The Maasai community straddles Kenya and Tanzania borders and at the moment they number approximately 1.5 million people if all the maa-sections are put together. They are mostly found in north Tanzania, southern Kenya and some pockets are found in north Kenya and other parts of Tanzania such as Tanga (Il parakuyo). The Maasai are predominantly nomadic pastoralists, a traditional livelihood production system that is based and depends upon strategic and opportunistic mobility of the people and their livestock to be able to exploit the dry lands/ rangeland resources.
The Maasai are no longer able to practice their indigenous livelihoods due to expropriations, dispossession and displacement from their ancestral lands. Due to the problems of social and political exclusion, they have started to mobilize themselves against oppressive regimes. Being among the earliest communities in Africa to claim an indigenous identity and to organize themselves around the international discourse of indigenous rights movement, they are known by both the Kenya and Tanzania states as an indigenous community that is oppressed, particularly by the state. The state has been used by Multinational Corporations (MTCs), the International Financial Institutions (IFCs) to dispossess and render them paupers in their own territories.
The first records of geological and mineral resources in Kenya were kept towards the end of the 19th century. Between 1914 and 1915 a temporary colonial office was established specifically to investigate a portion of the Northern Frontier district. In 1932 a permanent geological survey was incorporated in the mines department, which still functions up to date.
The geology survey and assessment of minerals revealed that the mining industry in Kenya is small and the endowment of mineral is varied. It includes metallic minerals such as gold, copper, lead, silver and zinc. Non-metallic minerals include diamonds, gemstones, ruby, sapphire, garnet and other hydrocarbons that occur in trace amount. Industrial minerals such as talc, fluorspars, limestone, soda ash, gypsum, and dolomite exist.
The Mining Act (1940, revised in 1972 and 1987) is draconian, colonial and outdated. It does not address or foresee the changing dynamics of both the mining industries and society. It does not address the modern mining practices, environmental concerns, or the concerns of the local communities. Although mining is becoming a global industry, the Act limits competition by restricting investments. As a result, the local population of indigenous Maasai feels that they have no legal standing with which to engage the mining industry, thus being subject to forces that they are completely unable to control. As a result they are vulnerable to abuse by companies that do not respect their needs. The case studies include both large scale and small scale (artisanal mining).
Maasailand is richly endowed with natural resources. These include wildlife, forests, grassland, water and minerals. With respect to minerals, Maasailand produces stone (marble, limestone, granite, etc.,), gypsum, fluorspar, soda ash, gold, and sand. There are many different companies engaged in mining activities in Maasailand, ranging from artisanal enterprises to small companies to large multinationals. For example, there are 18 mining companies operating on one group ranch (Elangata Wuas). The proximity to Kenya's capital (Nairobi), has resulted in the over exploitation of minerals in Maasai areas for constructing of roads, housing and other infrastructure, as well as industrial uses. However, a number of socio-economic, health, environmental and legal issues impact on the community adversely.
Watch this space for part 2 of this article.
By Joel Ole Nyika
Director, Community Resource Institute
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