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Ntimama in New Push for Maasai Land Rights

By Kipkoech Tanui, The Nation (Nairobi), 2 October 2000

Nairobi - Maasai leaders yesterday renewed a controversial clamour for the return of community lands taken away during the colonial era. Leading the campaign, Cabinet Minister William ole Ntimama said Maasai leaders would fight for the restoration of the vast area covering Naivasha, Molo, Nakuru, Mau Narok, Kedong, Kitet and Ndabibi to the community's ownership.

He said the land lies to the south of the Mombasa-Kisumu railway from Konza. He did not, however, specify the end of the stretch towards the western side.

"We have the map of the land that was originally ours and we have now resolved to reclaim it!" he proclaimed at a conference which brought together the top cream of his populous Purko clan.

"For over 100 years, the Maasai have been continuously and perpetually relegated to the dark corners of Kenyan society. For all this time, we have not had access to education and health facilities," he said, adding that leaders were now more determined than ever to have the ownership of the vast tracts of land in the Rift Valley from which the community was evicted by the British Government.

Leaders are working on the technical aspects of the fight for the reclamation of the land, he said, and have vowed to enlist the support of influential Maasai personalities, including Vice-Presdident George Saitoti, in their endeavour.

"We shall enjoin every Maasai leader in the effort. We know that not all will come on board, but we shall approach every one of them. This is an issue that stems from all the ranks of the community and there is consensus on the move," Mr. Ntimama said.

Speaking during a cultural meeting at Maji Moto (hot water), Narok, Mr. Ntimama said: "This conference has passed a resolution - that MPs, councillors and all opinion leaders demand the return of all Maasai land which was lost through conquest by the colonists, annexed, grabbed, stolen or ceded to outside forces."

Other leaders present were Narok South MP Samson ole Tuya, a former chairman of the Narok County Council, Mr. Shadrack Rotiken, the Narok Town Council chairman, Mr. Joseph ole Nchoe, and the Narok South Kanu chairman, Mr. Tikoshi ole Nampaso.

The local MP, Assistant Minister Stephen ole Ntutu, was absent, but Mr. Ntimama said he would have attended the meeting were it not for the fact that he was abroad.

Mr. Ntimama, a self-styled champion of Maasai rights, started the agitation for the return of community lands in the early 1990s, shortly before the explosion of ethnic clashes in parts of the Rift Valley Province.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Ntimama, a Minister of State in the Office of the President, sought to downplay speculation that the move could lead to a flare-up of ethnic tensions in the province and lead to bloody clashes such as were witnessed in 1991 and 1992.

The minister dismissed fears that the move would incite the community into evicting non-Maasai resident in the area as was the case in Enoosupukia, where ethnic fighting flared up in 1996-97.

"Enoosupukia was a special case, the rivers were drying up because the settlers were destroying the water catchment areas. Water could no longer flow to the lower areas and something had to be done about it."

He added: "The disparities of the past must be corrected and bridges built to close the development gaps.

"The time to correct the wrong and evil crimes committed against the Maasai is now, we have been victims of neglect and discrimination!" said the Narok North MP.

The community expects compensation for loss of property and reparation for lives lost, Mr. Ntimama said, from "heirs and successors of the British Colonial Government".

The minister, who is also the Narok District Kanu chairman, also used the occasion to plead with non-governmental organisations and foreign governments to support education projects in Maasailand, explaining that this was the best way to correct historical disparities.

"We have been victims of geographical exclusion and under-development. The principle of equitable distribution of resources has not been observed or implemented," said Mr. Ntimama, who has been in the Cabinet for the past 12 years.

Asked if spearheading the latest move would not earn him the tag of a tribal leader, Mr. Ntimama retorted: "Who is not?"

The minister also said leaders will fight for the inclusion of a clause on community land rights in the new Constitution when it is finally written.

Speaking to the Nation after the closure of the meeting, Mr. Ntimama said the Kenyan and British governments should also compensate the Maasai community for land "stolen but whose ownership cannot be restored to them".

A joint statement issued by the leaders and read by Mr. Ntimama said the two governments should also work out the modalities for reparations to the Maasai families whose members were killed or famished by the colonial administration during their eviction at the beginning of the last century.

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