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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 09:40 GMT
Kenyan drought adds to Maasai woes
By Alex Kirby
BBC News website environment correspondent, in Masago, Kenya

Maasai with emaciated cow   A Kirby
Drought victim: This cow could not stand without help

On a cloudy November morning a hesitant early haze of green carpets the stony ground surrounding this tiny manyatta (homestead).

The first faltering showers of the short rains have begun to fall on the Rift Valley province.

But normally the rains last from October through till late December.

This year's disappointment follows the failure of what are supposed to be the long rains, from March to May. Only the month of April saw any rain hereabouts.

In 30 years the nomadic way of life will have vanished
Paul Seki
"This drought is the worst I've ever seen", says Naramaki Naramat, now in her forties and the eldest of the headman's five wives.

"But no matter how hard it is, I'm not moving anywhere. This is where I'm going to be buried."

Impossible journeyings

Joseph Nkuyo, the district chief, says the drought is piling on the pressures the nomadic Maasai already face to change their way of life.

"The rain here is not reliable", he says. "Five or 10 cows are dying every day in many villages because of the drought. When the rain does come, the cold and the wet often kill the surviving cattle.

Hut in manyatta   A Kirby
Plastic sheeting collects rain from hut roofs
"We're getting droughts almost every three years now, instead of about once a decade as we used to.

"The government is sending extension officers to help us not to rely on livestock alone. We've begun bee-keeping, and we're planting maize and beans, though agriculture has never been part of our tradition.

"The population is growing, but the land isn't."

Paul Seki, a teacher, says: "We're living a life where our needs are greater than our resources. Our animals aren't enough to sustain us now, so we have to go to the towns to find work and get the money we need."

The Maasai drink the milk and blood of their cattle, which are a mark of wealth and status in the community. This succession of droughts could prove the last straw.

They have begun rearing imported breeds like Simmentals, big beasts whose appetites for pasture and water leave them more vulnerable now than the smaller, traditional animals.

Reluctant settlers

A large bull from round here went not long ago for 65,000 Kenyan shillings (425). But Wilson Ole Lemaroi, a 42-year-old in a neighbouring manyatta, says his beasts are now fetching just 2,000 shillings (13).

A year ago Wilson had 90 cattle: now, he says, 15 are left. "This is the worst drought ever", he says.

Naramaki Naramat and other village women   A Kirby
Naramaki Naramat: No more wandering
"We've never seen one like it. People round here are going hungry. I've taken my animals 20 km (12.5 miles) to find water."

A neighbour's husband has walked for three days, covering about 100 km (62.5 miles), to find pasture for his herd.

Many Maasai are unhappy at what's happening to them. William Katuta, a community counsellor, says: "If you don't have cattle you're seen as irresponsible, as not a real Maasai."

Ringing the changes

Naramaki Naramat says: "I've never known a Maasai man who's stopped keeping animals." But later she acknowledges: "It's education that makes the difference.

"The children who've been to school are willing to change, to leave their traditions behind. When the boys grow up they go off to the towns for work."

"In 30 years", Paul Seki says, "the nomadic way of life will have vanished. Technology, roads, the way the land is being divided up instead of owned communally - it can't survive."

A mobile rings, and a Maasai elder reaches to answer it. Nothing stands still - and certainly not East Africa's traditional wandering pastoralists.

Million hit by drought in Kenya
16 Jun 04 |  Africa


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