When development comes at a punitive cost for the Maasai community

“When leaders put their differences aside, they would carry more weight and thus ensure more bargaining power for the community,” says Dr Salau Rogei, who is also a pastor with the Gospel Revival Centre in Ngong

By Beverline Timanoi

Matters to do with land in Maasailand tend to arouse lots of emotions, especially when they are tied to historical injustices and interference from outsiders.

However, when it comes to finding solutions to these problems, the reactions are not as robust. Salau Rogei is of the view that Maasais tend to get shortchanged due to lack of commitment from local leadership. “There ought to be concerted efforts from political, cultural and religious leaders, working as a team to find solutions for these problems,” he explains.

Salau is speaking, not out of ignorance, but from a place of knowledge. He has just been awarded a doctorate degree on development issues from Carleton University in Canada.

He has for the last three or four years, been embedded with the people who were displaced from the Hell’s Gate National Park, conducting research for his PhD thesis, and the findings are startling, just as they are disturbing.

These people were moved out of their ancestral lands to pave way for the commercial exploitation of geothermal energy in the area. “A number of firms were given concession by the government to explore, and extract geothermal energy, which is then evacuated by Ketraco and sold to Kenya Power, for onwards consumption by Kenyans,” explains Salau.

All this is done for development purposes, but then, Salau’s PhD thesis poses a number of questions: development for who and at what cost? What is the connection between these mega development projects and the interests of the community, and the well-being of the environment?

He told Kajiado Star that the issues in the Suswa area are multi-layered and thus need to be handled with a lot of sensitivity. To begin with, there have been a series of evictions, right from the time the people had to vacate the area, in the 80s, for it to be gazetted as a protected conservation area – the Hell’s Gate National Park.

This has been a running theme in the Maasai community with examples of Maasai Mara, Amboseli, among others.

“Now, the industrial activities taking place inside the park, with the exploitation of geothermal energy, have led to the desecration of the environment, forcing wildlife to relocate from the area,” he explains.

Between 2013 and 2015, families were again moved to pave way for geothermal extraction in the area. “These families were forced into hilly areas, full of gullies and massive soil erosion. That land is unproductive and barely habitable,” says Salau. “About 1,000 families were herded into 1,700 acres of land, meaning that each family got less than an acre each, when you consider that some land had to be set aside for shared amenities like schools, playgrounds and hospitals.”

He decries the injustice meted out on these families, as they were not compensated in monetary terms. “It was land for land compensation, where the government bought land for their settlement,” says Salau. “To add salt to injury, the new land is on leasehold system, where they now have to pay rates.

And from whom did the government buy the land where these families were settled? “That is the other problem; I told you that there are so many layers to this issue,” says Salau with an exasperated look. “That was originally Maasai land, which had been held by white settlers, and which did not revert back to the community, after the expiry of the 99-year lease period.”

The relocation, explains Salau, did not take into consideration a number of issues, least of all cultural aspects. There is also the fact that the people were moved away from Mt Suswa, which is a sacred site for the Maasai.

The is also the lack of grazing land, as they have been prohibited from taking their animals to the park. “The people had to move their animals to faraway places like Kajiado and Narok. Still the people don’t identify with their new abodes. They fear they might still be relocated to pave way for Geothermal workers.”

On the issue of environmental degradation, Salau feels that there ought to be a better way of conducting the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). All these industries operating from the place insist that they have conducted the required ESIA and have been approved by the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema), despite the fact that the ESIA consultants are hired by these firms. “Do you expect them to give unfavorable reports to the firms that hired them in the first place?” He asks.

Salau recommends a change of Terms of Reference for ESIA providers so that their independence is guaranteed.

Matters would have turned out much better had the different categories of leaders (political, cultural, religious and scholars) put their heads together and led negotiations on behalf of the community. “When leaders put their differences aside, they would carry more weight and thus ensure more bargaining power for the community,” explains, Salau, who is also a pastor with the Gospel Revival Centre in Ngong.

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