Culture August 10, 2022 at 12:12 pm

Challenging Traditions in Kenya elections: 34-yr-old Maasai gets his people to turn out massively for 1st time

Stephen Nartey August 10, 2022 at 12:12 pm

August 10, 2022 at 12:12 pm | Culture

Maasai wait in line to cast their votes. Photo: AP

While election observers in the East African republic of Kenya are brooding over why a close historic race between Deputy President for the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, Dr. William Ruto, and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, recorded a low turnout, a rare development which reared its head has also got them talking.

The hotly contested Kenya elections witnessed for the first time high voter turnout among the Maasai community. The Maasai have been more interested in preserving their culture and pastoral activity compared to aggressive involvement in national politics.

The stakes are different this year because of a 34-year-old Maasai, David Nina, who is vying for an elective position as a member of the County Assembly. This is a sharp departure from the existing precedent where young people were not allowed among the Maasai tribesmen to ascend to a top position in society.

Political scientists in Kenya perceive this as a huge test for the long-held traditions and beliefs of the Maasai community who are seeking an improvement in their living conditions as severe drought and climate change threaten their livelihood.

Nina reportedly told the Kenyan press that the opportunity to contest as a young Maasai signifies the confidence the elders have reposed in him. He said this paradigm shift in cultural beliefs is a result of the introduction of formal education in the Maasai community.

“Maasai youths are now educated. The expectation is that, they must use the knowledge they have acquired to change their community,” he added.

If elected, this feat will also mean a significant shift in the world view of the Maasai people who rely on their herd of cattle for sustenance.

Jenifer Coles, a researcher with Wilfrid Laurier University, in her work on how formal education is transforming the cultural beliefs of the Maasai Community, found out that more children of Maasai origin are going to school at high rates than ever before.

Over the years, this exposure to formal education among the young Maasai is reflected in the houses they are building now, their food and their attitude towards national politics.

If Nina’s political aspiration is anything to go by, it can be linked to his exposure to formal education forcing a change in the status quo.

Coles indicated that at an early age, Maasai children are given a choice to choose between formal education and tending to the cows in the field. In the 70s, the Kenya government passed a law that forced local chiefs to compel families to allow at least one member of the family to attend school, though this witnessed a slower acceptance among the Maasai community who perceived it as an onslaught on their belief system.

Other researchers found out that elite Maasai who have had some level of education was a result of this compulsory policy of the Kenya government that collapsed in the 1980s.

This is changing because many Maasai parents are seeing the benefits of education. Contrary to the earlier stance in times past when they were forced, the Maasai are now encouraging their children to attend school to attain high education.

Coles found out that many Maasai are finding it unfulfilling to stick to the norms because of the rising cost of living and change of tastes as well as lifestyles.

If young Maasai tribesmen are breaking the tradition, it’s mainly because of the desire to stamp their place in life and in national conversations.

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