This September, Mahali Mzuri, a safari hotel in Kenya’s Maasai Mara owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, was ranked the number one hotel in the world. The daily newspapers reported the award as a welcome mark of distinction for a tourism industry that has been struggling for years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic dealt a blow to travel worldwide.
However, behind the feel-good honours is a much darker story of enduring colonialism, land grabs, violent conflict and disenfranchisement in Kenya’s arid rangelands, that is ever more urgent to address in the lead up to next year’s general elections.
Local politicians are once again inciting violence, and calling on the Masaai community to rise up against ranch owners.
Beyond the electoral cycle, as climate stress becomes increasingly frequent, and national and global calls for racial justice become ever louder, it [land grabbing] is something no incoming Kenyan leader can afford to ignore.
Kenya has an enduring image as a haven for safari adventures, with its pristine wilderness and vast array of wildlife. The picture postcard can obscure how tense and fraught this seemingly timeless beauty really is.
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