Fred Aminga @faminga
Maasai morans have traded the spear for chopping “sukuma wiki” and roasting maize in various city estates and town centres. This is now becoming a common feature as the warrior community joins other Kenyans to eke out a living in Nairobi and other towns in the country.
What Kenyans fondly referred to as “kwa mama mboga” is fast turning to “kwa Maasai”, when referring to the closest place they can purchase groceries.
In most city estates, the corner shops is now the preserve of the Maasai, illustrating the changing landscape as morans change tack and penetrating a niche market in Kenya’s retail sector.
It all started when the tribe’s fierce morans were employed to secure homes following an increase in robberies in city estates, enticing morans to escape life in the villages to come to Nairobi armed with spears, swords and clubs to secure homes and estates at a fee.
However, an influx of Maasai guards, some from as far as Tanzania and diminishing pasture land and decreasing job opportunities forced them to start roasting maize to pass time in various corners of the city estates.
Realising profits, they soon started selling groceries most of which have become the popular Maasai corner shops.
The Maasai are also leading in roasting maize in most parts of Nairobi including the central business district where they go about their business at strategic corners.
In a random quiz in the city by People Daily, it emerged that out of 100 people interviewed about where they get their groceries when at home, 55 mentioned Maasai shops.
“We believe that Maasai hardly cheat on customers unlike “mama mboga” who could give you less than what you bargained for,” says Sally Korir, a resident of Kahawa Sukari in Nairobi.
The Maasai community’s tag of innocence which made them favourites as guards played a big role in building trust since they are still considered more trustworthy in a city where it is very difficult to trust anyone.
City estates Allure of innocence seems to play in their favour and that is why they usually find it easy to even use land, sometimes without paying lease within the city estates, particularly when they graze their animals in Nairobi.
They even set up manyattas within Nairobi without people raising eyebrows from where they operate in what becomes an extension of their village lifestyles in the city.
The “mother of all manyattas” in Nairobi’s Eastlands can be found behind the imposing Greenspan Mall, where several Maasai families have turned the available space into their home for close to a decade, making it a very interesting mix of culture and business within the city.
Everyday they release their livestock to go and graze within the estates, most of which are guarded by themselves. Sometimes they even graze the animals, which seem to know their way within estates and return home by themselves in the evening.
Manure and milk from the animals serve a lot of people within the estates, including the Maasais themselves, most of whom retire to the manyattas at night away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Buyers pay about Sh45 per wheelbarrow of manure in sales that usually take place early morning or late evenings. They also use the manyattas to stock traditional medicine which is another major chore among the Maasai.
In their full traditional regalia and armed with plastic cans and glass, the morans sell traditional medicine in homes, business premises, bars and even by the roadside in densely populated areas like Gikomba.
Since consumers seem to easily trust them, they must be doing good business, particularly going by the number of “Maasai herbalists” in town.
Despite not having any known interest in beekeeping, they recently started selling honey to Kenyans, a move which raised eyebrows but many people consumed the concoction out of the trust built by their innocence.
However, a photo doing the round on social media of a group of Maasai mixing molasses with sweet syrup to be sold as honey has left egg on the face of the trust built over the years.
Of course some unscrupulous people are leveraging on the innocence tag to dupe consumers making a kill from the Maasai brand. But they are renowned for selling livestock when there is no pasture only to come back later armed with cash demanding their cattle.
Leveraging on Nairobi as their base, the Maasai can also easily dupe people to buy their land back in the villages, only for the buyers to realise later that it had already been sold earlier.