BY PAUL TAIKO
The county government’s search for a new partner in developing Lemong’o Cultural Centre in Kimana, Kajiado subcounty has elicited mixed strong reactions.
Through a paid-up advert in a local newspaper, the county government on September 23, invited interested parties to partner with it in the managing of the Lemong’o Cultural Centre in Kimana.
The centre that serves as a museum has become the heart of the community and is owned by the group ranch members, who allocated the land to the national government for its construction.
The idea to change the managers of the centre comes up one year after the county government signed a memorandum of understanding with a non-governmental organization – My Chosen Vessels (MCV) – to partner with the management of the resource centre for 10 years.
Founded in 2009, MCV is a USA-based NGO also registered in Kenya and its mission is to empower Maasai people through clean water, education and culture conservation initiatives.
Kimana Group Ranch
Located in Kimana Group Ranch, the cultural museum occupies 20 acres of land that was given to the national government for its construction some 15 years ago. 844 family members of the group ranch own the resource centre either directly or indirectly.
Namoindi Tumeki Leposo, the cultural chairperson of the Museum says he received with shock news of county government’s intention to seek a different firm to run the centre on its behalf.
Namoindi claimed the county government never consulted Lemong’o Cultural Centre board of directors of its intent to terminate MCV from helping them manage their resource centre.
“As a community, we are happy with the MCV and we trust them. MCV has been in our community for over 10 years and has already spent millions of shillings building up the museum and collecting artefacts,” said Namoindi.
Ksh 15 million+ Investment
According to the centre treasurer, MCV has already invested more than 15 million KSH over the past year and has employed over 100 people for casual labour, while 15 others are on permanent employment.
“The NGO MCV used their money to invest in the museum and is managing the museum peacefully with the community and have been employing our people,” said Mama Kimanjoi Ene Saiko.
Saiko added, “MCV is concerned about the welfare of our culture and providing financial empowerment to local women and is supporting them in many ways to sell their beaded items to tourists.”
Other members of the board claim the NGO that has been working with them took over the dilapidated building that houses the museum and has brought the abandoned building to life for the community to enjoy.
“Trees had even started growing in the abandoned structure. The place was smelling of dead bats and other animals, but MCV worked with the community on it and made it how it looks now, it’s our center and we are proud of it,” said Saiko.
When the museum was officially commissioned by Governor Joseph Ole Lenku last year in September, he promised to work closely with the NGO to safeguard the cultural values of the Maasai people and promote their culture within Kenya and globally.
In July 2019, Lenku engaged MCV and asked them to partner to refurbish and turn the Kimana abandoned building into a Maasai museum which they have done successfully.
The museum’s board treasurer, Ole LePau was accompanied by other board members; Rise Parmuat, Lomunyak Ole Kume, Morinke Maserie, Josephat Saiko, Taiko Oloboi, and Kanka Laon.
Ole LePau said: “The museum belongs to the community and that the county director of culture, Samson Lenjirr has no business poking its nose in it.”
“Our children depend on the resources from the museum, and we have not complained about its management. The county should leave us to run our issues in peace,” said the treasurer.
Ole LePau claimed the county identified MCV on behalf of the community last year and since then they worked together successfully making the Museum a cultural resource centre for the Amboseli community.
“This land belongs to us, and our resources are managed the way we want to benefit our community, and it is the leaders of the community who sit on the board to make decisions, and therefore, the county should keep off our affairs,” Ole LePau.
Elias Ole Shoke, the Maasai traditional chief in the area, said the county government should respect the community and its leaders.
“We trust MCV to run the museum, because we worked with them for many years, if MCV is not there we will remove all our cultural belongings because the county can’t bid for our culture. We want our culture to be safe and respected,” said Ole Shoke.
But in a quick rejoinder the county government on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, said it decided to advertise for a new investor to take up the management of the centre after establishing that MCV is not collaborating with it.
County Culture CECM Florence Waiganjo said a decision was reached to seek new partners after it became apparent the centre managers were not cooperating.
Waiganjo claimed the county government never signed any MOU with MCV as regards to the management of the cultural museum in Kimana.
“We advertised for eligible firms to express their interests in a new partnership with the county government to manage Lemong’o cultural centre because we lack financial capacity,” said Waiganjo.
But in a board meeting called by the Centre’s Board Members on September 28, it was agreed that the decision by the county government to change their current managers is “ill-conceived” and “out of place” and others accused the county of “cooking malice” against the American investor.
The members accused the county government of interfering with their resource and acting in contravention of agreements.
July 2019, Lenku called Jessica Censotti, the MCV President and asked MCV to partner to turn the Kimana abandoned building into a Maasai museum.
At the time, MCV said it had been negotiating with the county government for the past one and half years on how to establish a Maasai Heritage Museum for the Amboseli community and had looked at the abandoned building and saw its potential to safeguard and promote Maasai heritage.
When we sought Censotti’s comment on the issue, she refused to comment on the matters raised by the county government and her board members.
“This is a community-led museum, I prefer to let the community vent their grievances and advocate for their rights in a manner they feel because it is their voice that matters. I trust when Governor Ole Lenku hears from his community, he will respond appropriately and honour our partnership.”
“This Museum is important for the Amboseli community, especially for Maasai children to learn their history. It’s a vehicle for community empowerment and cultural preservation. We have made tremendous progress over 1 year and if we continue to work together it will be an exemplary prototype for Kenya on how local communities can benefit from cultural tourism. I have no further comment over the same,” said Censotti.
The Museum is located where the culture is still thriving in the heart of Maasailand at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, just 2 miles from Amboseli National Park that welcomed over 600,000 tourists annually before COVID-19.
The Maasai play a key role in conservation and are protectors of wildlife. Visitors enjoy safaris to view the abundant wildlife that exists thanks to the Maasai way of life.
The area is designated as a UNESCO biosphere and is famous for being one of the best places in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants, lions, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, antelope, and over 600 species of birds.
One of the key purposes of the museum is for the local Maasai to share their unique story and cultural heritage to the tourist while benefiting economically from the tourism industry through exhibition fees, cultural workshops, authentic entertainment, and selling local handicrafts.
Currently, according to MCV, over 90 per cent of the local Maasai in the area are unemployed, despite the high traffic of hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting their land. MCV aims to change these statistics and ensure the Maasai are benefiting from cultural tourism.
The museum is providing employment and training to the local Maasai, enabling them to stay in the community instead of relocating to cities in search of employment; decreasing displacement which is a major cause of cultural degradation.
The Museum serves as a community centre and research hub. It is a place to explore and learn about indigenous herbal medicine and other traditional practices such as host cultural ceremonies that are listed as in need of urgent safeguarding according to UNESCO.
The museum has a significant role for research, cultural preservation, as well as for education and public programming. The Amboseli community who is running the facility with MCV has high hopes for the future of their cultural centre.