 2013 an acid attack occurred on a Catholic priest in the outskirts of Zanzibar City.

Uamsho, a well- known separatist organization on the island, has been identified by the police as the movement behind the bombings and shootings after sending out written messages threatening to do just that- even naming the churches that would be targeted. The Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation or Uamsho as it has aptly named itself literally means “The Awakening” in Swahili. It began as a religious charity for Muslims then morphed into a Separatist movement shortly after the 1964 union with Tanzania. The goal of Uamsho since 2010 was and is to organize the islands in Zanzibar Archipelago into one Muslim country bound by Sharia Law. It resents the agreement made with Tanzania in 1964 just after it had been declared a constitutional monarchy by Britain and seeks to become its own autonomous country in union with Tanzania in the same way the countries in Europe have come together as equal members in the European Union. It also wants to impose a “public code of conduct” on all tourists visiting the islands in regards to their dress and the public consumption of alcohol. It has also suggested that all “wabara” or mainlanders originally from the continent of Africa and now living in Zanzibar lose their status as residents and be deported.

Zanzibar is an archipelago or collection of islands. There are two main islands Unguja, the main island where Zanzibar City is located and Pemba, which encompasses the smaller islands. Seeing that 97-98% of the population living in the Zanzibar Archipelago are Muslims and follow the teachings of the Qu`ran the goals of Uamsho make sense to them which has made it a very popular organization among the local citizenry. When Uamsho’s leader Sheikh Fared Hadi Ahmed suddenly went missing in October, 2012 two days of the worse riots ever experienced in Zanzibar’s history erupted over his possible abduction. Shiekh Hadi has since been located and arrested along with ten other Muslim clerics all charged with criminal conspiracy as well as the instigation of violence.

Uamsho is also very popular with other wealthy Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran who openly fund the movement. The Serena Hotel in Stonetown is owned by his highness the Aga Kahn IV, Imam of the Shia Imami Islami Muslims and direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed. While Saudi Arabia invests more than one million dollars each year in supporting Islamic Universities, madrasas, and providing scholarships for Zanzibar’s young men to study in Mecca.

It seems that Uamsho’s rhetoric appeals to a certain type of youth especially the unemployed or under-employed. Unfortunately although Muslims make up the largest population living on the islands; more than 1/3 of them live in dire poverty while even those with jobs exist on less than one US dollar a day. According to Zanzibar’s 2012 employment statistics 80% of men less than thirty years of age are currently unemployed. And the country of Somalia is only 300 miles away from Zanzibar by boat making it an easy trip. Al- Shabaab knows this and has begun to entice disenfranchised males from Zanzibar in the same way they recruit young Kenyan boys from Mombasa. Tourism on Zanzibar generates well over 500 million dollars (US) annually but few local residents ever benefit from these profits. European firms especially those from Italy have invested heavily in Zanzibar’s resort hotels but these large chains recruit their staff from the East African mainland especially Kenya instead of selecting local residents to assume well- paying positions. These same hotels pay the Tanzanian government in Dar es Salaam enormous sums of money in taxes yet little of these funds find their way back to the poor of Zanzibar leaving large numbers of unemployed youth free to wander the streets with little chance of advancement and less chance of making a good marriage. In the end these are the type of young men Islamic extremists prey upon because it is the angry and disgruntled ones who’ll throw the bombs and fire their AK-47’s on command. It is young men exactly like these who are responsible for throwing acid and tossing bombs around Stonetown lately.

As al- Shabaab and its larger affiliate al-Qaeda continue to lose respect in Middle Eastern Countries they have moved south looking for newer targets; places where Muslims have demonstrated discontent with the status quo. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey the majority of Muslims surveyed had an unfavorable view of al- Qaeda one year after Osama bin Laden’s death. In Pakistan alone, a good 55%, over half, rated al- Qaeda unfavorably. “Typically when people, are exposed to extremist violence in their own country we tend to see them reacting negatively to it,’ stated Richard Wike, associate director of Pew’s Global Attitudes Project.

But to better under Zanzibar’s separatist views and current opposition to its relationship with mainland Tanzania one only has to examine its rich and colorful history. Because of its prime location out in the Indian Ocean some thirty miles from mainland Africa it was an ideal place on which to establish a center dedicated to trade and commerce. Early on Persians, Arabs, and Indians did just that turning it into a base of operations for their ships as well as their merchants. By 1503, European naval powers became aware of its existence and it was subsequently claimed by Portugal and made part of its Empire. Portugal continued to maintain a loose form of control upon these islands for the next two centuries. In 1631 the Sultan of Mombasa, an island kingdom located off the coast of Kenya massacred all of the European inhabitants living there which sent the Portuguese administrators on Zanzibar into a panic. They decided to use someone better acquainted with Zanzibar to rule it and invited the Sultan of Oman, one of the smaller countries that borders Saudi Arabia and is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Said Bin Sultan was a great ruler who not only controlled Zanzibar but added a good portion of the Swahili coast from lower Kenya to current day Tanzania to his administrative territory. He established a lucrative slave and ivory trade on the island sending large expeditions into East and Central Africa as far away as the Congo in search of tribes willing to sell human beings. The newly-purchased slaves then carried the heavy tusks of ivory back with them to Zanzibar. In 1840 Sultan Said made Zanzibar his capital city rather than the city of Muscat in Oman. He also oversaw the creation of large plantations on which a range of expensive spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper were grown. These plantations were owned and run by Arab families loyal to the Sultan. Eventually this small, elite group helped him rule the island. The great Sultan Said Bin continued to rule Oman as well as Zanzibar up until his death when his two sons replaced him. By 1822 British naval ships had entered Zanzibar Harbor seeking to end the slave trade and close down all slave markets on Unjuga for good. This was no easy task but by 1842 the British were well on their way to seeing their mission completed. By 1890 Zanzibar had been made a British protectorate rather than a colony of Great Britain. From 1890 until 1913 Arab viziers were assigned by the British to govern in their name but starting in 1913 until 1963 British diplomats were appointed to serve as the island’s governors. The islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago gained their independence from Britain on December 20th 1963 and for a very short time existed as a constitutional monarchy.

And then the Zanzibar Revolution erupted without warning. On the night of January 12th, 1964  John Okello, along with 600 – 800 men many of whom were dock workers affiliated with the island’s Afro- Shirazi Party ( ASP) and with ties to other countries in East Africa stormed the local police stations, subdued the policemen there, confiscated all weapons stored in the local armories, then headed out to the government building to remove the current Sultan of Zanzibar and his Arab advisors from power. The Sultan and his minions had already left the city on his yacht. Some of the rebels quickly took control the local radio station while others searched for people of Arab and Asian descent. These were hunted down and dragged from shops and homes then beaten and shot dead in the streets. Hundreds died during the chaos of that night while thousands more escaped from harm by setting off into the Indian Ocean on their boats. After only twelve hours of fighting the rebels controlled the central government of Zanzibar.

Okello, originally a citizen of Uganda, came to the island seeking employment and found a position as a dock worker. He joined the local Afro- Shirazi Party and soon served as its branch secretary. Okello believed he had been appointed by God to break the control of the Arab/ Asian ruling class living on the island because Zanzibar rightfully belonged to Bantu Africans. Okello installed Abeid Karume, leader of the Afro-Shirazi Party, as the first President of the new country of Zanzibar. Then Okello gave himself the tile “Field Marshall” and along with his rebels continued to attack any Arabs and Asians still in residence on the islands. He then organized his revolutionaries into the Freedom Military Force and used them to patrol the streets confiscating all Arab and Asian properties on behalf of the newly- formed government. Okello believed that Zanzibar needed the support of their Bantu African allies in Tanganyika in order to remain free from Arab control so signed an agreement of confederation with this country at the first opportunity. But Okello’s reign was short- lived and by  March 11th, 1964 President Karume had stripped him of his title and seen to it that he could never enter Zanzibar again. Okello was deported to Tanzania then Kenya finally returning to his own country of Uganda where he died a broken man. On April 26th, 1964 the Zanzibar Republic merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania with Zanzibar designated as its own semi- autonomous region.

Residents of Zanzibar bristle at the mention of this agreement and the idea of a separate country of Zanzibar appeals to many. The current population of Zanzibar is about a million strong and pulls from a wide range of diverse ancestries causing ethnic tensions to simmer just beneath the surface. After Sultan Said established his capital on Zanzibar around 1940, a small group of Omani Arabs, friends of the Sultan were lured to the island with promises of great wealth. These families eventually came together to form an elite class of plantation owners and administrators who helped the Sultan rule the island while traders from India formed their own exclusive brotherhood of merchants. Although many Arabs and Asians fled during the revolution many returned once Okello had been removed and Zanzibar had been joined to Tanzania. Even on the eve of Zanzibar’s independence Arabs accounted for less than 20% of the island’s total population yet were some of its wealthiest residents who served in government positions of great power. Other residents of Zanzibar had not fared so well. These came from the mainland, Bantu Africans, descendants of the freed slaves who’d once been forced to work the plantations. And a special group known as the Shirazi, an ethnic group formed as a result of intermarriages between Bantu Africans and Persians were some of the earliest peoples to settle the islands. Many residents still feel the way Okello did, that Zanzibar should be the exclusive domain of Bantu Africans and Shirazi – not Arabs and Indians who have their own countries in which to reside.

But what has brought Zanzibar’s mixed population together in the past is its choice of religion and what is holding it together now is its religion as well. An estimated 97-98% of all islanders are Muslims and are not terrorists. It would be very easy for Muslims to stage a revolt and oust all Christians from the islands and is a testament to their remarkable tolerance that they have not. The majority of local Muslims on Zanzibar have shown great restraint and not bought into the terrorist rhetoric spread by al- Qaeda representatives visiting from Kenya. And those young men, the ones who do join al- Shabaab; the ones looking to vent their anger on someone else; they could just as easily be guided in a more favorable direction. If they were provided with the training needed to qualify them for lucrative jobs that would give them a chance to make desirable marriages; this would go a long way in quelling their destructive temperaments. It’s time the large hotels came together and joined with the government of Tanzania to tackle the unemployment crisis on Zanzibar. Wide scale employment could very well be an acceptable antidote to  increasing acts of terrorism.

Kat Nickerson                                     Kingston, RI


The Business of Witchcraft: Child Sacrifice in East Africa

1 Jul
Children of Kitui , Kenya  KN- 2007

Children of Kitui , Kenya KN- 2007

According to Humane Africa in its January 2013 Report, Child Sacrifice and the Mutilation of Children in Uganda, cases of child sacrifice are on the rise and at least one child dies every week as a result of a ritualistic murder. The Lively Minds Initiative, a group working in the schools to combat this heinous crime, defines child sacrifice as “the killing, mutilation, or removal of body parts from a child for the purpose of witchcraft, ritual practices or sale”. In 2011 alone Humane Africa estimated that upwards of 9,000 children had gone missing between 2007 and 2012.

But before I begin to explain this deplorable practice two things have to be made clear: 1.) child sacrifice is not a new ritual in East and Central Africa but has been practiced in these regions for centuries and 2.) there is a systemic belief throughout Africa regardless of tribe or country that blood- letting and the acquisition of certain human and animal body parts brings great prosperity.

Many tribes still engage in traditional initiations that require them to shed blood as well as collect body parts. Read the following excerpt from Xinhua, English.news.cn then tell me what year you think this article was published?
“Two Killed, Dozens Wounded at Ritual Killing at Kenya-Ethiopian Border”

Ethiopian warriors killed two Kenyans and wounded 14 others on Wednesday night in a ritual killing barely a fortnight after deadly clashes between Merrile and Turkana tribesmen killed dozens others along the common frontier.

Survivors and officials said on Thursday that hundreds of Merrile youths aged between 13 and 18 are queued for a circumcision ritual between this month and August and cultural dictates that they exhibit braveness by killing an enemy before being circumcised.

Once they kill, they chop off private parts and other organs of their victims, including ears, noses and toes, which they carry away and present as a sign of bravery.

And on Wednesday night, Merrile initiates from Namurupus area, Southern Zone travelled over 40 km inside Kenya and indiscriminately fired at a dancing crowd during Wednesday night attack at Kokuro village.”

This event occurred not one hundred years ago or even twenty- five years ago but a mere four years ago on June 18, 2009. “The desire for blood-letting has never left the East African male” a dear Kenyan colleague, who I emailed about this matter, reminds me, “ and all East Africans, despite their ivy-league diplomas and fancy suits, are absolutely convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that juju (black magic) exists all around them.”

Placide Tempels, the Franciscan missionary famous for his book Bantu Philosophy states in his study of the African psyche “every misfortune that an African encounters is attributed to an outside force that has acted upon the individual.  So things like illness or misfortune are a direct result of another more powerful entity having a greater hold on the person than his/her own life force. Death does not alter the personality or end the present life of the individual only changes its condition so the dead are able to actively participate in the life of the present community and continue to communicate with the living in the form of ancestors or wandering ghosts.”

The Kenyan religious philospher, John Mbiti wrote that “the belief in the continuation of life after death for African peoples does not constitute a hope for a future and better life. To live here and now is the most important concern of African religious activities and beliefs. Even a life in the hereafter is conceived in materialistic and physical terms. There is neither paradise to be hoped for nor hell to be feared in the hereafter” (Mbiti 1969, pp. 4–5).

According to traditional lore in Congolese kindoki (witchcraft) a witch can live in two separate worlds simultaneously the visible one and the invisible one called the’ second’ world. Life in the second world mirrors what takes place in the first but is all about the acquisition of power and the conquest of others in order to do the witch’s bidding.

And although the practice of Voodoo or ‘Voudon’ originated in West and Central Africa and has been closely linked to the slave trade in this region beginning in the fifteenth century strong beliefs in witchcraft or sorcery as it is called in the French-speaking nations has always dominated East African cultural and social beliefs. Kenyan’s magical lore involves ‘muti’ the use of spells and charms to help a person achieve their goals so in Kiswahili the word for witchcraft is kamuti. And the person who has been trained to negotiate with the spirit or second world is called a m’ganga (witchdoctor) or wa’ganga ( witch doctors).

I clearly remember walking by a ithembo (spirit shrine) one Sunday afternoon in Kitui before the group I was with understood what they had done. There were five Kenyans, all college-educated professionals and one medical doctor with me that day and. every one of them was petrified that we had insulted the spirits and therefore would bring bad juju down on us. They were so concerned that no one moved until we stopped and discussed the matter then agreed to a solution. We eventually decided to leave about twenty-five dollars in Kenyan shillings near the site with a message taped to it that stated, “This money belongs to the spirits dwelling in the ithembo and no one else.” Only then could the members of the group walk on .

I also remember while living with the Kamba in Kitui sitting around the campfire at night listening to their tales about the most powerful witches who they said lived in the mountains we could see from the back of our guest house. The members of the Kamba tribe,( Wakamba) are rather famous among the rest of Kenya’s tribes for their use of magic and spells and were known to sacrifice children to their gods a century ago in order to bring the rain. No man or woman, native or mzungu ever openly scoffed about juju or witchcraft in my presence while I lived in Kitui- kamuti was considered as much a part of their lives as the act of breathing or eating.

So why the emergence in child sacrifices in East Africa beginning around 2007? If one looks at the Ugandan and the Kenyan GDP during this time the killings began just when Uganda and Kenya’s economies began to dramatically improve for the better. Businessmen located in Kampala and Nairobi became wealthy in a few short years and their stores prospered. Middle class Ugandans and Kenyans suddenly grew rich and able to purchase homes in the better parts of town. A new class of merchant was born – one who had not been born rich but had made his money through hard work and shrewd business acumen. But as quickly as the economy flourished by 2009 it started to take a sharp turn for the worse. In Kenya, where the unemployment rate was around 12% in 2006 by 2012 it had steadily increased to 40%. (United Nations Development, 2013) And in Uganda where it was 1.90 % in 2007-2008 , it rose to 4.20% from 2010-2012. The nouveau riche in Kampala and Nairobi began to feel desperate convinced that their current good fortune could leave them  unless they thought of a way to keep it with them.

“And this was about the time a group of unscrupulous witch doctors began to recognize the fear and desperation in their clients’ voices and started to resurrect the old ritual of child sacrifice in order to vanquish their clients’ fears and at the same time profit handsomely from these deals”. According to the information passed along to me by a well- informed friend living in Kampala. “It was a time when a very resourceful network of criminals saw a way to make a quick buck at the expense of children”.

According to an Apr. 24, 2009 ChristianWeek.org article there are about 160,000 traditional healers practicing in Uganda. 100 times the licensed medical doctors working in the country and according to a local news poll 4 out of 5 Ugandans have admitted to consulting with traditional healers. Most of these healers are moral, dedicated individuals who would never condone or take part in child sacrifices. No, these murderous wa’ganga were a new breed of assassins altogether; most of them were men, some of them were women and all of them were willing to murder children for a price.

These wa’ganga were scam-artists at best and in no way connected to the more reputable healers serving the people in both countries. Most of these men (and a few women) had received little to no training about the spirit world and invented their rituals on stories they had heard as children while a few others had been incompetent healers at best. All of them were violent criminals more dangerous because of the guns and the poison they used than the spells they claimed to cast. They had no problem condoning the  murder of  innocent children and asking for certain body parts. They managed to engineer a profitable scheme based upon an ancient practice and began charging exorbitant sums of money to arrange these child sacrifices  to ensure wealth, health, and prosperity for their clients. To a man they preached that slaughtering a child pleased the spirits more than anything else ensuring the individual the greatest good fortune.

Some local healers began informing authorities that many of these ‘evil’ witch doctors had entered Uganda and Kenya from Tanzania after the government there cracked down on human sacrificing and on the sale of human skin in 2008. Albinos were especially being targeted across Tanzania because their body parts were said to be especially potent when used in protection rituals. Wherever they originated from, the child- murderers emerged advertising their services on radio, internet, and signs posted on roadways and bragging about their ability to heal and perform spiritual services for those able to pay their fees.

In doing so, these men discovered a valuable, new commodity- a surplus of vulnerable children. And there was an ever- plentiful supply. According to the (United Nations Development Program 2013) 80% of all Kenyans are less than 35 years of age and 77% of all Ugandans are less than 30 years of age. Many of these children were neither loved nor wanted and already placed a considerable burden on their families to cloth and feed. They were easy to trick, abduct, and subdue. Many of them were so hungry that they would go with anyone who offered them food to eat. Plus they were worth hundreds of dollars apiece to the right buyer.

And so the trade in child sacrifices was established and quickly became a lucrative business endeavor. The m’ganga’s message was a simple one- when you offer blood or body parts from a living child to the spirits, they will acknowledge this great sacrifice by granting you continuous wealth, health, and prosperity. Children’s body parts were also used as good luck charms and when buried under a new house or store secured lasting good luck for the owner. Or blood and body parts could be left as an offering at an ithembo on the altar directly in front of a spirit tree, (an old tree where the spirits are known to dwell).

The goal is to find an unmarked child who has no piercings or marks on his/her body- the purer the child the more money charged and the more effective his/her blood and body parts during the ritual. Securing a child can be done in two ways: by stealing the child or by purchasing the child. Parents in rural areas near big cities have  been more than willing to sell off their children for a price and have also been known to kill their own children in similar rituals in order to guarantee continuing prosperity for themselves and their business endeavors. Boys are more valued for their heads, genitals, and blood and girls for their blood, heart, and liver.

In 2008 the Ugandan police reported that ritual murders had increased over 800% from the year before and that children were the victims, most disappearing from rural villages located near the capital city of Kampala. By May, 2009, the US State Department had declared Uganda a ‘ hub’ for human trafficking because of the spike in the number of children reported missing. Uganda was embarrassed by the United Nations into creating Uganda’s Anti- Human Sacrifice Taskforce. Backed by the Uganda Witchcraft Act of 1957 the policemen assigned to this taskforce have been charged with collecting the evidence needed to bring the evil wa’ganga to justice but they have yet to show that they are up to the task. Complaints of corruption and bribery within the ranks of the taskforce have hurt its image considerably and Ugandan families who have lost children are not confident that these men have either the skills or the commitment necessary to locate their missing sons and daughters. According to their own records from 2006-2010 of the 138 cases relating in some way to human sacrifice the taskforce brought 83 to trial in a court of law and only one person was convicted as a result.

How can adults  treat children as livestock, willing to  engage in selling them – even murdering them?   But even as I ask myself this question  I know differently. Young children and old people are the first to die whenever the primary group’s survival has been threatened by war or natural disaster. Dire poverty makes people do desperate things and as countries like the United States and European Union begin to recover from the downturn in the economy remember that the residents of third world countries have been hit that much harder. When there are no jobs available the cleverest among us invent our own and as the pool of accessible commodities shrink we get real inventive and consider more  novel ways to earn money using those things that were previously considered illegal or taboo. In many developed nations there are people who go to bed hungry at night but have access to centers, shelters, and other ways to secure food the very next day. Go to bed hungry in a hut in rural Tanzania because your crops have failed to grow and you and your entire family could be dead by the end of the week. This type of desperation makes monsters of average people who will do anything in order to survive – the jackals, we call them.

It is easy  to choose  morality on a full stomach but would any of us act differently if we faced a similar lack of resources and death loomed that much closer each and every day? Think about it.

Kat Nickerson                                           Kingston  Rhode Island       USA

What Will It Take to Save the East African Lion from Extinction? Hunting or Herding?

20 May
My Favorite Lion Photo, I took this on safari in the Maasai Mara in  2005

My Favorite Lion Photo, I took this on safari in the Maasai Mara in 2005


What, if anything can save the East African lion from extinction?  A hundred years ago more than 200,000 wild lions roamed freely over the continent of Africa but according to present day estimates a mere 32,000 lions (IUCN, 2013) remain throughout its forest woodlands and savannahs. More wild lions are found in the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania than any of the other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa combined. Currently classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the wild lion has been ousted from over 75% of its previous habitats on this continent in the last century alone, making scientists and conservationists alike wonder if the “ King of the Beasts” is well on his way to extinction.

And the wild lion communities in Central and Western Africa have fared the worse. Experts believe that there may be less than 2,000 wild lions left in West and Central Africa, -a mere 6% of the total lion population identified as living in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013.  This has prompted the IUCN to reclassify the status of the Central and Western African lion to ‘Regionally Endangered” due to the dramatic drop in its numbers in previous years. There are large areas in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and other locations around West Africa where wild lions have not been sighted for decades. In a ‘last ditch’ effort to save the remaining big cats in these countries from extinction, a new project, The Large Carnivore Initiative for West and Central Africa has been established through a joint effort among several international conservation groups

Many conservationists feel that the African lion can only be saved through an immediate and intense global effort led by the United States and the European Union but heavily endorsed by the United Nations. In 2011, five animal-rights groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the African lion as an “Endangered Species,” citing that “their numbers had continued to significantly drop due to habitat encroachment by humans, poaching, commercial hunting, and a host of deadly diseases.”

So it was surprising when Alexander Songorwa, Director of Wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the highest ranking wildlife official in the country of Tanzania publically opposed this request in a letter to the New York Times’ Opinion Page on March of 2013. He explained in this open declaration that the revenues generated from Tanzania’s lion- hunting endeavors were critically responsible for helping the country both maintain and protect its current population of lion prides from extinction and would “threaten the country’s capacity to protect all of its wild lions.”

Trophy hunting is big business in Tanzania worth millions of US dollars in revenue to the country; trophy hunting safaris were responsible for adding over $75 million US to Tanzania’s economy between the years 2008 – 2011. And American hunters have booked at least 60 % of all trophy-hunting safaris in this country meaning that these hunters play an important role in providing the financial capital used to sustain wildlife conservation throughout Tanzania in the twenty-first century. The US dollars spent on expensive “safari packages” and “taxidermist services” literally support Tanzanian game reserves, wildlife management positions, and conservation efforts. According to Mr. Songorwa if Tanzania’s wild lions are placed on the endangered species list then American “Big Game Hunters” would no longer be permitted to bring the skins and mounted heads of their “kills” through customs once they had landed in the United States. Seems that displaying your animal ‘trophy’  is considered to be a significant part of the hunting experience so Mr. Songorwa is correct in assuming that these same men and women would soon go elsewhere to pursue “approved”  game.

But Songorwa claims that hunting the Tanzanian wild lion has not decimated its numbers as commonly thought rather it has saved the wild lion population in his country from extinction. He insists that Tanzania is home to the largest population of wild lions in the world.  He proposes that 16,800 lions, or 40 % of all the wild lions in Africa currently live in Tanzania, but 16,800 out of a grand total of 32,000 lions ( IUCN, 2013) living on the entire continent makes it more like Tanzania is home to more than 53% of all Africa’s wild lions if his estimates are to be believed. And he goes on to say “that although our hunting system is not perfect we have managed to keep our lion population stable and protected throughout the 26 large game reserves.”

According to Mr. Songorwa, Tanzania has already allocated one third of its land for national parks, game reserves, and wildlife management areas successfully regulating the hunting of wild lions for decades. All females and adolescent males less than six years of age cannot be hunted for any reason and the government recently made it a crime to kill any members of this subset. The killing of older males has also been limited to specific quotas based on the current lion population in each hunting area.  And he maintained that stricter laws on animal exports and safari companies have further helped the Wildlife Service to more thoroughly police the actions of Tanzania’s trophy-hunting businesses at the local level.

In a 2009 study, lion expert Professor Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota along with other colleagues from the US, UK, and Tanzania determined as a result of their research that the trophy hunting rate of big cats throughout Tanzania had consistently been too high. He predicted that the future population of lions and leopards in Tanzania would be seriously decimated unless fewer big cats were killed by trophy hunters each year. According to Packer, Tanzania currently allows about “500 lions and 400 leopards per year to be killed for sport across a total area of 300,000 km² which equates to 1.67 lions per 1000 km² and 1.3 leopards per 1000 km².”

Although Mr. Songorwa’s message seemed sincere enough it remains to be seen just how committed his country has been to the plight of the wild lion after all. And although changes in the hunt totals and exemptions based on age and sex that Dr. Packer recommended in his study were made by the Tanzanian Wildlife Service these new regulations have only been in place for the past three years meaning that all of these improvements could have been made “too little, too late” to effect the systemic change needed to ensure the survival of the lion population into the next decade. Plus there is a better than average chance that these laws and restrictions will not be followed in the more remote hunting areas. With hunters ready to pay enormous tips for the pleasure of the kill and guides earning pitifully low wages any lion is sure to be considered fair game at the end of a long and unproductive “hunting drive” no matter its age or sex.

According to Dr. Packer the government of Tanzania should be commended for seeking to improve their wildlife policies and their trophy- hunting operations and if they strictly enforce each one of his recommendations the decline in the current population of wild lions due to the effects of over- hunting should abate soon enough giving the prides time to increase their numbers. But Packer’s recommendations have not been adhered to all that closely to ensure the results he predicted.

Kenya has always looked at the revenues generated by Tanzania’s trophy- hunting operations with a jaded eye. Kenya has established many local “Lion Projects” over the years that collect and share lion data across the country and the Maasai, a tribe dependent on their herds of cattle have taken an exceptionally active interest in increasing the lion populations around the Maasai Mara, one of the country’s largest game reserves. The country banned trophy hunting back in 1977 and has no intention of following Tanzania’s lead. In fact, when I have been on safari in Kenya the guides have taken great pride in telling me that, “Kenya does not tolerate the killing of its wild animals by hunters for any reason.”

In January 2011, the government of Uganda followed suit requiring that the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) cancel all hunting concessions that had been previously granted to the major wildlife reserves citing concern for the “dwindling numbers” of wild animals in these areas. “Hunting is now prohibited,” Mark Kamanzi, acting director of UWA told the Ugandan press as he reiterated that the profits from all sports- hunting endeavors were not “substantial, had not stopped poachers, or helped wildlife reserves to better manage their resources”.

Other countries in Africa are currently facing the same critical decisions in regard to the future of trophy –hunting enterprises within their own countries. Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, Sylvia T. Masebo, announced in December, 2012, that specific hunting licenses would be suspended indefinitely as they had “been abused to the extent they threatened the country’s animal populations.” And by January, 2013 the Zambian government put laws into effect that banned all lion and leopard hunting, citing that these populations had faced a substantial decline in recent years.

Botswana has taken a similar pro-conservation stance as President Ian Khama pledged that, “the shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve the local fauna” and instituted a country-wide ban on sports hunting that will began on January 1, 2014.

In the spring, 2013 a new report, Conserving Large Carnivores: Dollars and Fence, published in “Ecology Letters” by Dr. Craig Packer and other well-known lion specialists from around the world went even farther calling for the African reserves to be fenced in after maintaining that nearly half of Africa’s current wild lion population of 30,000 will die in the next 20-40 years unless drastic conservation measures have been put in place. These scientists recommended that the wild lion be fenced in to ultimately save it from total extinction.

According to Packer, “We’ve seen fences work and unfenced populations are extremely expensive to maintain.” Using field data from 11 African countries, the study examined the cost of managing fenced in areas versus unfenced habitats, and compared the lion populations living in both situations. The report found that in fenced-in areas: conservation costs were lower and lion populations remained larger. Plus lions living in unfenced territories were subjected to a higher degree of danger from their contact with the human beings living closest to them.”

Packer’s recommendation makes certain sense but before we exhale- is this solution a practical one? The cost of fencing in something as large as a game reserve is an outrageously expensive venture and these are third world countries. Many of these same African nations have yet to figure out a way to feed their own people let alone construct miles of fence line across wildlife reserves just to save the “big cats”. Even if they believed that fencing was the most cost- effective solution in the long run, how would they ever afford the initial monies?  According to Packer, “fencing in just the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, would cost upwards of $30 million dollars. And then more money would have to be set aside in order to maintain this structure. At a total perimeter of 17,000 square miles, the yearly bill to manage the fenced-in lion population alone would be another $22 million dollars.” Besides Selous is only one of 26 other national game reserves in Tanzania. And if, as the wildlife specialists tell us, one pride (around 25 members) needs around 100 square miles of territory to maintain an optimum lifestyle wouldn’t every East and South African country require an astronomical amount of fencing to see that the job is properly done?

As far as the future of the wild lion in Africa is concerned – it seems to balance precariously on one too many “ifs.” If the legislation and regulations pertaining to the killing of lions and the exportation of illegal lion skins were actually enforced; if people could no longer pay their way out of prosecution and incarceration for breaking wildlife laws; if government administrators and wildlife guides remained honest in the face of outrageous bribes and strictly adhered to hunting quotas; if the citizens of these countries gave the land belonging to the lions back to them and agreed to fence in the amount of land needed to support larger prides; if villagers ceased killing lions in vicious ways simply for acting like the carnivores they are. And lastly, if everyone in the world agreed to back off and give wild lions the room and the support they needed to thrive, then just maybe the lion as a species could survive. But even as I end this sentence – I have my doubts.


Kat Nickerson                                      Kingston,      RI     USA