“Using cameras is now a key part of my work in documenting the challenges faced by the Maasai and to gather testimony to get their views across to a wider audience.”
Steve Shikuku, of Tanzania’s Pastoralists Indigenous NGOs Forum (PINGOs), stands up for the rights of nomadic Maasai communities – and thanks to a unique project run by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), he and scores like him now have many new and effective campaigning tools at their fingertips.
Supplied with cameras and training, they can capture visual evidence of the destruction of their environment and expose human rights abuses.
The civil society capacity-building project in Tanzania is supported with UK Government funding and began with a focus on forestry conservation in response to the rising level of illegal logging and its profound environmental and social toll.
Working in a compelling visual medium, local groups can now help to protect and monitor their natural resources while pressing for better policies at local, regional and national levels.
Some are also using their new skills to raise awareness about issues as diverse as gender, HIV, human rights and industrial pollution.
Since July 2008, EIA campaigner Pallavi Shah and visual specialist Paul Redman have worked on the three-year project with local partners to share the expertise and experience EIA has acquired in more than a quarter-century of undercover investigations and campaigning.
EIA has provided 20 digital video cameras and six Mac editing suites, along with training for 106 individuals from 72 organisations to use them effectively to gather and present documentary evidence. It has also given advice on writing reports, drafting press releases and developing access to the media and government.
After training has concluded, EIA continues to fund groups to enable them to put their skills into practice.
“By giving the most marginalised communities a voice to communicate their concerns through the powerful medium of film, they can effectively take their fate into their own hands by exposing the realities of their circumstances and the darker forces impacting their lives, such as corruption”, said Project Coordinator Shah.
“A cornerstone of the EIA’s ethos is to empower people to help themselves, to play a key role in the protection of their own environments and human rights. The impacts of this training are already visible, with people now possessing the ability to challenge the government and private companies.”
A reception in Dar es Salaam on Friday (June 24) marked the project’s end and gave activists a platform to showcase their work for decision-makers and other stakeholders.
EIA is no stranger to this kind of initiative; a core component of its long-standing campaign in South East Asia to combat illegal logging and the illegal timber trade has been to build the capacity of civil society throughout Indonesia via a similar project delivered alongside Indonesian partner Telapak.
Redman has been involved in training activists in India, Indonesia and now Tanzania for almost a decade.
“The use of images crosses language and cultural boundaries. An image is instantly recognisable and emotionally engaging, enabling you to communicate your story incredibly effectively,”
“Advances in communications technology allow anyone to quickly record, upload, distribute and promote previously untold stories about key human rights abuses and environmental concerns. The sooner this know-how reaches the far corners of the Earth where the impacts of environment degradation are being felt, the greater our chances of resisting them.”
To date groups trained under the project have produced over a dozen films, including;
• PINGOs highlighted the government eviction of Maasai tribespeople to protect the operations of an influential Emirati hunting company, the OBC. The film features testimony of brutalities such as rape and the burning of homes.
• Dream, by Elisha Thompson, investigated street children and their fight for survival at the bottom of the social chain amid drugs and sexual abuse. Elisha has also made TV adverts urging the Government to spend 60 billion TZS to improve education and build 22,000 new homes for teachers, as well as films on maternal health and the devastating impacts of charcoal production.
• An investigation by Maajabu into Loliondo documented the relationship between the people and forests, raising issues such as illegal logging and the impact of the government’s plans to turn the region into a management area.
View and embed a selection of the films produced during this project at http://vimeo.com/
Interviews and images are available on request: contact Pallavi Shah at pallavishah@
1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation that investigates and campaigns against environmental crime.
2. The three-year capacity-building project in Tanzania was officially launched on July 1, 2008.
3. The project is funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and delivered in close cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST), Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) and Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT).
4. Tanzania has approximately 33 million hectares of forest land, equivalent to 40 per cent of the country’s total territory, which provides vital ecological security and also plays an essential role in the livelihoods of almost 90 per cent of Tanzania’s rural communities. Up to 500,000 hectares of forest is vanishing every year, as much as 96 per cent of it through illegal felling, largely as a result of weak forest governance and systemic corruption in both the timber industry and government.
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