Land tenure systems in Masailand (focus on Kajiado county Kenya)
LAND TENURE SYSTEMS IN MASAILAND (FOCUS ON KAJIADO
The evolution of land tenure systems in Kajiado
can best be illustrated by the change in
political leadership of the land.
These can be stated as pre-colonial, colonial,
independence (Jomo Kenyatta), Post
independence (Moi), Current (Kibaki & Uhuru
Historically the Maasai were the first inhabitants
of East Africa.
They came along the river Nile and settled in
Kenya and practiced a nomadic pastoralist
land tenure system.
This was strongly guided by nomadic way of life,
pegged on availability of pasture and water
They settled within the former white highlands in
Kenya and that is why the present names of
popular towns in the area bear Maasai names.
They were known as the kings of East Africa.
They were roving all over and never believed
in land privatization or land ownership. They
believed land belonged to the present and
future generation and that land can never be a
commodity for sale. It was a natural asset for
all to use. Land ownership and privatization is
an alien concept to the Maasai pastoralists.
It was the onset of the scramble for Africa when
Kenya was partitioned to be under the British
rule in the early 1890’s. The British were the
first newcomers who manipulated the Maasai
out of their land through fraud, cheating and
physically forcing the Maasai out of the above
mentioned areas. There were several land
agreements which were made between the
spiritual Maasai leader Olonana and the British
in 1904 and 1910
These agreements opened the way for the
British to push the Maasai out of the land
popularly known as the white highlands by
force. The Maasai protested and there is a
known case by Olegilisho taken to the UK to
resist and question the British occupation of
the Maasai land.
As colonialists, they introduced the British land
laws that were detrimental to the nomadic
pastoralists land tenure system e.g land
ownership and privatization. Using these laws,
the Maasai were pushed out. Majority came
down south, the rest went west and some went
towards Mt. Kenya.
The first regime, during independence adapted
in total the British land tenure system. The
Maasai land was subdivided into three zones,
high potential, medium potential and low
Within the high potential areas, the land was
divided into small farms between 100-1000
acres for high crops e.g. along Ngong hills and
Loitokitok. Also in the early sixties, the national
parks were carved out of Maasai Land e.g.
Nairobi , Amboseli, Tsavo West and Maasai
Mara national parks. These high potential
zones and national parks were the best dry
season grazing areas using the pastoral land
The medium potential parts which were very
good ranch lands for livestock rearing were
divided into individual ranches ranging from
1000-5000 acres. The high potential and the
medium potential areas were allocated to the
influential and elite at that time e.g. Chiefs,
Pastors, and teachers.
The lower potential which is mainly arid and
semi arid was subdivided into group ranches
where land is owned communally as a group.
And membership ranged from 100-1000 per
80% of Maasai land was under group ranch
system until early 1984 where the group
ranches were dissolved and the clamor for
privatization of group ranches started. And
now, over 70% of group ranches have been
dissolved and privatized. This opened a
Pandora’s box and a crisis for the majority of
the pastoralists where land became a
commodity for sale.
There was a big rush to Maasai land to buy land.
Presently over 30% of former group ranches
have been sold to outsiders. This was the
beginning of another land tenure system
where the land use policy changed from
pastoralism to individual titles and new
practices of land use systems were introduced
e.g agri-business, horticulture, kenchick,
flower farms etc.
The above land use systems introduced had
great impact on the fragile environment. e.g.
high use of fertilizers, GMO, overuse of
underground water to appoint where the land
may not be economically viable for those new
activity in the near future.
This new land tenure system after privatization
completely disrupted the ecosystem of this
fragile environment e.g. the wildlife corridors
were completely disrupted, the ground water
system exhausted/over exploited making
traditional wells to dry up.
It has also disrupted the traditional social set up
where families are nolonger living together as
families but as individuals. The new law of
trespassing became the order of the day
creating crises, misunderstanding, and loss of
Impact of current land tenure
Both side of the land along Nairobi Namanga road
has been sold 20-30km inwards creating a buffer
zone across the county. The land control boards
are completely overwhelmed by the number of
land brokers who control the buying and selling of
land in the county. There could be more land
brokers than land sellers in Kajiado county. They
exploit the illiterate pastoralists by taking more
than half of the sale proceeds of the land.
The lawyers are conduits for this mischief. There
are several cases of land fraud, land cheating,
land manipulation e.g. when you have a joint title,
there are cases of joint titles where titles have a
lot of fraud
Impact of current land tenure
Some of the threats and impacts of the land sale are as
Assimilation: Because of the new comers overtaking
ownership of land, the Maasai pastoralists are under threat of
being assimilated into other communities
Wildlife threat: Because of the encroachment of new comers
and closing up of livestock corridors, the wildlife movement is
under threat and that can completely threaten the existence
of wildlife in this country.
The production of beef: Pastoral land is diminishing and this
will lead to less rearing of beef animals leading to importation
of meat from other countries.
The over exploitation of underground water: given the fact
that this is a dry area with less rainfall. Most of the
newcomers are drilling boreholes hence over exploitation of
ground water resources.
Impact of current land tenure
Environmental degradation. ASAL areas are
fragile and they have got special land tenure
system for livestock keeping and any other land
use system may lead to environmental
Leadership: Local leadership is in jeopardy
because of numerical strength of new comers eg.
Kajiado East, Kajiado Central and Kajiado South.
Rural Urban migration. Dropout pastoralist who
became paupers/ beggars.
Mushrooming of shanty towns e.g. Mile 46, Bissil,
Ngatataek leading to the Maasai to be living in
The way out (Kenny’s Words)
I say the way out because it is not the way forward because we are
in a trap. We must therefore develop local mechanisms to get out of
the trap. Many at times, leaders, organizations, lament about the
consequences of the new land tenure system but very few fear to
rock the boat. It is time that we stopped lamenting and take the bull
by its horns. E.g. presently, in most cases, you find local
administrators spearheading the land buying and land selling. Most
of them are land brokers. The elite should be on the forefront in
educating the public on the consequences of land selling. They
should provoke debates and name and shame the perpetrators of
this heinous thing.
It is also possible to propose to the new county administration to put
a moratorium on land sells for even ten years until a new generation
comes up. The county should also develop a fund for study of land
injustices and to help poor and vulnerable groups that are
aggrieved. It should also help equitable subdivision of group
ranches and dissolve group ranch committees that have been the
culprits of inequality and unfair allocation. They can set up a
The way out
Physical planning: the county physical planning must be revisited,
reviewed and must be in tandem with the new constitutional
dispensation on land planning. Where physical planning was
violated, it should be nullified. That is now taking the bull by its
Respect to environmental impact assessment reports and plans.
The county should take a stand. E.g. the flower firms, quarries in
Engirrgirri, dumping of waste, sand harvesting and the companies
should be made to respect their social responsibilities.
(Environmental management plans).
The county should revisit the concession agreements of big
companies so as to engage the locals in revenue sharing.
The county and the local leaders should keenly follow up the
national land commission policies and deliberations in order to
develop and comprehensive strategy that will address the above
mentioned interventions and especially historical land injustice that
NIA has a comprehensive social justice
programme that addresses land rights, child
rights, environmental rights. Some of the
activities implemented since 1996 todate are
Recruited, trained 52 paralegals through a four
phase programme and are spread within our
14 neighbourhoods. These individuals
received a paralegal residential training that
gives them the basic legal knowledge in social
Funded or supported by paying of title deeds
of the poor and vulnerable in Oloiyiangalani,
Esukuta, Kilonito, Elangatawuas, Olobelibel,
Lobby and campaign for land rights and
sensitization against land sales e.g. putting bill
boards, selling wealth to buy poverty.
Recruited, trained and established an
environmental unit (CURES) that are lobbyists
and link persons on environmental issues in their
Supported with legal lawsuits for equity in land
subdivision of several group ranches e.g. Kilonito,
Elangatawuas, Sajiloni, Ilodo Ariak where the high
court of Kenya nullified poor subdivision of these
Supported the poor and vulnerable to pay for land
survey fees e.g. the widows, single mothers and
the elderly in the above mentioned group ranches.
Helped Emboliei community with land
grabbing issues from influencial persons
Workshops on land rights in several group
Participated in national, regional and
international land conferences.
The CEO is the vice chair of the ASAL forum,
a new forum formed to look into ASAL policies.