A pregnant Tanzanian woman and her unborn child, quite possibly Fipa people, died along the shore of Lake Tanganyika recently, and the grieving family is blaming the hostile attitudes of a tourist hotel owned by Americans. The story raises the quandaries of protecting the security of the rich when they relax in luxury amidst much less affluent rural people.
The family, whose name was withheld by Peti Siyame, the reporter, was traveling by boat along the shore of the vast lake near Kirando, in the Nkasi District of Tanzania’s Rukwa gion, near the edge of the traditional Fipa territory. They were trying to get the woman to a hospital. The waves in the lake suddenly started to overwhelm the boat so they decided to seek safety on shore and tried to land near the Lupita Island Lodge. The lodge guards ordered the boat to leave, even after the family pleaded that a pregnant woman on board was seriously ill.
Because the woman soon died, the cause of her death was not clear. But local attitudes toward the lodge along the lake have worsened due to the incident. Residents in nearby villages allege that lodge employees, under directions from the American manager, have exhibited a pattern of hostility toward them. “We do not see the benefits of having an investor in the middle of our communities who does not have respect for human rights,” one of the family members of the dead woman said.
Ms. Stella Manyanya, Rukwa Regional Commissioner, expressed her concern about the incident, but she said that she had already discussed with community leaders, and the managers of the hotel, the issue of emergency landing rights for fishermen and others traveling along the lakeshore.
She said that the hotel faces the risk of “bandits crossing [the lake] in the region from neighboring countries, to raid business places.” Indeed, news stories from Tanzania often carry reports about unsavory characters crossing the lake from the D.R.Congo and committing a variety of crimes. Ms. Manyanya said that lodge personnel can’t really be blamed, since tight security measures are necessary for the protection of guests if the hotel is to be a viable business.
The Regional Commissioner asked residents in the area, when they have access to useful information, to share it with the administrators of the district and the region. However, the extent of the popular cooperation may be problematic. The lodge management has instructed their security personnel to aggressively chase away people on foot or in boats who might trespass on the property.
A local politician, Mr. Basilio Mbwilo, admitted to Mr. Siyame that the fishermen in the area had been complaining about humiliating treatment by lodge employees. Sometimes the lodge confiscates their boats and fishing gear if they dare to anchor nearby. He affirmed the allegations of other residents in the area, that lodge employees use dogs against residents who come near, and purposely try to humiliate them.
Mr. Siyame was able to establish that the lodge is managed by a man named Tom, who lives in the United States. One of the American owners named in the story is former movie star and governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“We are not allowed to land on the shores even if the water tides in the lake are rough and life threatening,” one local fisherman complained to the reporter. “In case of such dangerous situations any act of approaching the hotel shores is met with cruel measures of sending dogs to bite us.”
The Lupita Island Lodge, Mr. Siyame writes (his story has it misspelled as “Rupita Island Lodge”) is a seasonal facility catering to wealthy tourists. He writes that a villa costs between 1.8 million and 2.8 million Tanzanian shillings (US$1,148 and $1,786) per night. He was denied permission to even enter the grounds of the lodge to talk with local managers about the death of the pregnant woman.
However, one can infer the position of the lodge by doing a Google search. Numerous African safari and tourism websites describe the lavish facilities in glowing terms. One writes, in part, “Lupita Island Lodge can be found on the secluded island of Lupita, in the southern part of Lake Tanganyika. The 14 spacious villas are hidden in a forest overlooking the lake. Each thatched villa has high ceilings and is open-sided, offering fantastic views of the lake. The individual plunge pools are fed by a constant flow of water through your suite resembling a mountain stream.”
Each website tries to outdo the others in hyperbola. One offers a gallery of 18 photos of the marvelous lake and island scenery and the luxurious 1,800 to 2,400 square foot villas that the guests occupy. Each villa has no walls or doors to impede the stunning views. However, since the island is connected by an isthmus to another which has a fishing village on it, the lodge does suggest that guests might enjoy a one hour walk to visit the nearby community. It also offers a half hour boat ride to visit a weekly market in another village. Otherwise, it offers the usual expensive resort amenities.
American travel writer Meg Nolan van Reesema wrote on her blog in October 2009 about her stay at the lodge. She too included numerous photos, and she wrote that the staff puts flower petals in the tub and a champagne bucket next to it. They line the floor of the deck with candles to add a romantic touch to the experience.
The prices quoted in last week’s news story by Mr. Siyame are confirmed by the websites: U.S.$ 1,100 and up, per person, for each family or group in a villa. The contrast between poor fishing families and wealthy foreign guests is stark—and deadly for one woman and her unborn child.