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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Maasai in Kenya

View Group Chronology

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. Nonetheless, the Maasai have never engaged in violent acts against the government.

Future protest is also likely. Although there are no political or cultural restrictions, the government has a history of repression, and Kenyan democracy is unstable. While the December 2002 elections passed smoothly, the 2007 elections led to violence in Nairobi, Nyanza and the Rift Valley. Additionally, the termination of a land treaty in 2004 and the inability of the Kenyan government to effectively resolve Maasai land issues contributes to the community's marginalization. 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 and semi-nomadic pastoralists concentrated in the southern part of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya and in northern Tanzania (GROUPCON = 3). The Maasai are ethnically distinct from other groups in Kenya. They have different social customs than the other groups (CUSTOM = 1) and different religious practices (BELIEF = 2; RELIGS1 = 9). In addition, they are physically distinguishable from other ethnic groups (RACE = 1) and speak a different language, although most Maasai also speak Swahili (LANG = 1).

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 benefited slightly from the relationship. Remedial economic and political policies were put in place during this time period, although they seem to have been discontinued after Moi left office (ECDIS04-06 = 2; POLDIS04 -06 = 3). Generally, government repression, though rampant, was not targeted specifically at the group. However, 2004 marked the termination of a 100-year old land treaty signed between the Maasai and British colonial rulers. Scores of Maasai pastoralists, whose community is staking claim to these thousands of acres of their native land, were charged and at times killed for invading private property in an attempt to move their herds across the country. This land is now primarily occupied by large-scale farms and ranches in Laikipia and other areas in the Rift Valley.

The Maasai still suffer many disadvantages. A drought that started in 1999 has ravaged the community causing cattle loss and malnutrition. 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. Indeed a draft land policy drawn up by the Ministry of Lands in 2006 concluded that there were solutions to Maasai land issues. However, neither that policy nor any of its recommendations have been implemented to date.

Consequently, the Maasai have several grievances. Mainly, they want to protect their land and culture from encroachment by other groups. Upon the termination of the 1904 treaty, the Maasai launched a massive campaign for the return of their land in the central Rift Valley region (ECGR04-06 = 2). There is also 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 additional 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 (POLGR04-06 = 3).

The Maasai are aided in organizing for group action by a strong sense of group identity and a lack of in-fighting (INTRACON06 = 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 (GOJPA04-06 = 1). There is also transnational support from Tanzanian organizations including: Ilkisongo Maasai Cultural Organization and Pastoralist Indigenous NGO. Although most of the NGOs are self-help organizations not political entities, the Maasi have engaged in various demonstrations in the recent years over their land rights, government wrongdoing, and perceived marginalization (PROT04-06 = 3).

There has been conflict between the Maasai and other ethnic groups (INTERCON04-05 = 1; INTERCON06 = -99). Most of these conflicts have erupted when Maasai cattle stray onto agricultural land. Conflict between Maasai and Kipsigi, Akamba and Kikuyu tribes erupted throughout 1999 and 2000, but resulted only in minimal deaths. From 2001-2003, conflict between the Maasai and Kisii over cattle resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. 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. Similarly, violence in 2004 and 2005 between the Kipsigis and the Maasai over disputed land in the Rift Valley left at least two dead and scores injured. Conflict between the Maasai and the Kikuyus in 2005 also left at least 15 people dead, dozens injured, and many forced to flee their homes.

The Maasai have not engaged in rebellion against the state (REB04-06 = 0).



Coast, Ernesta. 2001. "Colonial preconceptions and contemporary demographic reality: Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania" IUSSP Conference S50., accessed 06/20/08

Fratkin, Elliot. 2001. "East African Pastoralism in Transition: Maasai, Boran, and Rendille Cases." African Studies Review. 44:3. 1-25

Human Rights Watch/Africa Watch. 1993. Divide and Rule: State-Sponsored Ethnic Violence in Kenya.

Human Rights Watch. 2008. "Background: Kenya's Long-Term Crisis of Governance."

Igoe, Jim. 2006. "Becoming indigenous peoples: Difference, inequality, and the globalization of East African identity politics." Oxford Journals. 105:420. 399-420

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

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

Ndaskoi, Navaya ole. 2006. "The Roots Causes of Maasai Predicament." Fourth World Journal. 7:1. 28-61

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.

Survival. 1998. "Cattle People", accessed 06/19/2008.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kenya. 2000-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006