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Anxiety as search for new Maasai kingpin starts

By Peterson Githaiga | Updated Thu, January 5th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery

The Maasai community is already scouting for the next kingpin following the death of veteran politicians William Ntimama and John Keen.

A section of leaders in Kajiado County are optimistic that the next spokesman of the community will be picked on merit.

Senator Peter Mositet says a leader’s development record should be considered before they are named community spokesman.

“No one should be imposed on the people, the title should be earned. We will have a conversation after which we will decide who will take the position,” Mositet said yesterday.

Kajiado East MP Moses Ole Sakuda said the next kingpin should have the best interests of the community at heart, the same way Ntimama did.

“Ntimama was always at the forefront fighting for the rights of the Maasai. He was a true land activist and we would prefer a spokesman who matches his qualities,” said Sakuda.

Interior CS Joseph Nkaisserry and National Cohesion and Integration Commission boss Francis Ole Kaparo have been cited as front-runners in the race for Maasai spokesman.

Names of the head of the Anglican Church of Kenya Jackson ole Sapit and former CS Joseph Ole Lenku have also been floated.

Kajiado East MP Peris Tobiko and Mr David Ole Sankori, a former minister in in the Moi regime, believe Nkaisserry is in pole position to land the coveted position being the senior-most Maasai leader in Government at the moment.

And there are those who believe Ole Sapit would do a better job as the community’s spokesman due to the fact that he is not a politician.

Some of those backing Nkaisserry for the position are citing his performance as Kajiado Central MP which they said was impressive.

While it may not be clear who will eventually be appointed, what is for sure is that who it will be will have to work harder to match Ntimama who would go to any lengths to defend the community, including making remarks that easily passed for hate speech.

He was so influential that he was able to rally the community to reject the proposed draft constitution during the 2005 referendum.

The decision to reject the draft was reached at Suswa in Narok North Constituency, in what later became the ‘Suswa declaration’.

Henceforth, Suswa gained popularity and became the place where community leaders always converged to discuss important matters.

The position of Maasai spokesman became clearer in early 1995 when elders from Kajiado, Narok and Samburu met at the home of the late Keen in Nairobi.

It was during the meeting that it was decided Ntimama takes over as community spokesman, a role he played until his death. It was during the meeting at Suswa that Keen urged Ntimama to think about the person who will take over the mantle from him. Nkaissery’s name was mentioned.

Ntimama said he was not opposed to the idea and that he would hand over to the person the community decides should speak for it.

The list of possible Maasai spokesman also has Narok Senator Stephen Kanyinke ole Ntutu. He comes from one of the largest Maasai clans, the Ilpurko. He comes from an influential and wealthy family.

BEST OF FRIENDS

Ntutu, the son of former Paramount Chief Lerionka Ole Ntutu and Ntimama were not the best of friends. The leaders differed on, among other things, conservation of the Mau Forest and the issue of land grabbing in the region.

A section of the community believes Bishop Ole Sapit is the best bet for the position because of the perception he will be neutral, based on his religious background that endears him to all people in the expansive Maasailand.

And if he succeeds, the cleric will be faced with several tasks including uniting the Maasai and perhaps the biggest challenge will be balancing between religion and dirty game of politics.

Ole Sapit may also face the challenge of religion itself as there are those who may question why a member of a particular religion should be picked community spokesman in a region that has other religions.

At stake in nearly one million Maasai votes spread over three counties – Kajiado, Narok, and Samburu, as well as Laikipia North Constituency, making a total 16 constituencies.

The region provides a key swing vote that will come in handy in the August General Election. Similar swings votes are Kisii, Bukusu and the Miji Kenda.

However, ODM leader leader Raila Odinga has enjoyed support in the region for many years, especially because Ntimama was a member of his party.

During the bungled 2007 elections, it won all the parliamentary seats. However, during the 2013 General Election, Jubilee edged ODM to scoop 14 parliamentary seats with the opposition party only winning the Kajiado Central and Laikipia North seats.

In 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA scooped all but one seat in Kajiado as Deputy President William Ruto’s URP bagged all the seats in Samburu and Narok, except in Narok North where it (URP) lost to TNA in a friendly fire.

Both CORD and Jubilee have been making inroads in the region to win the support of locals ahead of the elections.

The Maa community will be a major battleground for both the Government and the Opposition as witnessed during the burial of Ntimama where President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga tore into each other.

Mr Nkaissery and other Maasai leaders, including ole Sakuda, had claimed Ntimama has urged the community to join the Government on account of a visit he had made to State House just before his death. 

However, when he rose to speak, Mr Odinga dismissed the allegations saying Ntimama had actually called to inform him that he only attended the State House meeting to look out for his community’s interests and that he was still firmly in ODM.

A section of Maasai leaders said they would later call a meeting to communicate Ntimama’s wishes to the community.

An angry Nkaissery insisted that there was no leadership vacuum in the region and accused Raila of masquerading as the defender of Maasai rights.

“We won’t allow anybody to just come from anywhere and impose himself as our spokesman. We can ably articulate issues to do with our community,” Nkaisserry said.

The pendulum of political supremacy in Maasailand has always tended to swing freely between Narok and Kajiado counties, almost on equal proportions.

At independence, Joseph Murumbi, a powerful Cabinet minister in President Jomo Kenyatta’s government and later the Vice President was the indisputable Maasai leader and spokesman. However, he abruptly left the political scene with his resignation as VP, a year after his appointment.

Kajiado’s Stanley Oloitiptip and Narok’s Justus ole Tipis occupied the position for a while before the former edged the latter after being elevated to the Cabinet after the 1974 elections.

SUPREMACY BATTLE

The battle later shifted to Kajiado as Oloitipitip and Keen weighed each other in a protracted supremacy battle in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Things changed during the 1983 snap elections when Keen was defeated by newcomer Philip Odupoy while Oloitiptip fell from grace the following year after he was branded a traitor.

In the meantime, Narok’s Justus ole Tipis was appointed Cabinet minister in 1982 which made him the single most powerful politician in Maasailand until he was dethroned by the late Ntimama at the late 1980s.

Ntimama managed to keep the crown until his death even after Kajiado produced a Vice President - the late George Saitoti.

Retired President Daniel Arap Moi, whom Saitoti served as Vice President, quietly refused to allow his deputy to assume mantle of his community leadership. That wasn’t helped by the perception among the Maa community that Saitoti was not one of their “own”, that he had his roots in Central Kenya.