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Assessment for Maasai in Kenya

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Maasai in Kenya, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3aa666.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Kenya Facts
Area:    582,650 sq. km.
Capital:    Nairobi
Total Population:    28,333,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Maasai have several factors that increase their risk of rebellion, although their small percentage of the population will by necessity temper any such action. Mobilization is enabled because the Maasai are territorially concentrated, have a strong group identity, and are represented by several organizations. Furthermore, the lack of a strong democracy or efforts at reform might make the Maasai feel they have no other options. Violent conflict in neighboring countries could spill over and influence the Maasai to address their concerns with a call to arms.

Future protest is also likely. Although there are no political or cultural restrictions, the government has a history of repression, and Kenyan democracy unstable. Furthermore, the Maasai get support from kindred groups in Tanzania that could provide the resources and push to protest.

Analytic Summary

The Maasai are indigenous (TRADITN = 1) and semi-nomadic pastoralists concentrated in the southern part of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya and in northern Tanzania (GROUPCON = 2). The Maasai are ethnically distinct from other groups in Kenya (ETHDIFXX = 8). They have different social customs than the other groups (CUSTOM = 1) and different religious practices (BELIEF = 3, the Maasai are animist RELIGS1 = 8). In addition, they are physically distinguishable from other ethnic groups (RACE = 1) and speak a single different language (LANG = 2).

During the colonial period, the pastoral Maasai were forcibly removed from large areas of their land to allow room for European and Indian farmers and plantations. Under the country's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, much of their land was taken by agriculturalists, mainly the Kikuyu, and they suffered great poverty and social disorganization. However, after Daniel arap Moi (a Kalenjin) came to power in 1979, the status of the Maasai improved somewhat. They aligned with the ruling KANU party and benefitted slightly from the relationship. Remedial economic and political policies were put in place during this time period and continue to the present (ECDIS03 = 1; POLDIS03 = 1). Furthermore, government repression, though rampant, was not targeted specifically at the group.

However, the Maasai still suffer many disadvantages. A drought that started in 1999 has ravaged the community causing cattle loss and malnutrition (DMSTR99 = 9). Poor environmental practices by nearby commercial farms have caused environmental degradation. Furthermore, the Maasai have been pushed off much of their land and must compete with other groups for grazing pastures (ECOSTR99 = 11).

Consequently, the Maasai have several grievances. Mainly, they want to protect their land and culture from encroachment by other groups. Of note, there is particular concern with leftover explosives from British military exercises on Maasai land that have maimed or killed several Maasai and degraded the environment. There is also general concern over the illegal as well as legal purchase of Maasai land for commercial farming. To address these concerns, some Maasai leaders promote a form of federalism called majimbo.

The Maasai are aided in organizing for group action by a strong sense of group identity (COHESX9 = 5) and a lack of in-fighting (INTRACON2 = 0). Maasai interests are represented by KANU and several non-governmental organizations including: Organization for the Survival of the IL-Laikipia Indigenous Maasai Group Initiatives (OSILIGI), Maasai Cultural, Wildlife and Ethical Tourism Society, and Maasai Mara Women's Group (GOJPA03 = 1). There is also transnational support from Tanzanian organizations including: Ilkisongo Maasai Cultural Organization and Pastoralist Indigenous NGO. Despite the number of such groups, there has been very limited protest against the government. Most of the NGOs are self-help organizations not political entities. Furthermore, the Maasai are currently tied to the government making protest against it less likely.

There has, however, been conflict between the Maasai and other ethnic groups (INTERCON2 = 1). Most of these conflicts have erupted when Maasai cattle stray onto agricultural land. Such a conflict between Maasai and Kipsigis in 1999 and 2000 left three dead, many wounded, and several houses burned. There was similar but less violent conflict between Akamba and Maaasai in 1999 and between Kikuyu and Maasai in 2000. In 1999, there were also clashes between the Kisii and the Maasai over cattle thefts resulting in one death and several injuries. In 2001 and 2002 there were conflicts between the Maasai and Kisii over cattle, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries (COMCON01-02 = 3). There was also conflict in 2003, but no deaths (COMCON01 = 1). In 2001 there was conflict between the Maasai and Kipsigis over land which resulted in one death, and in 2003 conflict between the two communities over cattle led to another death.

The Maasai have not engaged in rebellion against the state, despite KANU's loss of power (REB00-03 = 0). However, they have engaged in low levels of protest in 2002 and 2003 (PROT02-03 = 3).

References

Degenhardt, Henry W. ed. 1987. Revolutionary and Dissident Movements: An International Guide, A Keesing's Reference Publication. London: Longman.

Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Human Rights Watch/Africa Watch. 1993. Divide and Rule: State-Sponsored Ethnic Violence in Kenya, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events. Annual. London: Longman Group Ltd.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities, St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

Murray, Jocelyn. 1990. Africa. Cultural Atlas for Young People. New York and Oxford: Facts on File.

Nexis/Lexis: Various news wires, 1990-2003

Scarritt, James R. 1993, "Communal Conflict and Contention for Power in Africa South of the Sahara," in Ted R. Gurr, Minorities at Risk: A Global View of Ethnopolitical Conflicts, Washington: United States Institute of Peace.

U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1995, World Refugee Survey 1995, Washington.

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