29 March 2012

Maasai Land



Last week I was mostly in Kajiado County. Maasai-land. The County is apparently the third richest in Kenya (by the KIHBS, but this number is disputed), though this wealth is driven by "outsiders" building new developments along the recently completed tarmac road to Nairobi. It can now take as little as an hour from Kajiado Central. The Maasai struggle to compete in the new economy, with limited education and skills.

I spoke to an educated professional (middle class?) Maasai who expressed his dismay at the erosion of the traditional Maasai way of life, as the government's land privatisation policy had led to the parcelling off of land, obstructing traditional migratory herding practices based on traditional beliefs that land is communally owned.

I sat there wondering how I could register some disagreement without sounding like a dick, and how this place epitomised the tension between modernisation and traditional ways of living, transported back to a development studies classroom of tedious debates on "what really is development?" I couldn't help but think that perhaps it was a little hypocritical for this well-educated man to sit in comfortable surroundings and talk about how tough it is for his people to have to give up their cattle herding.

Ultimately, for the Kenyan government to be able to afford to provide better health and education services for its people, it is going to need the revenues that come from the kind of economic development that comes with urbanisation and modernisation.

But this process is disruptive, and the best solution for the "losers" is not to put the brakes on development, but to provide compensation, safety nets, services, and the skills that they will need to engage in the growing economy.

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