Tourism, power and politics : the challenges of Maasai involvement in tourism development : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This study explored the broad issues of power and politics associated with Maasai involvement in conservation-oriented tourism development in Amboseli, Kenya. Central to the study was the analysis of the intricate power interrelationships arising from the dynamic economic and political interactions between local actors and external tourism stakeholders. The study specifically looked at how and on what terms the Maasai were involved in tourism development, the nature of their engagement with outsiders, the initiatives they have undertaken to gain closer control over the organisation and economics of tourism, and the opportunities and constraints associated with this development process. Two case studies were used to analyse the experiences of Maasai communities living around Amboseli National Park (from 2005 Game Reserve): community-based wildlife and cultural tourism. A political ecology framework was used as a lens to understand community conflicts and struggles for political control over tourism-related resources (natural and financial). A multi-sited ethnographic approach featuring participant observation, focus group discussions, textual analysis of documents, and in-depth interviews, was used to collect data over twelve months, with intermittent breaks, between November 2003 and August 2005.
The findings reveal that Maasai involvement in tourism development is a comparatively recent occurrence and is being promoted by the Kenyan government as a management tool to reconcile the interests of conservation and local communities. Despite the potential for tourism to bring benefits for local communities, stimulate local support for conservation efforts, and local development, the study found that due to competition and political rifts between clans, age-sets and on the basis of political allegiance, Maasai had not benefited as much as they should from the immense tourism potential in their area. Rather than empowering the Maasai to take control over tourism and their own development, tourism had facilitated the exploitation of the area’s tourism potential by foreign tourism investors and tour operators, the government, and a few local elites. Insights from this study shed light on the wider issues of community power and politics in tourism development, in particular the difficulty of ensuring that indigenous communities are not undermined in the face of tourism’s global reach. The study suggests that for the Maasai to realise tourism benefits and support conservation there is an urgent need for social and political justice issues such as equitable distribution of benefits, rights to land resources and livelihoods, and democratic decision-making processes, to be addressed.