What you need to know:
- The Maasai are part of the 21st century Kenya, which was founded on the conquest of all its people.
- Kenya is a capitalist State because capitalism is the triumphant economic system worldwide and the seas of capitalism are bound to drown every individual unable to swim in them.
- Because of its geographical advantage, present-day Maasailand is one marvellous and enviable piece of real estate and potentially Kenya’s richest region in the fullness of time.
The infamous Maasai land agreements of 1904 and 1911, in which the community lost about 50 per cent of its historical territory in the then Kenyan protectorate will forever remain a permanent record of the acute injustice inflicted upon the community by colonialism. It is understandable that current generations of the community are bitter about the land grabs of the early 20th Century that effectively pushed them from the lush highlands in present day Uasin Gishu, Nakuru and Laikipia counties to the relatively drier plains of Narok and Kajiado.
In all fairness, however, we must never forget that the establishment of the White Highlands to pave the way for White settlement included confiscation of the ancestral lands belonging to the Kamba, Kikuyu, Nandi, Kipsigis and Bukusu communities.
At the Lancaster House conferences between 1960 and 1962, the colonial titles in the White Highlands were recognised as valid. This effectively required the communities that lost territory to come to terms with their fate, move on and buy it back if they could. This ugly face of colonialism and capitalism was not unique to Kenya and is probably worse in Zimbabwe and South Africa. For good reasons, the Maasai have been more reluctant to accept that this historical injustice is difficult to reverse but their faint hope for a return to the 1903 world is good enough to guarantee good audience to any political entrepreneur who promises a possible return to the 19th Century status quo.
Generally speaking, this is the historical backdrop against which the applause that greeted the recent controversial statement of Orange Democratic Movement presidential candidate Raila Odinga in Kajiado in which he lamented about alleged invasion of land there by the “outsiders”. In the middle of a high-stakes political campaign, it is possible to accord Mr Odinga’s a benign English translation and term them “political mobilisation”.
What I find most ironical is that even after losing a huge chunk of their ancestral territory, the Maasai are still the most land-rich community in Kenya today. However, this has not stopped political leaders from land-poor communities, like Mr Musalia Mudavadi, to cry for the Maasai. Facts are, however, stubborn.
For better or for worse, Kenya is certainly a better deal for all its people than they would have been had colonialism left them to their separate devices. As example, the ancestral lands of the Kisii, Luhya and Kikuyu would be too small to accommodate their present population. Minus colonialism, the Kikuyu could have easily expanded their territory through armed conquest but this would not have been feasible for the Kisii and the Luhya. Interestingly, when the British colonialists arrived in Kenya, the Maasai were losing territory at a rapid pace to other neighbouring communities and so it is not entirely correct to suppose that the 1903 Maasailand would be intact today had it not been for the 1904 and 1911 land agreements.
The challenge to the Maasai people, particularly their elite, is to reconcile with three facts. First, that the Maasai are part of the 21st century Kenya, which was founded on the conquest of all its people. Secondly, Kenya is a capitalist State because capitalism is the triumphant economic system worldwide and the seas of capitalism are bound to drown every individual unable to swim in them. Thirdly, because of its geographical advantage, present-day Maasailand is one marvellous and enviable piece of real estate and potentially Kenya’s richest region in the fullness of time.
In his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Hernando de Soto argues that Third World counties are poor not because of lack of resources but because, unlike in the West, they have not developed proper legal systems and rule of law ethos to enable them use their vast property, particularly land, to generate further wealth. This book should be read by all because it is not easy for any Kenyan to read it without noticing the huge opportunities offered by the present-day Maasailand.
Purely on account of falling within the short- and long-term Nairobi metropolitan region, the standard gauge railway route and proximity to northern Tanzania, land in Kajiado and Narok counties is every investor’s dream. By accident or design, about 50 per cent of the SGR route from Mombasa to Kisumu will fall within Maasai land. Coupled with proximity to Nairobi and attendant urbanisation, the SGR promises to unlock dormant capital in Maasailand and adjacent counties and in the process massive wealth will be created. The Maasai have a simple choice to make. They can either internalise and act on de Soto’s thesis and partake in the inevitable wealth creation in Maasailand or they can continue applauding politicians who in every election season will land in their towns with promises of a return to a presumed 20th Century paradise taken away by colonialists and their successors.
Kibe Mungai is a constitutional lawyer.