It is estimated that more than $5 million (Sh430 million) is lost every year in several Maasai villages through such ‘leaks’ as tour guides continue laughing all the way to the bank to exchange the foreign currency while the unsuspecting locals languish in abject poverty.
If the money was fairly shared out, the villagers could enjoy improved facilities such as better equipped schools, clean drinking water and passable roads, among other benefits.
“Despite the multi-billion natural resource in our disposal most of us are still leading miserable lives because of the injustice done to us by the ‘outsiders’. Illiteracy is the major cause of this as our people have remained ignorant about a lot of things happening locally here,” says Paul Kimeleny, a resident.
An investigation by The Standard discovered how the tour guides were employing underhand tactics in their operation to avoid the tourists suspecting their cunning ways of pocketing back the money left for the village’s development.
Such tactics include lying to the tourists that there had been severe anthrax and Ebola outbreaks in some villages, discouraging them from heading there and instead asking them to contribute or visit other remote villages that have never engaged in tourism previously, hence getting the loophole of exploiting the local residents.
Ben Ramet, a resident, says it is usually when the tourists are busy admiring curios in the villages that the drivers take back the money from the village elders who receive the amount from visitors.
This exploitation has been ongoing for too long until a UK-based organisation, Tribal Voice Communications Initiative, intervened and in some villages, especially in the Mara Triangle (the western side of Maasai Mara) the theft has gone down. Villagers in other areas still face a lot of exploitation.
In fact, when the tour guides realise a village is enlightened, they take the tourists to a remote one where they continue with their thievery.
Since 2006 when the organisation started working with tour operators, ground handlers and safari lodges, it has managed to slowly but gradually help some villages set up a cashless ticketing system that ensures the money tourists pay to visit Maasai villages is deposited directly into village bank accounts.
Cheryl Mvula, the brain behind the initiative, says since the cashless system was introduced, all villages in the Mara triangle have retained nearly 100 per cent of tourism revenues. This money has been channelled to community development projects such as schools, health facilities, and water projects.