Lion Guardian Coordinator for Olgulului and Eselenkei ranches, Eric Ole Kesoi writes about the future of his people, the Maasai:
The devastating drought that has been ravaging the Amboseli ecosystem has drastically reduced the status of the Maasai pastoralist people, who are still primarily rural and strongly livestock-dependant. Anticipating the onset of the rains, many livestock herds that migrated to different parts of Kenya are coming back. But things will never be the same for many of them, especially those from the northern part of the Amboseli ecosystem. It is said that some have lost approximately 95% of their livestock herds to the drought, as well as to various diseases.
Many Maasai people are faced with limited employment opportunities and education, along with lack of capital to diversify their economic base, and expressions of uncertainty are clear in their eyes and faces. The normal jovial character and pure innocence of the pastoralist people is not as obvious now. Their beaming smiles and proud nature – an expression of the Maasai and their history, are absent in many. Instead, they are thinking about the future and what it holds for them – the Maasai have a strong fear of the unknown.
They have been blaming God for the drought that seemed to last forever, while slaughtering the little that was left of their shoats in an attempt to appease the Almighty. The unpredictability of the weather patterns has absolutely baffled their minds. Is this the effect of global warming and climate change, and will there be worse to come?
Population growth, loss of livestock and social transition amongst the Maasai are overwhelming the capacity of their herds to support their families. Land is increasingly becoming compressed, crowded and contested. Maasailand is undergoing rapid change. This is a transformational drought like never before. Specialized pastoralism, traditionally at the core of Maasai cultural identity, is declining, which leads us to ask what is next for the Maasai?
Long-established coping strategies have in the past made it possible for the poor to regain their position once the immediate crisis is past. These strategies were customarily built on social relationships, risk-spreading, reciprocity, mobility, and on the resilience and reproductive potential of sheep and goats as a stepping stone back into livestock production.
However, the erosion of the Maasai’s strong cultural values means that this good fall-back position is now diminished. The strong pastoralist spirit not just to survive but to survive with buoyancy and a huge reserve of good will is weakened. Certainly, the faces of Maasai to emerge over the next few years will be complex and multi-faceted.
The Lion Guardians project and others such as the Maasailand Preservation Trust and the Selenkay Conservancy are providing the Maasai people with employment and educational opportunities. But what lies ahead for the Maasai people is still very much unknown.