The Creative Activist

Martin Saning’o Kariongi Ole Sanago

Weeks have gone by, my national exams were nigh, since Mr. Martin Saning’o had passed away from COVID-19. I had a dream. In the dream, Mr. Martin said to me, in Swahili, with rough translation to english as, “Dare to dream big, never give up and always have a spirit big enough to achieve your dreams. Never give up my son and remember I love you!”. I woke up emotional that day but I also had a thought. He has done great works that most don’t know of. I wouldn’t want his works to go unnoticed – I would want people to know of the works that he did and the benefits he has brought to the Maasai community in Terrat, Simanjiro. This is his story.

Martin was born in the early 1960’s in the Simanjiro district of northern Tanzania. This is in the Maasai heartland – the high arid plains south of Arusha. In common with many Maasai of his generation, Martin and his family cannot be sure exactly when he was born. But Martin believed it to be born in 1960 or 1961.

                                                       Simanjiro

Martin was one among the minute number of Maasai children to have received education at the time. He used his education well. He wanted to give back to society that brought him up, so in the early 1990’s he founded IOPA – Institute for Orkonerei Pastoralists Advancement. Although IOPA’s first priority was to deal with land rights, it also eyed health problems and water supply problems that the Maasai in Terrat faced.

Martin became an activist, and made critical moves to ensure that the Maasai aren’t displaced from their traditional lands – The government had been displacing the Maasai at the time from areas they claimed to be ‘National Park areas’. His moves were seen to be ‘too critical’ to some in high places, and as a result the government initially refused to register IOPA.

As impossible as it may seem, Martin sued the government for displacing the Maasai from their traditional lands. At the time, more than 6000 Maasai had already been displaced by the government form National Parks. IOPA, led by Mr. Martin, filed a number of cases against the government which later on resulted in a landmark ruling by the High Court in IOPA’s favour.

Martin recognized that education was the key to enlighten the Maasai on a number of things: land rights, their own health, their livestock, the ongoing changes in the outside world, and a number of other things. He figured that a community radio would effectively serve this purpose. He took measures to establish a community radio, the first ever in Tanzania. He worked his fingers to the bone – a lot of sleepless nights – and finally the ORS FM first broadcasted news in 2002. The radio was in fact the first ever community radio in Tanzania – or in a larger perspective East Africa. It broadcast news in Kimaasai (the Maasai native language) and also played Maasai music.

After the idea of the community radio, Martin also realised that there was a need for electricity – not only for the radio station but also for the receivers of the information they portrayed. He worked on a number of projects, in association with different international organisations, to bring electricity to the Maasai people.

Martin also worked to help women facing different challenges, most especially those in the maasai areas – they were more prone to treacherous practices – such beatings from husbands, mutilation and harassment. IOPA created a safe haven where beaten women would go to and tell their stories. It also tried to prevent female genital mutilation, FGM, child marriage, and women oppression. IOPA dedicated some of its resources to educate women and raise the status of women in the Maasai society. IOPA also sought to help women economically. IOPA established dairies in Simanjiro with a long-sighted view of enabling women to sell milk and get money, they used to acquire their needs and the needs of their families. In the maasai culture, the only resource that belongs to women is milk.

Martin had broad and liberal outlook in his work, which touched each and almost every age group and social class by the time. For children, IOPA helped establish more than 50 pre-primary and primary schools across the region.

Martin’s work didn’t go unnoticed – he was elected an Ashoka fellow in 2003 and got the attention of a Dutch philanthropist, Dini de Rijcke, and began to work with her through her foundation, Strichting Het Groene Woudt (SHGW). Through working with Ashoka and SHGW, IOPA achieved many of its objectives. The Dutch foundation provided IOPA with 5 dairy plants and generators to power them across the region, and each dairy could process up to 2000 litres of milk into yoghurt, cheese, ghee and butter per day. These products were sold throughout the country. In cooperation with these organizations, IOPA was also able to work on a number of water supply projects, that bore fruits as the people in the dry Maasai lands got water with much more ease than before.

The women’s refuge centre was expanded to also be guest houses that could accommodate visitors to the area. IOPA also added additional generators to build one of the first mini-grids in the country to supply more than 1000 people in Terrat village with electricity, since the government had considered it too expensive to connect Terrat to the national electricity grid.

                        The IOPA centre in Terrat with guest house, community hall and dairy

Martin was bestowed various awards for his great work such as Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation and World Economic Forum Africa, the Ford Global Community Leadership Award, and Dubai Global Innovator Award.

Martin suggested that IOPA had to try and create viable micro businesses, so that even after funders ended their collaborations, IOPA would still be able to run its activities and thrive. As of today, IOPA’s remaining running projects include ORS FM radio, a few dairy plants, the conference centre, the water business, the guest house, and education and health support project in Terrat.

In 2019, IOPA was changed to Orkonerei Maasai Social Initiatives (OMASI) – an NGO – because of government laws and regulations, and by the end of 2020 Mr. Martin had achieved most of his goals and dreams.

On March 1st, 2021, Martin passed away. I can say that he hasn’t truly died because his works still live on – he lives through his works. He has left a legacy and very big shoes to fill. This story of Martin is supposed to be a motivation to anyone with big dreams, anyone who is fighting against all odds to achieve their dreams. I hope I have done his story justice.

If you will it, it is no dream; and if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay

                                                                                    – Thomas Herzl –

Martin Saning’o Kariongi Ole Sanago

Women’s Empowerment in Accessing Financial Services

By Marina Joseph – Art in Tanzania internship

World Bank views financial inclusion as means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit, and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way. Financial inclusion expands access to efficient financial services. Achieving inclusive growth means promoting often overlooked groups of people in the society such as women and poor people as they disproportionately face access to quality financial services. Empowering such groups helps increase participation in the economy and their standard of living improves simultaneous 

Women’s World Banking (WWB) is a global network comprised of 39 leading microfinance institutions from 27 countries. The network members are diverse in geography, size, and structure but united in the firm belief that microfinance must remain committed to women as clients, innovators, and leaders. In 2009 WWB was asked to review proposals by the G-20 Financial Inclusion Expert Group which they gladly did as it was an acknowledgement that women face different or additional barriers to entry in accessing finance.

WWB offered 9 suggestions to financial institutions interested in increasing access to finance for poor and low‐income women. The following are the suggestions

  1. Time: Acknowledge constraints on women’s time and mobility
  2. Confidentiality: Give women the choice of who they want involved in financial transactions
  3. Product design: Accommodate all levels of literacy in product design and marketing
  4. Documentation and collateral requirements: Be sensitive to the fact that requirements for documentation and collateral may exclude women  
  5. Loan size: Give women access to a range of loan sizes and structures  
  6. Accounting for cultural norms: Tailor marketing strategies to reach women
  7. Branding: Create a brand position that honors women  
  8. Institutional Culture: Ensure gender positive interactions
  9. Moving beyond credit: Offer a full suite of financial products  

World Bank’s empowerment sourcebook, ‘empowerment is the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold Empowering Women through Microfinance: Evidence from Tanzania 36 accountable institutions that affect their lives’. In a developing country such as Tanzania financial inclusion for women can have transformative effects. Tanzania’s policy makers have made steps in creating an enabling environment for women’s financial inclusion. 

In 2006 Alliance for financial inclusion (AFI) mentioned efforts that Tanzania is a country is undertaking to bridge that gap. The following are some of the existing and expanding policies to achieve that

Financial inclusion data disaggregated by gender 

The Bank of Tanzania has expressed its intent to collect sex disaggregated data and is in the process of expanding its financial inclusion database collecting data similar to Findex 2014. As a country it has developed policies based on FinScope surveys in 2006, 2009 and 2013, which provide financial inclusion data broken down by gender. A new FinScope survey will be conducted in 2016 and is expected to have an even stronger influence on policy direction.

  • Development of financial infrastructure

Significant progress and development have been made by Tanzania in developing payment infrastructures that are effective alongside its regulatory framework for mobile money. These infrastructures help in building information based on women as clients so they can be better served.  

  • Women’s financial inclusion as an explicit policy objective with quantitative targets

Tanzania’s 2013 Framework gives priority to poor rural households and their enterprises, including low-income women and youth, without specifying gender targets. Following the high-level conference on women’s financial inclusion held in Yamoussoukro in August 2015 and the 7th AFI Global Policy Forum (GPF) held in Maputo in September 2015, the Bank of Tanzania decided to introduce gender targets and indicators in the revised measurement framework, with the possibility of integrating gender issues into the Financial Inclusion National Framework itself ( Alliance for Financial Inclusion, 2016). 

  • Financial consumer protection regulation

The Financial Inclusion National Council recognizes the importance of financial consumer protection which has been emphasized with the growth of digital financial services. The Bank of Tanzania sees consumer     protection as particularly important for women as they are considered to be more vulnerable to the environment.