Maasai face a series of related crises today, all stemming from the loss of their economic and cultural base in land. The watered areas of Maasailand were largely lost to British colonization as settlements or game parks and never returned; large scale agriculture in those areas pollutes rivers systems, cattle are wiped out during droughts and more Maasai youth must find work in cities. Through irresponsible economic development, especially in tourism, wildlife habitat is destroyed and the health of the land eroded. Privatization and land sales have alienated the Maasai people from their economic self sufficiency as well as culture.
Today there are broad based efforts across Maasailand to reclaim Maasai land rights and culture.
Maasai communities have lived in harmony within the rich ecosystems of East Africa for centuries. As Meitamei Olol Dapash says, “In the balance our ancestors found with the natural environment, people shared the land with elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, and other majestic wildlife. We see ourselves as custodians of the land, which to us is a sacred living entity...
Western education provides the Maasai community with tools to protect themselves and their land. However, when western education replaces traditional education systems, formal education can become detrimental to the very society and culture it has to potential to protect.
Maasailand is home to East Africa’s tourism industry. Due in part to Maasai cultural taboos that prohibit the killing of wildlife, Maasailand in Kenya and Tanzania is endowed with rich biodiversity and the highest wildlife concentrations in the world.
Many people in the Maasai community consider the particular challenges faced by women and girls to be their top priority, and MERC is committed to supporting these efforts. Maasai women are especially disadvantaged in their access to formal education and other opportunities to develop leadership in the world outside of Maasailand.