Maasai Land Critique

Holmander, Dave

Instructors: James Gruber and Patience Stoddard

ES-7000 Ecological Thought

June 9, 2019

Maasai Land Critique

A cursory reading of both articles reveals the two complement each other, because, they buttress nicely together without overly repeating material researched in one and presented a second time by the other.  Environmental Justice Case Study, by Julie Narimatsu, offers an examination of the roots to the historical issues confronting the Maasai’ tribes of Kenya and Tanzania by bringing context to the ongoing conflict and inequities. My opinion about Narimatsu’s writing style and the argument is less favorable than Hughes. There are numerous places where specific points are stated without providing context and background to the reader.

Hughes, in Land Alienation and Contestation in Kenyan Maasailand, writes in an easy manner, briefly references some historical markers throughout as necessary to bring context to the contemporary interpretation while providing up to date analyses of current standing and a possible path forward by suggesting solutions applicable to the 21st century.   

Narimatsu begins to lay out his argument in a very detailed structure. Immediately, the case for discourse identifies the problem (p. 1). “Maasai Tribes of Kenya and Tanzania have endured a long history of colonization by the British” (p.1). The case references the displacement of the indigenous people who are supplanted to undesirable arid lands and negates the nomadic nature and social sensibilities of their culture engaging in a lively pastoralist (Narimatsu, p.1). There is every indication this action has commercial interests in favor of settling white Europeans in the lush grazing land of the Maasai’. The effect created an environmental calamity; because the Maasai’ are forced to overgraze an arid land not sustainable for year-round grazing and orchestrates displacement of wildlife. A social backlash ensued continuing into this day. The evidence provided points to coercion and brute force to extract them from their native lands. 

I found a few examples where I was questioning the arrangement of facts cited within the article, i.e., “The Maasai people probably arrived in East Africa during the 15th century A.D.” (background, p.1) which is contrast to “They have interacted with the land, sustainably, for thousands of years by migrating in order to allow the grass to regenerate” (key actors, p.3). These two statements appear to contradict each other; therefore, they weaken the credibility of the discourse.The strength of the article provides an overview of the historical context of the Maasai’ peoples plight, while squarely placing blame on its colonial intruders and a litany of misdeeds from within their indigenous society.

In the abstract of Land Alienation and Contestation in Kenyan Maasailand, Hughes states the goal of the article. Because of the forced removal of the pastoral Maasai’ people, even though a new constitution is in place, wherein, they now have a voice, 50% of their former common land is held in private hands, and it is unlikely to be returned and their common pastoralists lifestyle restored (Hughes, p.1). However; Hughes, cited an example of a younger generation stepping to the fore willing to take ownership of the current situation and forge a new path forward (p.14). The article is loaded with specific anecdotal facts and first-person oral accounts.   Hughes does not gloss over the troubled pass. He offers some positive changes which if pursued, could provide some sense of dignity and restoration to the Maasai’ people.  Identifying systemic problem, Hughes says, “patronage resource by political leaders, who call in favors” (p.5), and “colonial intervention in Maasailand led to the breakdown of traditional ecosystems” (p.7) lead to these problems; however, there are five specific (p.10) actions listed which offer positive change. These actions if continued would provide some sense of dignity and restoration to the Maasai’ people.

In summary, I find both articles provide an important voice, one to past grievances because it set the foundation to a claim against injustices, while the other to a positive path forward. Hughes is pragmatic, the road ahead will not be an easy one; but, the Maasai’ people will need to take advantage of a variety of measure, using all means available, social pressure, political will, and litigation. In doing so, the Maasai’ people might be able to right past wrongs and become proud owners of their own destiny.

Work cited:

Narimatsu, Julie, Environmental Justice Case Study: Maasai Land Rights in Kenya and Tanzania, date unknow, MS, AUNE.

Hughes, L., Land Alienation and Contestation in Kenyan Maasailand, date unknow, MS, ANUE.

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