Decades after the development of a luxurious lodge on one of Tanzania’s Lupita Islands, the country’s government is claiming that the islands were not legally sold.
It’s every private island owner’s nightmare: discovering that their paradise isle may not, after all, be legally theirs. For Tom Lithgow, a man of British extraction but who grew up in Tanzania and holds citizenship, the brewing controversy is over Lupita Island, a stunningly beautiful isle in Lake Tanganyika.
It was in the country’s abundant wilderness in 1989 that Tom and his wife Belinda created Tanzania by Firelight, a travel firm providing luxurious expeditions and exotic accommodations – aside from Lupita’s resort, founded seven years ago, other offerings include helicopter safaris and camping in remote savannahs.
Found in the western reaches of Tanzania, Lake Tanganyika is a vast, deep inland sea estimated to be the second-largest repository of freshwater in the world. Formed by the violent surges of the East African Rift tectonic divides, the lake is bordered by mountainous ridges and covers an almost incomprehensibly large area totalling close to 33,000 square kilometres. For such a massive body of water, however, the island has relatively few islands; Lupita offers, for globe-trotting guests, a highly unique experience.
Across Lupita’s 130 acres, the Lithgows constructed a handful of lavish bungalows and cottages, rented out on an individual or whole-island basis. The construction of the lodge was approved by the Tanzania Investment Centre, according to the government, however, no it claims that no information has been uncovered about how the island was purchased, at either the regional or district levels.
Ownership disputes in the island world are relatively rare, and most often involve far-flung countries with dubious title systems and heavy foreign ownership restrictions. In the case of Tanzania, one contributing factor may have been the specific procedures that the country requires for purchase of island lands. “There might be agreement at the local level,” said one local official, “but if the procedures were not followed at the national level, any decision at the lower level is wrong.”
The Lithgows, however, are adamant that the island was purchased in a legally sound manner. In a recent interview with IPP Media, Tom Lithgow spoke out. “We followed all required procedures in acquiring the land we have been there for more seven years and we have been living in harmony with the surrounding communities, the local authorities at district level are aware of this,” he said.
Read more about this story: IPP Media
Visit the website for Lupita Island: Firelight Expeditions