Tuesday, March 06, 2007

So as of yesterday, the Suzuki was not yet road-ready; however, it happened that Saaya's uncle Massere was going to be going to be visiting Koija, a group ranch in western Mukogodo and that we could get a ride with him.

On our way to Koija, we stopped briefly in Kimanjo, which is a small town in the Digirri community (one of the five Maa speaking communities of Mukogodo). The village itself was quite small; essentially two rows of small concrete and corrugated metal buildings built across the side of a hill, with houses extending in both directions up and down the hill. Something that I noticed was that most of the people that I saw in the central town were male; pre-teen and early teen boys kicking a soccer ball, older teenagers of the warrior age set standing around with spears and knives, and still older men sitting and talking in front of buildings and under trees; the only women I saw were in transit, carrying large packages from one place to another.

After sitting and chatting a bit, we headed on to Koija, a group ranch in the far western end of Mukogodo division, in the LeUaso community. The idea of the group ranches, which were created in the late 1970s by a joint project of the Government of Kenya and the World Bank, was to formalize a system of communal land tenure, giving entire communities title to the land. The idea was to help “rationalize livestock management” and essentially turn these nomadic pastoralists into market-oriented cattle ranchers. The group ranch project in Koija (unlike in many ranches in southern Maasailand), has succeeded, not necessarily because of improved efficiency of livestock production, but because the community used the group ranch land to create a community-owned eco-lodge in the late 90s. While the group ranch eco-lodges are also common on the other group ranches in Mukogodo, what is more unique about Koija is that it operates in a partnership with a western investor, who actually manages the lodge and does publicity, with the profits after expenses going to the community. The purpose of the trip was that leaders from Tessia, another group ranch on the other side of Mukogodo, are also considering partnering with a western investor, as they currently manage their lodge alone, and they barely break even, and occasionally run losses. The meeting was brokered by Mesere, in his role as a community facilitator for the Laikipia Wildlife Forum.

What I got out of the meeting was that the success of the Koija group ranch was not so much due to the partnership with the western investor as it was its internal structure of the group ranch. What is interesting is that although all group ranches were chartered by the same law, the constitution of the group ranch was up to the individual communities, meaning that it was up to them how to structure the organization. As the Koija group ranch leaders explained it, the unique feature of Koija is the strength of community development groups; small independent organizations created for a specific purpose (women’s beadmaking groups, young men’s singing and dancing groups, etc.). In addition to participating in income generating activities in and around the lodge (selling souvenirs and entertainment to tourists), these organized groups are themselves the constituent units of the Group Ranch Institutional Management committee. As the leaders said themselves, this ensures that information flows from both the level of the group ranch chairperson and board of trustees down to the community, but also in the other direction, providing very good information about the micro-management of the ranch. They also mentioned that these flows of information have also been utilized by the area chief, therefore helping with local government. It will be interesting to see how this organizational structure compares with other group ranches in the area, and how the actual day-to-day operation of Koija matches this description.

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