Kenya’s disenfranchised pastoralists

Most of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, an area too dry for cultivation but free of the tsetse fly, was traditionally used as grazing land by the pastoral Masai and Samburu tribes. The tribes’ seasonal migratory grazing patterns maintained the savanna as a suitable habitat for wildlife – currently the cornerstone of Kenya’s profitable tourism industry. By An. Ba. and Ma. Sn.

Under colonial rule, many of the traditional grazing areas used by the Masai and Samburu tribes were declared wildlife reserves or acquired for largescale cultivation. Many pastoralists were displaced from these new reserves, where human activity was prohibited, disrupting traditional management of the savanna and restricting access to vital water sources.

Under colonial rule, many of the traditional grazing areas used by the Masai and Samburu tribes were declared wildlife reserves or acquired for large-scale cultivation

Each Masai now has about 100 hectares – not enough for the average herd of cattle. Restrictions on the entry of livestock into nature reserves coupled with the ability of wildlife (vs. fenced herded livestock) to leave unfenced nature reserves onto land used by the Masai has degraded the Masai’s current grazing areas (1). Herdsmen have, as a consequence, been forced to use other grazing areas that were traditionally avoided (areas with parasites etc.).

Recognition that the seasonal grazing of livestock can maintain savanna areas and adoption of a “landscape” approach to conservation (where wild and domesticated animals graze in the same areas at different times of the year) could lead to constructive partnerships between pastoralists and the tourism sector. Decentralization – which will encourage tribal representation, marginalized since colonial rule – will be critical in ensuring that tribes are no longer displaced from their traditional lands and that Kenya’s savannas are retained and managed (2, 3).

An. Ba. and Ma. Sn.

1. Personal Communication: Ole Kamuaro Ololtisatti, Purko Maasai, Kenya, 2001.
2. Cheeseman, T., Conservation and the Maasai in Kenya: Tradeoff or Lost Mutualism?, 2002, www.environmentalaction.net/kenya.
3. Sindiga, I., Tourism and African Development: Change and Challenge of Tourism in Kenya, African Studies Centre, Leiden, 1999.

< Previous  |   Next >