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Katie Hartin / Olare Orok and Motorgi Trust

Katie Hartin is an MSc student of Africa and International Development and is conducting a work-based placement with the Olare Orok and Motorgi Trust in Southern Kenya. With a background in Environmental Studies, she has research experience in East Africa, focusing on conservation, eco-tourism, sustainable development, and land rights discourses, and is particularly interested in the gendered effects of livelihood diversification strategies.

Since late April, I have been living in the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya. Whilst I have spent many sleepless nights being kept awake by braying donkeys, rumbling elephants and howling hyenas, it is worth it for the commutes in the morning, where the zebra graze alongside the impalas, the topi and eland dart past each other, and the giraffes stride through the bush. This wildlife is an integral part of the area, providing not only stunning scenery, but also presenting great challenges and opportunities for the local Maasai pastoralists. As I cruise along in the Land Rover, large herds of cattle morph quickly into wildebeest and gazelles and then blend seamlessly back to sheep and goats, accompanied by their young herders. Even in the endlessly wet rainy season we have experienced, however, there is still competition over land and water resources, as well as livestock predation.

My work-based placement has been with a community development organisation called Olare Orok and Motorgi Trust, which tries to help mitigate the struggles faced by local communities. The Trust assists with water projects, school bursaries and infrastructure, and income-generating projects such as beadwork and beekeeping. For the last decade, this area has developed a model where Maasai landowners rent their land to high-end, low-occupancy tourist camps. Although the model does strictly limit livestock grazing within the conservancies, the hope is that the income the landowners earn will give them a greater incentive to protect the area’s dwindling wildlife. Additionally, a portion of the bed-night fees is given to the Trust to allocate toward community projects.

This model was brought about in part by the subdivision of formerly group ranch land to different individual families in 2005-06. Any young person who is now under the age of 34 would not have been eligible for land during allocation though and thus can now only acquire land through the patrilineal inheritance system or by purchasing it. Without an income this is beyond the reach of many youth.

For my research, I examined the issue of youth unemployment in the Maasai Mara. In the Maasai Mara there are many youth who desire formal employment, but who do not have it for various reasons. The pressures of population growth and an increasing number of educated young women wanting to enter the workforce further compound the problem.

Locally, the Koiyaki Guiding School was constructed to help empower and mobilise both young men and women to become tour guides in camps and to learn the importance of conservation. The school was very successful for a few years, educating a number of certified, qualified guides, but now that market has become flooded and many graduates find themselves out of work. The Trust hopes to expand on this idea and construct a new capacity-building centre that will not only provide skills training, but also guidance and counseling to help link students to opportunities and institutions elsewhere in Kenya.

Having spent the last two months in this community, I genuinely see how important this research is, but I also recognise how impossibly unwieldy it seems to help sometimes. Throughout my studies, I have felt frustrated by those obstacles that are seemingly systemic in nature and so difficult to address, and in the field I feel them even more acutely. The area is highly dependent on tourism, which does not always offer many long-term benefits and can also dis-incentivize people from continuing onto higher education or from taking less desirable manual labour jobs that are in high demand locally. It is the only industry at present, however, and possibly one of the only ones compatible with wildlife. There are also certain cultural circumstances that prevent people from entering formal work, such as the belief that women should remain at home, and the lack of priority to educate all children, especially girls.  

Admittedly, I see many positive things happening in the community as well. I had decided to focus on gender and there is clearly change occurring. Looking at the gender ratios in upper primary and secondary schools, girls still drop off significantly after a certain point, but it is improving. In keeping with the new Kenyan Constitution, more women are sitting on land committees and more women are earning income and selling goods at markets. 

I do see an underlying tension with the acceptability of women assuming more power though and in certain ways, I think gender relations are actually reified by development projects like this one. In order to create employment, we needed to find out what was in demand, but the types of jobs that are needed are generally thought to be ‘men’s work’ – mechanics, masonry, carpentry, plumbers or electricians.  Although I know this is not an intentional outcome, it does have a gendered effect if the Trust chooses to priortise these types of trainings, because it is unlikely that girls will be interested in participating.

My first time to Maasailand was to northern Tanzania in 2010 to conduct my undergraduate research on displacement from conservation areas. It has been amazing to contrast these two different areas over this period of time.  This region and these people hold a very special place in my heart and it is incredible to watch such rapid changes taking place. It is always difficult to leave knowing how much more there is to try to learn and understand about the community and this unique place, but it has been such a rewarding experience to examine this issue. I am grateful for the time I was afforded here and it will be fascinating to watch as things continue to change.

Katie