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by Ted Cheeseman


This paper explores two large classes of policy failure which have caused deviation from Pareto optimality between principal stakeholders in the southern Kenyan Maasailands. First, an inappropriate settlement and privatization scheme attempted to give Maasai title to land historically theirs while ushering them into the Kenyan market economy, but instead caused fragmentation of their rangeland ecology and culture. Second, wildlife conservation in Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara Game Reserve is dangerously unsustainable in large part through shortsighted, inadequate and poorly implemented policy. The situation has created conflict between conservation interests and the Maasai, and funnels the economic benefits of tourism away from those who bear the costs of lost land rights.


Five principal groups exert force over natural resource control in the southern Kenyan Maasailands:

  • Maasai: The Maasai have occupied southern Kenya and the Rift Valley for at least a millennium, maintaining a semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle closer to their ‘traditional’ culture than any other southern Kenyan tribe. Their principal demand is for land rights, with increasing interest in modern services to improve standards of living and market power.
  • International conservation community: Impassioned by a desire to conserve the largest remaining and most diverse savanna ecosystem on the globe, conservationists demand land and are inclined to dictate where Maasai can and cannot range.
  • Tourism community: A transient group voting with dollars, the tourist trade demands infrastructure, services and visible wildlife.
  • Government: Primarily interested in economic development and foreign income generated by tourism, government, both local and federal, maintains demand for money and jurisdiction.
  • Agriculturists: Previously restricted by an extended dry season, introduction of drylands adapted crops, development of infrastructure and population pressures have brought agriculturists from Kenya’s most numerous tribes, primarily Kikuyu and Luo.


Physical and ecological environment
The Maasai range over arid and semiarid savannas of southern Kenya (see Figure I) These regions are of primarily alkali and volcanic soils, from 500 to 2000m in elevation. A prolonged dry season and inappropriate soils have long kept agriculture away, impossible without irrigation and fertilization. Adjoining to the south in Tanzania are vast areas of similar habitat: the Serengeti plains and Masai Steppe, together making the world’s largest remaining grassland ecosystem. These plains are profoundly productive for ungulates (1), with more diversity and density of large mammals than anywhere else on earth. Within the Serengeti plains, 3.5 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle range and migrate seasonally, following rain patterns.

Cultural environment
Maasai are pastoral nomads, thought to have come to East Africa from the north in the late first millennium AD. They are bordered by Kalenjin agro-pastoralists to the west and agricultural Bantu tribes in most other directions. The large grouping of Bantu tribes includes the Kikuyu and Luo to the north, and Chagga and Abugasi to the south and southwest. Where other pastoral tribes bordered on Maasai land, a large buffer area usually was left, in which hunter-gatherer Dorobo lived. Relations between Maasai and agricultural tribes were mostly peaceful and trade-oriented. This is particularly so with Kikuyu, with whom the Maasai share a deity and sometimes exchange wives. The Maasai would regularly raid other pastoral and semi-pastoral tribes, hence the buffer area.

The tribes crucial to this story are Maasai, Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and to a lesser extent other Bantu groups. Maasai traditionally occupied much of Kenya’s Rift Valley, a stretch of low elevation savanna and acacia woodland scattered with alkaline lakes. East and West are bordered by sharp rift walls rising 500 to 700 meters to the central highlands (see Figure I). Prior to the colonial period, land was segregated ecologically, with Maasai in dry savanna too poor for agriculture, while Kikuyu and Kalenjin farmed wetter areas above the rift, where tsetse flies kept away pastoral Maasai (Kituyi 1993:p.124).

Figure I Kenya: Maasailand past and present (Berger 1993) and protected areas (Yeager & Miller 1986)

History of the Kenyan Maasai
The British came to Kenya intending to construct an agricultural economy. They immediately saw the Maasai as a barrier to progress and pursued development with a labor base of Kikuyu and Luo (Spence 1996). White settlers occupied 60,000 acres of Kikuyu land between 1903 and 1906 (Rutten 1992:p.174). British control expanded until by 1910, most land already under the plow at the time of their arrival became controlled by colonial interests. At the same time, British settlers focused their attentions on a central piece of the Rift Valley, near present day Nakuru. This Maasai land was arable but never farmed by pastoral Maasai. Only just recovering from severe disease and drought in the 1890’s, the Maasai were manipulated with relative ease into a treaty taking this land (Lindsay 1987:p.152). The 1904 treaty established a Northern Reserve in the Laikipia area and a Southern Reserve where the Maasai range today. This treaty was to endure ‘so long as the Masai as a race shall exist, and that Europeans or other settlers shall not be allowed to take up land in the Settlements’ (Rutten 1992:p177). The Rift Valley area formerly occupied by Maasai was divided into concessions as large as 1000 square kilometers. After two years, the Northern Reserve pastures were found to be inadequate in the dry season and was therefore extended to regain a piece of European-claimed land. With European hunger for land still strong, the ‘Second Maasai Treaty’ was negotiated in 1911. In exchange for a slight extension of the Southern Reserve, the entire Northern Reserve was given to colonial powers for European settlement. Apparently the Maasai chief who accepted the treaty acted out of motivation to reassert control over southern Maasai, from whom he had been cut off by the 1904 treaty. Maasai sued the colonial government in its municipal courts for breach of the 1904 agreement, but the government argued (in its own courts) that the agreement had not been a contract but rather a treaty, and that a treaty could not be negotiated in municipal court. When the Maasai went to the British Court of Appeals for Eastern Africa, the British argued that the Maasai indeed constituted a sovereign entity, but that their treaty had no validity under international law because it had been made with the British Protectorate government (Asiema and Situma 1994).

With some minor changes and extensions, the Southern Reserve as it stood after the Second Masai Treaty is the area of Kenya now legally under Maasai jurisdiction (see Figure I). Maasai lost their best dry-season rangeland to European encroachment, to gain only small amounts of marginal land in south Kenya. These treaties illustrate a general disregard for Maasai property rights present from the outset of Kenya’s modern history. That Maasai lands were legally recognized from 1911 has not stopped encroachment from land-hungry Kikuyu, Kamba and Chagga. Displaced by colonial settlers and a rapidly growing population, many moved illegally or semi-legally into the wetter northern regions north of present day Narok and Kajiado (Rutten 1992). Some Kikuyu followed relations who had married into the Maasai, while others rented plots in an arrangement initially attractive to Maasai, now much less food secure after the loss of their prime dry-season range. After independence, tension continued to grow as land hunger increased. Meanwhile, district administrative boundaries were in constant flux, reflective of an essentially ad hoc development process.

In reaction to land tenure insecurity, the mid 1950’s saw the introduction of individual, then group ranches. In particular, young and educated Maasai were enthusiastic about securing land title in order to improve rangeland facilities and join the market economy through beef production. The subsequent privatization has been an ongoing process, largely evolving through trial and error. Group ranches proved unsatisfactory and tended towards disintegration into small plots unable to sustain cattle and Maasai families through dry seasons and droughts. This failure will be analyzed below, as a key policy failure in development of Kenya’s Maasailand.

Political History: Independence to present
In 1963, Kenya gained independence with Jomo Kenyatta as Kenya’s first president. A Kikuyu, Kenyatta continued the British emphasis on an agricultural economy and maintained a parliament heavily over-represented by Kikuyu. Kenya was politically stable if not representative, and was favored by Western nations for development projects. Meanwhile, the tourism industry gained popularity, rapidly bringing foreign investment and foreign exchange with essentially no effort on the part of the government. Annual visitation to Amboseli National Park grew 22% per year between 1965 and 1969 (Mitchell 1969, quoted in Western 1997) During this period, the Maasai were effectively ignored and kept outside political spheres of influence, both directly via an unrepresentative government, and indirectly by limited access to education or market linkages.

Daniel arap Moi, then vice-president and a member of the Kalenjin tribe, came to power in 1978 with Kenyatta’s death. During the fifteen years of rule by Kenyatta, Moi was a dissident voice of the KADU (2) opposition, and stood for the political ideology of ‘Majimboism,’ Swahili for ethnic (i.e., indigenous) regionalism, or ‘ethno-federalism.’ Majimboism proposes that the peoples who are indigenous to any given region should control that region's affairs; the platform thus opposes any centralized domination of the entire state by any particular peoples. The ideology also proposes the subordination of non-indigenous peoples within particular regions by those who are indigenous (Spence 1996). Once in power, however, Moi quickly turned Kenya into a Kalenjin development project. Moi justifies current policy by reasoning that since Kenyatta ran a Kikuyu project, the precedent has now been long-established that single-party rule is as legitimate as domination by particular peoples. By following precedent, there is nothing wrong with the overrepresentation of Kalenjin in Moi’s cabinet and the Parliament. The few non-Kalenjin members of KANU (3) are very cooperative with the status quo of Kalenjin domination, as “any deviation is to risk losing their posts and, depending on their potential to influence the masses, their lives” (Spence 1996).

As opposed to Kenyatta who could rely solely on support from his own majority tribe, the Kikuyu, Moi has been forced to make some alliances to maintain power. This has given the Maasai a voice, as Moi has two very important Maasai officials in his government: vice-president George Saitoti, and William ole Ntimama, the Minister of Local Government and Member of Parliament of Northern Narok District. However, it is clear that two Maasai in high government posts do not constitute representation for rural Maasai; with only a very few well-educated tribe members, the long-standing history is of gross self-aggrandizement of the few at the expense of disenfranchised rural Maasai.

The final chapter in Kenyan political history is post-1982 political repression. An attempted coup in 1982 motivated severe human rights abuses by the government and groups hired by the government. When the cold war ended, Western countries began putting pressure on single-party states to make democratic reforms. After losing reportedly billions in international aid, Kenya yielded in 1991 by repealing a 1982 constitutional amendment which had made Kenya a one party state (Spence 1996). Multiparty registration is now legal, but Moi has effectively retained dictatorial control through constant harassment, detention without trial and other forms of persecution of political opponents. Maasai have been repeatedly used as agents of this political repression, displacing 300,000 and killing 1500 between 1991 and 1994 in efforts to drive Kikuyu and Luos from the politically pivotal Rift Valley (Amnesty International 1994). In 1993, after a group of Maasai attacked opposition supporters at the state opening of Parliament, KANU Secretary General Joseph Kamotho publicly admitted that the Maasai were part of a 3000-strong youth squad hired by KANU for the occasion to ‘deal with the opposition supporters.’ (Human Rights Watch/Africa 1993). During this past year leading up to December elections, similar disruption tactics have been organized by the government utilizing Maasai and others, effectively maintaining the fragmentation of opposition groups.

History of conservation in Kenya
British colonial power brought conservation to Kenya early, with a concern for rapid loss of game through hunting pressures. Hunting without a license became illegal shortly after the turn of the century, although funds were very limited for implementation of rules created by the Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire, based in Britain (Berger 1993). Most land now protected was designated between 1945 and 1960, in areas deemed low in economic potential. National Parks came under the authority of the National Park Service, with mostly European game wardens and external funding (mostly from World Wildlife Fund, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and the New York Zoological Society). National reserves, in areas where human activity could not be excluded, came under control of the Forest Department. Because Kenyan parks were created by the government with little regard for local need, Kenyan reactions to park designation have been described as ‘baffled and angered’ (Berger 1993). With the perception that subsistence hunting was decimating wildlife, game patrols jailed Africans hunting without permits. Anti-poaching campaigns, for example, are alleged to have destroyed the Waliangulu people around Tsavo National Park who were dependent on elephant hunting. At one time, about one-third of the adult male Waliangulu were in prison for poaching. Early conservation policy saw Maasai as somewhat compatible with wildlife, not excluded from game reserves but removed from national parks. The prevailing attitude was one of separation between people and wildlife. This topic will be discussed further, as it is the roots of policy failure in Kenyan conservation.

With independence, the new government’s strong aspirations for growth began a period of ‘utilization without management’ (Berger 1993). Few facilities or funds were available for monitoring wildlife and ecosystem impacts or for development and maintenance of park facilities. Attitudes of the new regime were in strong contrast to British values for wildlife, introducing utilization as part of conservation management. Because hunting safaris and increasing wildlife tourism were such significant earners of foreign exchange, the economic value of game was perceived early on. I would make the argument that little conservation ethic existed in the central government after independence but economic value argued for its conservation. Attempts were made at consumptive utilization of wildlife outside established parks, beginning the idea of wildlife management as a legitimate land use on par with livestock or development alternatives. The Wildlife Act of 1976, governing the now-unified National Park Service and Game Department, proposed that landowners supporting wildlife should receive sufficient remuneration to enable sustainable wildlife utilization. Compensation for loss of life and damages to property began with the Wildlife Act. These early management techniques attempted to view wildlife at the landscape level with multiple use zones and accounting for local needs. Unfortunately, political and administrative problems failed to implement rural development of wildlife utilization. The 1960s and 70s also saw interest in using wildlife for commercial production to feed demands of Kenya’s 4% annual population growth rate. A pilot project from 1971-77 failed to develop economically viable cropping techniques, and was halted in light of decreasing wildlife populations as agricultural development consumed habitat and poaching pressures became severe (Berger 1993).

In light of declining game populations and increasing poaching for the ivory and rhino horn trade, a comprehensive hunting ban was instated by presidential decree in 1977. All legal forms of consumptive wildlife utilization ended, and with it hunting safari income was lost. It appears to have been a necessary step for viable conservation in a system lacking sufficient capacity to regulate hunting. Anti-poaching efforts have stepped up tremendously, especially since President Moi’s sensationalist burning of 10 tons of ivory in 1989. Wildlife is now singularly utilized through the tourist trade, exacerbating the gap between who pays for wildlife and who benefits from it. Development of tourism facilities has proceeded with no sense of limitations to growth. The stated goal was one million tourists by 1990. Actual figures fell far short, as discussed below, but the goal illustrates a ‘mining’ attitude toward park resources.

Recent history has brought intense controversy to Kenya’s park and conservation management, with Richard Leakey (of anthropological fame) appointed to the newly created Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 1989. The former Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (WCMD) was undermined by a lack of capacity and accountability, whereas its successor, KWS, began on a reformed footing. Leakey used both his international fame and the imminent danger to Kenya’s Black Rhinos and elephants to significantly strengthen anti-poaching efforts and root out corruption in the park revenue system. Guards were well trained and equipped and were instructed to shoot to kill. With over one hundred poachers killed in the first two years of KWS’ existence, poaching was rapidly halted, but not without controversy (Peluso 1993). While elephants, and especially rhinos would not exist today without this strength in leadership, Leakey’s strong protectionist views have heightened local conflicts with wildlife and conservation (4). In 1993, Leakey resigned under strong pressure from the government, and was replaced by noted ecologist and conservationist David Western. Western has pursued a strategy completely opposite that of Leakey’s, with full emphasis on participatory conservation and cooperative problem resolution. Leakey has since become a great thorn in the side of KANU and President Moi through Leakey's own political party Safina and has never ceased criticizing present park management for being inadequate in the face of encroachment (5). Whether participatory conservation is the answer to lead to a Pareto optimality is thus far unknown. It is unquestionably a part of the solution. Present programs have distinct potential, but continue to be hampered by the same set of capacity, accountability and transparency problems as discussed below.

Kenya now has 24 National Parks, 27 National Reserves and three Game Sanctuaries (KWS 1996). Under protection is a total of 3,504,000 hectares, 6.0% of Kenya’s land area (WRI 1996). While this land area is significant and parks are far better protected than in most developing countries, an estimated 80% of Kenya’s wildlife requires area outside the parks for dispersal and migration (Western 1969).


Settlement and privatization of Maasailands
A great deal has been written about the privatization process in Maasailands (e.g. see Kituyi 1990, 1993, Rigby 1992, Rutten 1992). I treat privatization here because it is of primary importance to economic and ecological conditions defining the modern Maasai and because a thorough analysis of conservation policy would be incomplete without addressing Maasai land tenure systems.

Privatization first entered the Maasai consciousness through a few educated ‘progressive’ Maasai looking for a way to secure tenure against continual agricultural encroachment (Rutten 1992). Although land was initially granted as individual ranches, the colonial government quickly opted for a system of group ranches over individual ownership to assure that those looking for title were not doing so as land speculation. By this time the colonial government was interested in securing title for the Maasai, having had trouble enforcing laws prohibiting settlement by non-Maasai on Maasai land. However, the government wanted to assure that privatization was motivated by a desire to improve rangeland conditions and join the market economy through beef production.

The idea of a group ranch meant setting aside a certain piece of land, communally owned by a group of people recorded and registered as the legal owners through membership of the particular ranch (Rutten 1992). In contrast with the past, livestock movements would be restricted within the group ranch boundaries and nonmembers would be forbidden to bring and graze their animals. Through the provision of loans for infrastructural development and steer fattening, an attempt was made to radically transform the nomadic subsistence-oriented production of the Maasai pastoralists into a more commercial system. This market-oriented production was to destock the Maasai pastures while simultaneously providing meat for the national and international market. It was thought that this approach would provide an answer to the drought induced 1960-61 collapse of the Maasai livestock sector, which ironically wouldn’t have been nearly so severe had the Maasai had access to their former dry-season rangelands.

Initially foreign to most uneducated Maasai, privatization received a major boost through the ‘Lawrence Report’ (Lawrence 1966), a government assessment of the potential of privatization, and also through World Bank funding of water supply and dipping facilities (Kituyi 1990). The World Bank encouraged secure title as a basis for development credit. After independence, the Kenyan government wanted free market access to Maasai land. Many Maasai received land title only to quickly sell out to Kikuyu agriculturists, precisely what the colonial government was attempting to avoid through group ranches. Government attitude followed two tendencies:

“On one hand is the implied notion that development is only possible when nomadic people are settled, and on the other is the thinking that lands occupied by nomadic groups can be expropriated if and when the production of important crops so requires.” (Kituyi 1990:p.96)
A sudden demand for wheat and barley by Kenya’s new middle class inspired investment in Green Revolution technologies converting to agriculture land that had forever been considered too dry for agriculture, making Narok District Kenya’s leading producer of both wheat and barley by the mid-1980’s.

Several policy motives are interacting in this case. Maasai have pursued gains in their security and standard of living primarily through informal and unsophisticated political means. The most effective political voice Maasai raise is through spearings of wildlife or raids of towns and offices of those who oppose or hinder them. Without a fair education in the political environment in which they act and with a long history of mistrust from broken promises, the Maasai view the individual titling of land as at least something secure, even if it is not sufficient to support them. Meanwhile, the World Bank and international development agencies have pursued privatization of Maasai land intent on the Maasai then producing cattle for a market economy. It appears that hopes of economic growth have collided with a lack of cultural or ecological understanding. Encouraging titling for rural development credit may appear a promising development model, but when the title recipient sells out and moves to the city or to what community land is left, a cultural and ecological disintegration ensues. Maasai neither have the facilities or the understanding of monetary systems to be able to invest land sale income to their long term benefit, and market linkages are not promising with poor transport facilities and breeds of cattle better for enduring arid conditions than for rapid industrial production.

For the Kenyan government intent on growth in the agricultural sector and adoption of Green Revolution technologies for production farming, this duplicitous policy environment pushing Maasai further into the margin proved wildly successful, at least during the term of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu-dominated government. With a shift in power back to Maasai and Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Luo agriculturists have been run out of these fertile Rift Valley farms en masse (see pg.7). In effect, short term political gains for tenuously powerful tribes have lead to long term land tenure insecurity. Kenya’s economy burst ahead during the 1960’s as the model for the Africa of the 21st century. But, some of that growth now appears to have been borrowed against future social instability.

Beyond a rapid marginalization and a loss of cultural viability, land privatization caused the Maasai to cease the migration which had fit so well into East Africa’s alkali and volcanic soil ecology. Maasai migrations essentially paralleled those of the large ungulate herds (Western 1997). Despite many claims to the contrary, Maasai cattle did compete with wild ungulates, but not to any damaging extent: the crucial factor is maintaining rangeland quality. By ceasing migrations, the Maasai were forced into an unsustainable ecology. With construction of fences and overgrazing, potential for wildlife is reduced as evidenced by declines in wild animal populations over this century. The carrying capacity of the land is reduced for Maasai, their livestock, and wildlife simultaneously. Where watering facilities have been installed, the effect is often substantially worse.

The ramifications of Maasailand fragmentation run deeper still. Maasai lost their best dry-season range shortly after colonization. Whether the land remaining in Maasai control is sustainable for their populations is an open question. But with each group or family further fragmented and restricted to grazing their own parcel, unsustainability is assured (see Figure II). A study conducted by the Range Management Project suggests that managing smaller land units on rangelands may be impracticable. Of 14 group ranches surveyed in the Kaputiei area, only six contained sufficient dry-season grazing to be managed as self-contained units (Ole Parkipuny and Berger 1993). A clear ramification is that Maasai can no longer be only pastoral (Berger 1993). Economic diversification is necessary, and has happened to a limited extent. A common string of events is for younger Maasai to receive land title, sell the land and move to Nairobi, finding employment in low level jobs, particularly as night watchmen. Other options are self-employment through the tourist trade. Concentrations of Maasai villages have developed on regular tourist routes and around the borders of parks and reserves, selling curios, selling themselves for photographs and taking advantage of what services have been provisioned by park money. A conflict here is increased grazing pressure on the immediate border of parks and reserves. Land outside the Masai Mara has been degraded so severely over the past decade that only a few scattered gazelle are found living between the sheep and goats who can stomach what unpalatable brush does still grow (pers. obs.). This conflict is clear to the tourist, who readily blames the Maasai for overstocking in a typical ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. When pressed as to the source of park degradation, Maasai overgrazing is the typical government answer (Spence 1996).

FIGURE II Kajiado District Group Ranches and 1990 Subdivision Status (Rutten 1992)

The conflict between Maasai and the parks has been well publicized, without understanding of deeper roots. The net effect on Kenya’s economy is severely negative when political strife and violence combine with a few high profile spearings or Maasai action against tourists. Because tourism is Kenya’s largest earner of foreign exchange, Kenya can ill afford anything that reduces it. Yet from 1990 to 1993, total tourism receipts dropped 11%, from $466 million to $413 million. The decline was due primarily to fears regarding safety as ethnic and political violence broke out around 1992 elections, not due to any direct problem with the park system. Much of the violence occurred in the Narok district involving hired and incited Maasai as discussed above.

To briefly summarize the privatization process, differing motives found common means through privatization. From the 1950’s through 1960’s, rapid expansion of the idea left all Maasai land designated into group or individual parcels. Essentially no planning proceeded the ad hoc designation process, so group ranches forced together incompatible family groupings and left many ranches vulnerable to co-option by a few powerful Maasai, who were then able to channel all infrastructure development funds to their personal benefit. Dissatisfaction with the group ranch arrangement was already clear in the 1960’s. With international development interests encouraging privatization and a Kenyan desire for free market access to Maasai land, fragmentation continued still further. Today the Maasai are left with approximately 100 hectares each, although parcels are by no means equally divided. On the surface this appears to be an extremely low population density. What must be understood is the utter unsustainability of small parcel cattle production without migration or rangeland on a scale untenable for Kenya.

Wildlife conservation in Maasailands
From the perspective of analyzing policy, conservation in Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara Game Reserve together present a very interesting case where the institutional intention was clearly for conservation. Even if so motivated only because conservation equates with tourism dollars, policy failure can be seen as technical failures rather than failures resulting from inappropriate objectives or competing mandates. Consider Amboseli, with 100,000 visitors a year and earnings from gate fees alone of 9,000,000 Kenya shillings (6). If conservation in a landscape with a human component should succeed anywhere, it should be here.

The government and conservation community have flip-flopped numerous times in Kenya’s modern history over whether or not Maasai are compatible with wildlife and therefore can be allowed in reserves. National Parks have always been closed to Maasai, with the occasional exception of access to watering holes and forage in times of severe drought. This policy in Amboseli National Park has resulted in repeated spearings and direct conflict. Failure of conservation policy can be traced to two basic attitudes from the government and conservation community:

  • Mining mentality towards wildlife and park resources, and
  • Protectionist western attitude of segregation between wildlife and people.

Mining mentality
Kenya is credited as the birthplace of ‘safari’. This historical legacy has brought tourism to Kenya in such steadily growing numbers that all the government had to do was designate some protection, sell wildlife hunting permits at phenomenal prices and allow foreign investment to build a tourism infrastructure. Especially because Kenya has been more politically stable historically and more open to foreign investment and influence than other African countries, there was little competition for the tourism market, even though wildlife there was every bit as spectacular. Almost no income was reinvested in the resource: of $285,000 earned by the Kajiado County Council in 1969 from gate receipts and hotel fees, only $7100 was spent on maintenance of park facilities in Amboseli (Western 1997). Even once Amboseli became a national park, all proceeds went to the central treasury and little was returned for operation expenses. Furthermore, most major conservation projects in Kenya and much investment in infrastructure has come from international funding. Not only have the central and local governments captured massive natural resource rents, international conservation interests have subsidized park protection. Annual assistance to park management totals about a million dollars annually (Shete 1997). International funding, while effective for achieving conservation, has allowed the government to retain nearly all direct park proceeds, as well as much revenue from tourism spent outside parks.

Unlike most areas of the world, wildlife tourism in Kenya generates sufficient revenue to justify conservation purely on economic grounds. Consider the following calculations: 82% of Kenya’s $500 million tourism industry is for leisure, recreation and holidays (WTO 1996). If we conservatively estimate 60% of this is drawn by the parks and wildlife (as opposed to the beaches, or ‘cultural tourism’), the annual income from Kenya’s wildlife is $300 million, or approximately $85 per protected hectare. To take this calculation further, about 10% of Kenya’s parks receive by far the majority of visitation, the same parks for which competing uses are so vocal. Just on that estimate, revenue from frequently visited parks equals $850 per hectare (7). The Masai Mara Game Reserve and Amboseli National Park are the most popular of Kenya’s parks, probably worth even more. A calculation of economic potential for Amboseli National Park under different land usage is shown in Table I.

Table I Gross revenue from existing and potential uses of Amboseli National Park as calculated in 1973 (Western 1997).

Total wildlife 1972
Total livestock 1972
(cash returns only)
Subsistence value livestock 1972
Wildlife potential (no livestock)
Commercial livestock potential
(no wildlife)
Combined wildlife and commercial livestock potential

While on the national level wildlife as a natural resource has certainly not been undervalued, Kenya has failed to perceive development outside the parks and a lack of investment in park management as a threat to this massive natural resource rent. But 80% of Kenya’s wildlife lies outside the parks. Amboseli National Park contains only 6.5% of the 6000 km2 Amboseli ecosystem (see Figure II). Without these surrounding areas, wildlife populations are unsustainable. And yet as Kenya’s main tourist attraction faces a crisis of ecological unsustainability, Kenya must suddenly compete for tourist dollars now being drawn to Tanzania, Uganda and southern African countries. While these previously unattractive countries have not caused any decline in Kenya’s tourism income, Tanzania in particular has certainly slowed its growth.

The arrogance of assuming tourism is a guaranteed source of income is evidenced in the government’s Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1986, the foundation for the 1988-92 Development Plan, in which the contribution of wildlife conservation and tourism to national development was not even mentioned! Kenya's economic policy toward conservation reflects a lack of interdisciplinary understanding and intersectoral planning. This shortsightedness has caused both a general lack of integrated effective policy and specific on the ground failures. Failure to perceive a need for reinvestment has come in the form of under-provisioned and underpaid guards unable even to fuel vehicles for patrolling. Small maintenance shortcomings have cost conservation dearly. For example, the World Bank in 1976 funded a Wildlife and Tourism Project to implement the Amboseli Park Plan, an innovative and progressive plan developed with unprecedented participation from the surrounding Maasai. Because the Maasai would lose access to crucial watering points by establishment of the park, a pipeline was built taking water from springs within the park to areas outside the park boundary. This alleviated the conflicting demands of water for Maasai cattle and tourism wanting the clichéd ‘vast unpopulated wilderness.’ After four years of successful cooperation, the system began to break down for lack of maintenance and fuel for the pump. Again betrayed by broken promises, Maasai illegally entered the park, speared animals in protest and speared the PVC pipeline in hopes of getting some water.

Central government oversight also has fallen short in perceiving impacts of tourism and limitations to growth. The Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo East and Samburu Game Reserve are commonly cited as the most overrun parks in the world. Maasai Mara in particular, for not being a national park, has very loose policies toward tourism. Tourist vehicles are still allowed to drive off established roads, for example. In a free-for-all, drivers relentlessly pursue sensitive wildlife in hopes of bigger tips. Tourism has degraded the very attractiveness of the Mara. With far better management, Tanzania is becoming an increasingly more attractive destination for tourist still looking for a wilderness experience. Kenya has looked to maximize growth of the tourist industry with no consideration for impacts on parks, as illustrated by the failed goal of 1 million tourists annually by 1990.

Protectionist western conservation mentality
Beginning with colonial powers, a segregated and paternalistic attitude has pervaded Kenyan conservation. With the first outlawing of hunting without a permit and with designation of reserves for wildlife only, Kenyans were given no cause to value protected areas, immediately put in competition with wildlife for resources. All park protection has come from the government in a top-down, impositional manner, with only recent moves to compensate for loss of land or damage from wildlife. Independence began to change this attitude, but the National Parks especially maintained a protectionist approach with European game wardens and military trained Kenyan staff (Berger 1993). By the time retribution for wildlife damages and the idea of revenue sharing finally took hold, Maasai were well aquatinted with broken promises and less willing to work with attempts at cooperation.

The attitude that locals had little legitimate claim to park resources has prevailed through the administration of Richard Leakey, very resistant to revenue sharing programs and therefore unwilling to demand the same kind of capacity for payment distribution as was demanded for anti-poaching efforts. Internal park management capacity has been a focus of investment but relations between parks and people have been all but ignored until very recently. Wildlife conservation outside parks has similarly been overlooked. WCMD failed to perceive the link between rangeland quality on a landscape scale and preservation of wildlife. Without this ecosystem perspective, conservation was in favor of Maasailand privatization to take pressure off the parks, while this is the very policy which has degraded rangeland on a landscape scale. Conservation has regularly claimed the best land, acting in unison with encroaching agriculture to further marginalize the Maasai. Left only with the poorest quality rangelands, the Maasai are then blamed for overgrazing.

The Maasai have lived with wildlife for their entire history, and certainly they have changed animal abundance and habitat character, but have not threatened the existence of any known species. Western society has come to value that wildlife, a positive externality the Maasai have maintained through not hunting and not converting land to agriculture. Traditional nomadic Maasai required no payment for maintaining the positive externality of wildlife. With changing socioeconomic conditions, Maasai have come to conflict with wildlife directly and with western institutions designed to preserve wildlife and their ecosystems. Now, with Kenya’s largest industry based on the positive externality that the Maasai have maintained, restitution is necessary if the wildlife and wildlife tourism industry is to last.

Revenue sharing programs
Uncompensated establishment of parks in Maasailand and lack of compensation for wildlife damages on people living around parks caused severe antagonism early in the history of Kenyan conservation. After independence with a government more sympathetic to the rights of the rural African, payments for damages began. However, payments have been inconsistent and at times ceased altogether. The allocation system has always been plagued by unwieldy bureaucracy and paperwork. In further attempts to compensate surrounding peoples, a system of revenue sharing was enacted in the late seventies in several parks. Revenue sharing has similarly fallen prey to a lack of accountability, leaving those whose grazing rights were taken with no compensation. Inefficiency in the system is reflective of more than a corrupt bureaucracy: just retribution has never been a priority for park management, with no clear feedback loop between uncompensated Maasai and loss of park revenue. In 1981, the simultaneous ceasing of payment for damages and lost grazing rights, along with lack of maintenance of the Amboseli water pipe left Maasai without option but to illegally retake grazing and watering rights lost to the park.

The Narok County Council receives all revenue from Maasai Mara gate entrance fees and a percentage of hotel revenues. The council is the most stable in the country with revenues from the park estimated at upwards of 1 million Kenya shillings per month (8) (Talbot & Olindo 1990). For Amboseli National Park, KWS has recently agreed to share 25% of all gate fees with surrounding group ranches (9) (Western 1997). Without revenue sharing, Maasai income is limited to sales of charcoal and gravel, and campsite fees totaling 160,000 Ksh/year (Talbot & Olindo 1990). Before establishment as a national park, the Kajiado County Council received Amboseli Game Reserve revenue, $285,000 in 1969. Both county councils were politically very strong with jurisdiction over all district lands until the mid-1970s saw consolidation of power in the central government and individualization of group ranches. Revenue sharing quickly become a rent capture mechanism for local governments with little money or services actually getting to the Maasai who lost land to the parks. Kajiado County Council in particular, located 150 km from Amboseli, was far removed from immediate concerns of rural Maasai. Court disputes over money unaccounted for and laundered through ‘fake contractors’ have arisen against the council from disenfranchised Maasai (Kahindi 1993). The Kajiado County Council was 70% funded by Amboseli before made into a national park (Western 1997). Narok County Council is 90% funded by the Masai Mara Game Reserve (Berger 1993). No accounting transparency exists for the councils, and what money was put to development was usually funneled to projects benefiting the politically powerful far away from rural Maasai concerns.


Consequences of failures
The cost Kenya will have to pay for a history of political shortsightedness is uncertain, depending on future political stability, the tourist market, and how resilient Kenya’s savanna ecosystems prove to be. The Maasai have paid dearly since the colonial period, both through Kenyan policy failure and very successful policy designed to coopt their resources. As a nomadic tribe, Maasai have fared far better than most native groups around the world. Their numbers are believed to have tripled to about 150,000 since the turn of the century. Culturally and economically however, their prospects are not very bright. With degraded rangeland, little economic opportunity and limited access to education, many young Maasai move to Nairobi only to join the urban poor.

Conservation has not yet been sacrificed by ecosystem fragmentation, although impacts could be delayed through ecological complexity. The future health of Kenyan tourism is difficult to estimate, being a function of political stability, world economic conditions, competition from other countries, and conservation success. Kenya has realized massive natural resource rents through tourism but these rents are decreasing as competition heightens and the opportunity cost of conservation rises. Present conservation efforts are insufficient to maintain wildlife in the long term because so much wildlife depends on areas outside parks and reserves. It is uncertain how much wildlife can be lost before ecosystems degrade beyond recovery and tourism is lost to other countries. It may be that past rent capture was not policy failure on the large scale, if conservation can rise to current challenges and Kenya can maintain the tourism industry.

How things should have been
Much can be said about how Kenya should have governed development of Maasailand and wildlife resources, but in light of political and social conditions, many mistakes were inevitable. Government has always, and continues to lack capacity to govern with any interdisciplinary cohesion. Failures in developing institutional capacity have been much discussed and are beyond the scope of this report. Institutional failures notwithstanding, the science of ecosystem management is still in its infancy, and most management of Kenyan parks has been translated from US National Park management, with utterly incompatible socioeconomic differences. Kenya for its part has maintained wildlife outside parks to an extent incomparable to the United States, because groups like the Maasai have historically been compatible with wildlife.

Failures that can be criticized given a realistic historical context include a lack of even minimal reinvestment, cultural insensitivity, and the paternalistic conservation mentality of segregation. The most clear case is with the Amboseli pipeline, where a small investment in maintenance would have curtailed reconstruction costs, sustained cooperative agreements with the Maasai and avoided direct conflicts like wildlife spearings. With international conservation interests funding Kenya’s protected areas, coordination and oversight should have established some transparency in park revenue accounting procedures. Always focusing on the immediacy of threats to the animals, insufficient effort has gone to establishing a functional park management regime.

Cultural insensitivity is to blame where inappropriate development models have been imposed upon the Maasai. From the Kenyan government, motives of displacement were calculated. The World Bank on the other hand was wrong in encouraging privatization where institutional capacity was insufficient to limit exploitation by the powerful. An ad hoc process of issuing land title was completely inappropriate where centuries of tribal arrangement had already segregated land between clans and families. Development, in effect, was something that happened to the Maasai, rather than any intentional process.

Conservation interests should have seen that trying to transplant western models of park management was inappropriate. In some cases, militancy about park protection has been essential: anti-poaching efforts were inept against armed gangs of poachers until well-trained, well-equipped guards were instructed to shoot on sight. Every African park where rhinos and elephants still survive now has a shoot-on-sight policy, effectively eliminating poaching. But the same mentality applied to surrounding populations has set conservation back severely.

How things should be
A Pareto optimality is our goal. Table I clearly illustrates that conservation and tourism will remain a major contributor. Kenyan conservation is intimately tied to the Maasai and how they utilize their land. But no solution can outright fix past policy failures and resurrect Maasai independence; Maasai have changed as a culture and have lost too much of their best land to return to nomadic pastoralism. Higher population densities and changed cattle rotations mean Maasai now heavily impact the land they occupy. Maasai are no longer compatible within protected areas, with the possible exception of narrow corridors for water access or emergency drought forage. To say that Maasai can still coexist with wildlife without impact is to perceive the Maasai as a static culture outside modern economic concerns. An example of this is in Namelok, an area adjacent to Amboseli: incorporated as a group ranch in the 1970’s, the swamps were immediately drained for farming and wildlife was driven out so that all was gone by 1980 (Western 1997). Therefore, conservation is not well served by digging in proverbial heels to insist on absolute segregation, but multiple uses are no longer entirely compatible.

It has become quite popular to bash conservation interests for an insensitivity to the needs of local peoples, but it should be recognized that conservation has only been a small, albeit visible force marginalizing the Maasai. Agricultural development, especially under the colonial and Kenyatta governments, was by far the largest force of change. But to the Maasai, this land is lost. (10) This puts the burden of de-marginalizing the Maasai largely on conservation interests. Fortunately the income generated by parks and tourism is more than sufficient if revenue sharing and other developments can realign who gains from tourism with who pays for lost land. The positive externality of wildlife on Maasai land needs accounting for. Shared revenue should provide services and direct payment for Maasai, in an amount not to exceed their opportunity cost for lost land. Community development projects have frequently made the error of over-providing and thereby attracting more people to the border or buffer zone of the park they wish to protect. Revenue sharing requires Maasai participation to understand actual need, and an allocation mechanism that is less vulnerable to corruption than past systems. Park revenue and funding has been frequently lost to corruption in part because no feedback loops or market signals exist to show depletion of the natural resource base. Wildlife must come to have value enough on Maasai land that it is worth saving. Community-based tourism projects have strong potential to provide income for rural Maasai, especially as ‘ecotourism’ gains popularity. Other possibilities are harvesting game meat and hunting safaris. Small scale projects are currently experimenting with all of these, and deserve more attention by the conservation community.

Kenya must eliminate reactionary and conflicting policy not designed on an interdisciplinary basis. Settlement of the Maasai, for example, motivated by World Bank pressure and a call for land tenure security among the Maasai was counterproductive because it proceeded too rapidly and without concern for Maasai tribal structure.

Management and governing capacity must be built within the park system and for the government as a whole. For parks, this means more consistent, secure and transparent funding. While internal funding from gate and hotel fees has its problems, this would eliminate insufficient reinvestment as the current system of central treasury allocation promotes. Individual projects such as the Amboseli pipeline should be secure with individual trust funds for long term maintenance.

It should be noted that investment in park management capacity is not merely an additional expenses consuming profits from the parks. Present lack of capacity short-circuits Kenya’s ability to obtain full resource rents from wildlife. One of the most valuable goods African wildlife produces is ivory, valued at $50 to $100 per pound depending on market conditions. Because elephants produce more ivory per year as they get older (up to 2.2 kg/yr for bulls over age 25), recent modeling has shown that the most profitable way to harvest ivory is to allow elephants to live into old age, die naturally and collect the ivory. Far short of this, Kenya is so rife with corruption it cannot even sell ivory confiscated from poachers and assure the money gets to the central treasury. Kenya has destroyed more than $5,000,000 in confiscated ivory and rhino horn since the inception of KWS. This sum almost equals the amount international conservation foundations have contributed to protection efforts over the same time period.

Improved management of both external conflicts and the internal impacts of tourism are essential to maintain tourism. The drop in tourism income in the early 1990’s came as a wake-up call to the Kenyan government, although their reaction so far has been little more than a marketing effort through KWS. Hopefully concern over the tourism market can leverage greater action. The tourism industry needs good regulation, and development of tourism facilities requires assessment of park capacity.

Conservation in Kenya must be assessed from a landscape approach. Policy must address the unsustainability of current grazing systems. More sustainable systems which share many privatized plots are being attempted, possibilities deserving of more attention.

Because Maasai are still seasonally nomadic in some areas, creating access to education and service remains a constant challenge. The Kenyan government must recognize that seasonal migration is by far the most productive pastoral system without infrastructure, and must leave behind the tribal prejudice viewing nomads as ‘primitive’.

Finally, while much of conservation policy failure in Kenya is due to technical problems, a national perspective is essential. As long as tribally motivated injustice fuels civil strife and violence for the political and economic gain of a few, Kenya will never achieve the stability necessary for effective interdisciplinary policy and a healthy economy.

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1. Ungulates are hoofed animals, a general term used for mammals belonging to the former order Ungulata. (back)

2. Kalenjin were the main constituents of KADU, the Kenya African Democratic Union. (back)

3. KANU stands for Kenya African National Union, the ruling party. (back)

4. A large Black Rhino horn in Yemen can sell for upwards of $50,000. Primarily for status symbols, a market for rhino horn dagger handles has motivated well-armed organized gangs to decimate East Africa’s rhino population at unprecedented rates. Black Rhinos have been extirpated from all but a few very well- guarded parks and some areas too vast for poachers to find the last animals. Populations stand well below 1% former numbers. (back)

5. Safina (meaning “Ark”) has been heavily persecuted from the outset as with many opposition parties, but appeared to be gaining steam regardless until Leakey’s number one man, a Kenyan lawyer, joined KANU. There is strong cause to believe the rumor that he was motivated by both bribe and personal safety. While still director of KWS, Leakey was involved in a plane crash in which he lost his legs. Sabotage is likely, with a number of possible saboteurs. His most unpopular goal was to designate many game reserves as national parks, taking revenue as well as control away from local county councils and directing it to the central government. (back)

6. 9,000,000 Kenya shillings is about $260,000 in 1990 dollars. (back)

7. This figure for the most popular parks is still probably conservative because the most frequently visited parks are some of the smallest, while the parks which account for most of Kenya’s 3,504,000 protected hectares are in remote marginal lands without strong competing demands for use. (back)

8. 1 million Ksh equals about $30,000 in 1990 dollars, 160,000 Ksh is $4500. (back)

9. This figure, 25% of gate receipts from Amboseli National Park, is the estimated opportunity cost incurred on surrounding group ranches of land lost to the park. (back)

10. The land is lost, with the exception of land taken in raids displacing Kikuyu and Luo from the northern Narok District and southern Kenyan Rift Valley. These gains however are tenuous at best, with severe consequences to the Kenyan economy. Even where no land is actually gained for the Maasai, raids do serve a long term purpose in discouraging further immigration by Kikuyu and Luos. (back)