The G8 Meeting and Africa's Development Software

Published on 7th July 2009

The families of Ole Letema have covered over 2,500 kilometers in the last two and a half years in search for pasture for their cattle. "Our cattle are now less than twenty kilometers away from Nairobi in Karen suburbs and Ngong Hills area," a friend close to the pastoralists families intimated. As the G8 nations that command 90% of the global economy gather in L'Aquila Italy to discuss among others issues poverty in Africa, they will be discussing the predicament of people such as Ole Letema.


Livestock succumb to drought  Photo:Courtesy
Two and a half years ago, the Ole Letema's set off from central Kajiado, Loodokilani location in search for green pasture for their cattle. What started as a small group of families has by now mutated to 30 households with a population of around 420 with 30,000 heads of cattle foraging for pasture. The meteorologists forecast seem not to cast a positive outlook for pastoralists.  According to Joel Ole Nyika, the Loodokilani Maasai moved to Tanzania as far as Lake Manyara and are now back in Kenya on the precincts of Nairobi after absorbing Matapato, and Ilkissongo Maasai along the way. The rain clouds have literally been dodging them at every turn of their quest.


The Maasai, one of the major pastoralist communities in Kenya are now faced with double challenges, chasing after clouds and fighting urbanization. Their trek for grass was hampered by land subdivision and development in Kapiti plains which now serves as a buffer zone to protect Karen suburbs and the Ngong Hills area. The 'civilized' Maasai who registered land on their names are selling it to city residents and opting to work as security guards for the same city residents.


The G8 model of responding to African challenges is "give them more money." Tarmac roads weave through Maasai land, flower farms, electricity, urbanization, schools, churches and mosques. The closest the aid money has benefited the roaming Maasai by introducing "modernity" is to convince him to sale out his land, cattle and apply for a job. The Maasai predicament mirrors what is going on in Africa. The attempt to graft development models on the continent yields negative results precisely because it ignores the fact that development is about people and not exhibitionist structures. Note that to the Maasai, focus is on  water and pasture; the borders put up between Kenya and Tanzania by colonialists do not feature in their game plan.


What the "throw money at their problem" model does is to sustain the disconnect that exists among the African people and their governments. Aid money might be pumped in for the government to put up a meat processing factory that will end up becoming an additional cash cow for political sycophants to be rewarded. Another donor might opt to support a promising private sector investor; but a secret caveat will push for purchase beef cattle from ranchers owned by western affiliated interests. The excuse here will be that the Maasai cannot deliver on time, on predetermined standards and also his culture. The water pump donor will get back to a vandalized machine as soon as he jumps into a waiting air-conditioned fuel guzzler.


The current relationship with the G8 has helped create a myth in Africa that some communities are more enterprising than the others. What the fine print does not point out is that the so referred to as enterprising tend to be a front for western interests while at the same time hold the core of elite that drive political and governance processes. What offloading money to African governments and aid related agencies does is to sustain a process of "others" seeking to develop "others." The African elite have been preconditioned to pursue development dreams as per the existing education system and movies. The trek-for-grass predicament is expected to be an issue for "others" to fix. 


Will the G8 allow Maasai to export beef, skin and hides to Europe? Is the Kenyan and Tanzanian government keen to gain legitimacy from its citizenry through a constitutional consultative process that can grow United Nations (ethnic groups) of East Africa? While the Maasai are complaining of grass scarcity, their Western Kenya counterparts are fighting weeds (grass) and excess biomass churned from maize harvest. Do we need G8 to tell us what to do? The purported quest to help Africa develop by wealthy nations simply puts the African mind to sleep.


The Maasai development "software" and by extension Africa's have been corrupted by too much emphasis on money as the key to the continent's prosperity. The determination exhibited by Ole Letema's 2,500 kilometer trek for pasture is a clear indicator that he can put up grass "banks," engage in drought preparedness and effectively confront the threat of Nairobi city to devour his land. Unfortunately, his ears are filled with competing noises and money programs on what he ought to do - do as the donor thinks best! Africans must not allow themselves to keep chasing after clouds as they wait for help.



By James Shikwati

Mr Shikwati [email protected] is Director, Inter Region Economic Network (IREN)

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