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Lemaron identifies three main obstacles to development in Oloitokitok: traditionalism, including the Maasai tendency to keep large numbers of cattle instead of selling some and investing in trade or business; the poor infrastructure, especially roads; and loss of hope, resulting in “lack of self-esteem”. As a result of the latter, he says, people are “doing very little or even nothing to fight poverty”.

Others are cautiously optimistic. “Today the Maasai are on a development course”, according to Deborah, although she also alludes to a “backward culture that impedes development”. The tourism lodges are bringing some income and employment, and provide a way for the Maasai to turn some of their cultural traditions to economic advantage.

Nevertheless, poor infrastructure, including “amazingly bad” roads, is severely hampering farmers’ attempts to market their produce.  Electricity is only available in Oloitokitok town, making it hard for anyone in the rural areas to set up small businesses, says Peter.

In Kibagare, Nyiva identifies another impediment to development: alcoholism among men. She says development agencies target women more than men for this reason. Certainly, there’s little evidence of development initiatives in these interviews, except those mentioned by members of women’s groups.

Joseph is unequivocal about government disregard for the poor: “Government funds for development? We are completely excluded.” He also makes the point that it is hard for the poor to find the time needed to pursue their rights. They are “taken round in circles…always being told the person in charge is ‘not around’… Yet we have our families to look after and they would go hungry if we kept on fighting to be included in such things.”

Nyiva was told that their ‘illegal status’ as squatters excludes them from certain sources of support: “I was told that the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) cannot help people of the slums”, she says. “It is to help those with a permanent residence, but not people like us.”

Martha has a different explanation: “The people who are responsible for handling the [CDF] money are corrupt and they use it to develop their homes.” She is one of many who cite instances of corruption and favouritism among those in charge of development funds.


Development is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Kenya oral testimony project.


Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes






Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation


Crime and unrest



Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture