Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa Kasale is one of the leading figures in the field of human rights in Tanzania who has devoted his entire professional life to ensure that human rights defenders work freely while ending threats and hurdles to their cause.
Born on the rolling plains of Loliondo in the Maasai Steppe in Tanzania’s northern Ngorongoro District, Arusha Region, in 1980, Onesmo was educated at Sakala Primary School, Arusha Catholic Seminary School, and Dakawa High School in Morogoro and then joined University of Dar es Salaam in 2005 for his law studies where he graduated with honors four years later.
Hard working and resilient, he bravely faced a myriad of challenges and dilemmas of the youths while at the university to emerge one of the best students.
“ He was a diligent student in the faculty of Law and a leader of the student’s human rights organization” recalls Chris Peter Maina Professor of law and human rights at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Driven by his inherent urge to education, Onesmo proceeded with his postgraduate studies at the University of Dar es Salaam in which he scooped a distinction Research and Public Policy in 2016.
Prior to that he attended Security and Protection Management training for Human rights defenders and social organization offered by Protection International where he earned a Diploma. He had also attended Security Management and Risk Assessment training from York University. Renowned and experienced human rights experts and numerous development organisations have mentored Onesmo.
“ From mentoring and nurturing him I knew he’s a potential leader who would climb to the top leadership position at a very young age”says Martina Kabisama, mentor THRDC Board chairperson
For more than a decade, he has tirelessly defended human rights for all, including the most marginalized and discriminated minority groups in Tanzania. Often lashing out against injustices whenever people take law into their own hands.
As an accomplished human rights lawyer with a razor-sharp legal mind and self-effacing demeanor, he seamlessly never failed in his quest to see justice is being done. Just recently, March 2017, he foiled an attempt to lynch two suspected fraudsters, who were on the verge of being set ablaze by an angry mob in a sprawling Dar es Salaam suburb, after they were accused of cajoling (with intent to defraud) a female shop owner using fake bank notes. He applied his skills in social psychology to convince the rowdy mob to take the suspects to the nearby police station for questioning and subsequent legal actions instead of killing them.
As a social researcher, who rose from the humble beginnings to feature prominently in local and international scenes as a human rights activist, Onesmo has developed a strong moral compass to defend social causes. His distinctively human and humane personality and his eloquence for social justice have undoubtedly planted a kernel that endures. Hundreds of youth are therefore automatically inspired to join the field of human rights.
The year 2017, for instance, has particularly been crucial one for Onesmo, personally and professionally as he marks 14 years of human rights activism. His love for human rights defense started all the way back in April 2003 when he was a student at Dakawa High school. Enraged by lack of important services at the school, he led a group of students to strike demanding water and electricity services for the school.
“ Onesmo is someone who is very authoritative and likes to step forward and lead the other. I remember during the water crisis in Dakawa High School in 2003 he mobilized us to demand for the service through a successful demostration because students could no longer use the water from the borehole due to admistrative issues” says Godfrey Nyombi, who was his Vice President in Dakawa high school 2003/2004.
As a versatile figure, always willing to learn new things, Onesmo has attended and presented papers in various local, regional, and international, human rights gatherings.
He is certainly a reservoir of knowledge, with deep understanding on human rights, international human rights law, research, social justice, good governance, African Pastoralism, policy, let alone political issues.
In terms of leadership, Onesmo’s mentors say was certainly born a leader. Driven by his instincts and innate desire to lead. Onesmo is a person of mixed talents with a huge potential and capability to lead the others”kabisama recounts
His ability to guide others as a head prefect in his primary school days, and as a Chairperson of Dakawa Students Government from 2003 to 2004, and Subsequently a Chairperson of Tanzania Catholic Youth Wings in Dakawa, before he became the Secretary University of Dar es Salaam Law Society and President of University of Dar es Salaam Human Rights Association between 2008 and 2009, have all shaped this current leadership role in sustainable human rights work and the Civil Society Organization sector.
He’s one of the most dedicated human rights defenders in Africa with experience in Security and Protection Management, Security Management and Risk Assessment, Report Writing and Project Management.” Says Vicky Ntetema, the executive director of UnderTheSameSun
As the President of the University’s Human rights Association he fiercely campaigned against the death penalty while organizing conferences on many subjects; including the Rwanda Genocide and gruesome killings of people with albinism.
“ Throughout the years even when still at the university, Ole Ngurumwa has been working with other human rights defender to promote the rights of the downtrodden, marginalized, women, children, pastoralists, persons with disabilities and even journalists and politicians.”Vicky Ntetema adds.
He also coordinated public lectures, seminars, researches, and workshops to highlight legal issues and raise awareness among students and members of the community from the university’s Law Society where he had also served as the secretary.
Based on his immense knowledge in the human rights field, Onesmo joined the Dar es Salaam- based Legal and Human Rights Centre immediately after his first degree where he worked as a researcher and writer of Tanzania’s human rights reports between 2010 and 2012.
The three-year stint at the prestigious human rights organization completely transformed him professionally and enabled him to embark on a journey to fulfill his passion.“He’s trainable, flexible and listener who was quick to catch up with issues”Kabisama says.
As an expert who has written widely, Onesmo’s work has been quoted in many publications and is a source of reference for fellow researchers. Onesmo has vast experience working with various multicultural communities locally and abroad. With more than a decade of experience, he has crisscrossed all regions in Tanzania researching on and defending human rights.
He has lectured at various universities on the concept of human rights defenders and human rights in general. At some point, Onesmo works as a consultant in various fields such as human rights, Africa pastoralism, democracy election, safety and security of journalists and human rights defenders.
At a tender age of 31 he rose into the ranks to become the co-founder and the first National Coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition—a donor-funded umbrella organization with more than 130 members. Some of his responsibilities include; ensuring the efficient functioning of the Coalition focusing on a five- year Strategic Plan for 2013-2017.
Under his leadership the coalition’s members surged from 14 in 2013 to more than 130 in 2017 including individual HRDs, nonprofit organisations and journalists. In the course of four years over a thousand defenders have been served by the coalition.
‘His work with human rights defenders is excellent indeed; his organization is very responsive and proactive. The last training from them made me more careful and sometimes worried but is a reality. I had to move my office to more safe areas with more tight security measures including the review our security systems. Says Maanda Ngoitiko Directo –Pastoralist Women Council in Arusha and most at risk woman HRDs in Tanzania.
Importantly, Onesmo’s personality and coordination capacity has helped shaping the Coalition, in terms of building solidarity and networking among Civil Society Organizations in Tanzania.
I am particularly impressed with his level of communication without necessarily regardless of the time, his phone is always on which gives security hope and assurance that we can always get help from his organization in case of emergency” explained father Maanda Ngoitiko
The Coalition is now trusted and is a point of reference to other similar organizations across the region. For instance, the Coalition hosted the newly established Somali Coalition for two weeks in 2015 and later the Uganda HRDs Coalition in 2016 visited Tanzania Coalition for learning purposes.
“Onesmo has done a tremendous amount of protection, capacity building work on behalf of the human rights defenders in Tanzania" said Hassan Shire, Executive Director, Defend Defenders
Under Onesmo’s leadership, the Coalition is also hailed for being innovative, current, and flexible organization with a unique style of handling its affairs for better results and achievement. The Coalition is striving to work closely with local, regional, and international HRDs organizations; development partners and the United Nations.
“One of the most effective Coalitions that we get to see in Africa is the Tanzanian coalition” says Aloys Habimana Africa Regional Coordinator for Frontline Defenders Organization based in Dublin Ireland during the third anniversary of the Tanzania human rights defenders day.
Onesmo has attended and presented reports and papers in the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, European Human Rights Forums, Dublin Human Rights Defenders Forum, Great Lakes Civil Society Forum, EU and AU CSOs forums and the United Nation Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“I can describe him as a Leader, a diplomat, and a great networker. He knows how to create collaboration and bring experience from across the continent home. Together with his colleagues he initiated the network and took it at its optimum. He always brings issues of HRDs in Tanzania at international fora for conserted strategies and solutions. Onesmo Olengurumwa is a unifier.” Says Joseph Bikanda –Coordinator Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network.
He has won numerous awards including; Best student in Self-reliance 1997, Best student in Leadership 2004 and 2009, Best student in sports and Best Human Rights Defender in the Eastern Africa by East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network in 2016. “
A native Maasai—known for his colourful cultural expressions, Onesmo has, not without profit, embraced his culture. His late father was a Maasai traditional leader in Loliondo better known as Laigwanan, leading his almost diminishing age set (Nyangusi). As he travels locally and internationly, it’s easy to see Onesmo dressed in his colourful red shawl and distinctive Maasai Jewelry. He sometimse prefers to have a small Maasai club carved traditionally.
Although he doesn’t have braided hair and distended earlobes as it is the case for most Maasai Laigwanan, for Onesmo it is possible to balance human rights and his culture.
As the adage “Charity begins at home” goes; being a resident of Loliondo, Onesmo has been in the forefront in the movement to defend Maasai land from being grabbed by nefarious investors.
“He’s an avid defender of human rights and the voice for the pastoralists and pastoralists human rights defenders who have been persecuted in their own land. He has actively defended pastoralists activists in Loliondo and he has represented them in national, regional and international dialogues” says Yannick Ndoinyo, Ward Councilor Ololosokwan, Loliondo and Director Ramat-Foundation.
God-fearing and a devout catholic who crossed over from Lutheran before dreaming of becoming a catholic priest, Onesmo’s religious views remain moderate and selective. He describes religion as something to be seen in the four- eyes prism to avoid plunging oneself into human-made controversies. As a married man blessed with children, he nevertheless respects people with religious view other than his own. Despite his busy schedule he always spare sometime to spend with the family and children.
He’s an avid reader, always sifting through piles of reports and books even in his old-model Toyota RAV 4. Journalists call him round the clock, seeking his opinion on a range of national and international issues. He coould even park his car and repsond to journalist’s calls for his opinio on various issues.
This is a half-life time achievement that most young men and women will desire to attain. Despite security threats in this work, such as being branded non-citizens, inciters or non-patriotic, Onesmo see more decades ahead in the field of human rights. He is a fearless defender who doesn’t see the need to change course in the middle of the fight despite the risk. For him, leaving his job to become a politician is a total demotion.
Kenneth Simbaya, former Union of Tanzania Press Clubs President describes him as staunch a human right activist who is unshaken when it comes to standing and advocating for upholding human rights…Onesmo believes in building leaders, he has inspired many young people among them Benedict Ishabakaki who now works with Hivos Tanzania.”
His advice to young human rights defenders is to work hard and shape their careers while in school and sustain it for the entire life. Onesmo believes the work of human rights promotion and protection requires everyone on board. Human rights are well protected if everyone takes this responsibility regardless age orientation.
Onesmo believes that human rights defenders should be prepared and nurtured from school to college level. Having a good number of youth well trained on how to promote and protect human rights while in schools and colleges would help to create a good pool of human rights defenders in the future. The sustaibility of human rights activities in Tanzania depends on how young people are motivated to join the field of human rights since their childhood. Likewise, young human rights leaders are the leaders of tomorrow and therefore; it is his hope that his proffessional history will inspire many future HRDs.
“ONCE A HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER ALWAYS A
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER”