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Maasai Herders Move to City As Dry Spell Rages

Panafrican News Agency, 9 September 2000

Nairobi - Kenya's Maasai herdsmen, facing severe drought, have driven their cattle to Nairobi in search of grazing land.

A survey by PANA has established that Maasai herders, known for temporary structures due to their pastoralist way of life, have pitched up stick and leaves structures or rented single room houses in the Nairobi suburbs of Embakasi, Kasarani and Karen.

The ravaging drought in Kenya has adversely affected the pastoralists, leading to a mass migration of the cattlemen, together with their animals, into parts of central Kenya and Nairobi in search of pasture and water.

The movement of the herders has generated a lot of conflict, resulting into skirmishes between the herdsmen and farmers who claim the cattle are being driven into their farms, resulting to loss of crop.

The herdsmen have also lost their cattle in the ensuing battles.

One herder, Moses ole Koliyi, 25, who was grazing his herd around Maringo estate of eastern Nairobi, said although he sleeps out looking after his father's 150 head of cattle, his father has acquired a house in Embakasi to serve as a family shelter.

As for Joseph Soi who grazes his over 100 head of cattle around the Globe Cinema roundabout, near the city centre, life has been made a little bit easier after his father built a temporary structure in Karen, about 20 km south of Nairobi.

The rented rooms range from 250 shillings (3 US dollars) to 2,500 shillings (30 US dollars) a month. They are used by the owners of the herds while the boy herders run around with the cattle during the day in search of pasture.

Ole said he came to Nairobi in May from Kajiado, 70 km south of Nairobi, and would continue to graze within the city until it rains. He came from the same place as Soi who ventured into the city in July after drought started taking its toll on his father's stock.

Soi's father, who is a polygamist, has more than 400 head of cattle divided into three grazing groups. His group is roaming the city in search of any green matter while the others are in Ukambani, 0 km east of Nairobi, and Thika, 40 km north of Nairobi.

To maintain themselves in the city, the herdsmen are selling their livestock, but very miserly lest they run out of stock and hence lose status in the community.

Cattle are a traditional status symbol in the Maasai community and suggestions to sell off the animals during the drought has brought them into conflict with the government authorities.

"They would rather watch the animals die of hunger and dehydration than taking them to the market," a livestock ministry official, John Bengo, told PANA.

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