Sir Richard Wrong About The Maasai
Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson has, in the latest post on his blog, made what may well become a talking-point for Kenyans for some while. “Delighted to announce a new Kenyan safari camp that will help to protect the Great Migration. We wanted to share how the idea came to fruition,” he declares in the Friday post, headlined Protecting the Great Migration – Mahali Mzuri in Kenya.
He explains: “I was contacted by Jake Grieves Cook, one of our Tourism Partners who also operates Gamewatchers Safaris and is a former Chair of the Kenya Tourism Federation. He told me the Great Migration, which sees one million wildebeest plus hundreds of thousands of zebra, gazelles and other game undertake a 1,600km journey through Tanzania and Kenya, was in danger of being destroyed because the migration passages were being taken over by cattle farming. People were putting fences up and these wonderful creatures were losing their habitat. The loss of the Great Migration would also effect the Maasai Mara, which is one of the most wonderful game reserves in the world, because all these animals head to the Mara.”
He concludes: “Jake came up with an idea that if myself and a number of friends could invest in pieces of the land the migration takes place on, give the Maasai employment and pay the Maasai more than they could earn from their cattle farming, it would be a win-win for everybody. We decided to take up a chunk of the land, encourage others to do so and work with the Maasai to create beautiful private reserves that could protect the migration. Our particular camp, Mahali Mzuri, will be open in 2013. It is stunningly beautiful. We will be employing a lot of the Maasai on it. The elders whose land it was are extremely happy and have moved their cattle elsewhere. Thanks to Jake’s hard work it is looking like the migration is well protected for future generations. Personally I think the Great Migration is one of the 10 natural wonders of the world, it is absolutely breath-taking to see it happen.”
Innocence is thought charming because it offers delightful possibilities for exploitation – Sir Branson’s post is an echoing of colonial suppressive attitude towards the Maasai people circa the treaties of 1904 and 1911 in which the Maasai lost over 1million acres of land, under similar pretexts of ‘win-win’ situations.
Clearly, Sir Branson thinks Maasais are nitwits. We’d laugh at this article weren’t Mr. Branson so deluded by his belief that he is actually doing something good.
How does buying up ‘chunks’ of virgin land (pun intended) and putting up permanent buildings (no matter how ‘eco-friendly’) actually help in conserving the environment?
The migration path is actually in a national reserve - it is a protected area that is specifically set aside for wildlife conservation. This land was surrendered to the government by the local Maasai community as we also believe in conserving the environment, including the bountiful wildlife. We have lived alongside the wildlife for centuries and the so-called ‘cattle farming’ is actually a centuries-old practice where we move with our livestock in search of pasture (as the wildlife also do) with the changing seasons.
We co-exist with the wildlife and do not poach or hunt them. We are at the forefront of conserving wildlife in Kenya. It is thus insulting to insinuate that our very eco-friendly, simple nomadic lifestyle is ‘cattle farming’ that is a threat to the wildlife in the area. The process of obtaining a license to build on the park is also quite rigorous as its geared at limiting human activity on the reserve.
Sir Branson would therefore help us all in explaining how exactly he was able to obtain that license, where others have failed. So Sir Branson, you are therefore deliberately misleading the public by stating that you are protecting the migration path or you have been duped into joining a pseudo-colonialist land-grabbing scheme dressed as ‘win-win’ situations for all. Your move provides an ample opportunity for Kenyans to reflect on a recently released book on this nation.
In Kenya: Between Hope and Despair (1963-2008), Daniel Branch identifies Kenya and its economy as being eternally captive to Euro-American interests which have, to this day, maintained a stranglehold on the nation. A pliant political elite, he argues, feigns patriotic rhetoric while maintaining the status quo, often at the expense of the Kenyan public.
The status quo, centered on land inequalities, has spawned an impoverished generation, whose shattered dignity continues to be defiled by dishonest politicians and competing foreign interests. Those who have stood up to this sad state of affairs have either been compromised, or never lived to see through their alternative visions for the nation. Perhaps it’s as good time as any to make the nation’s history the core of conversations on the upcoming electoral process. Perhaps, also, it’s as good a time as any to probe what goes for corporate social responsibility in this country.
The writers research on public affairs. The views expressed here are their own.