Stanley Shapashina ole Oloitipitip – Crusader for Maasai land rights

The Assistant Minister for Commerce and Industry, Mr Stanley Oloitipitip cuts a sisal rope with a Maasai sword to declare WasoKedong Primary School open on August 5, 1965.

From 1963 to 1983, Stanley Shapashina ole Oloitipitip bestrode the Maasai politics like a colossus and when he fell from the national limelight and into oblivion, his political career collapsed like a house of cards – ending with a 12-month jail term.

As Minister for Local Government, Oloitipitip upgraded numerous small towns into municipal councils, a move that cash-strapped most of them.

Born in 1924 at Endoinyo Oontawua, at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro, Oloitipitip was the third born of Naseramporro and Olong’oyana Oloitipitip and was a member of the Irmingana sub-clan of the Ilaitayiok clan, who occupy the Olgulului Ilolarashi Group Ranch with the Amboseli National Park at the heart of it.

It was both the politics of conservation and continued allocation of Maasai land to outsiders that defined his career as the Member of Parliament for Kajiado South. Oloitipitip had little formal education, going only to Standard Four at the Narok Government School, where he sat the Kenya African Preliminary Examination in 1941.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Kajiado region turned into a war zone as allied troops battled German Forces from Tanganyika. Oloitipitip, then 19, joined the Kings African Rifles (KAR) as a nursing orderly and joined other African soldiers who were airlifted to the war-zones of Burma, India and Ceylon. There is little information on how he performed as a soldier, only that he rose to the rank of a sergeant before he returned in 1945 to work in the colonial health department as a medical assistant in Kajiado District. He also had a clinic at Il Bissil in Kajiado.

Five years after he returned, Kenya’s politics took a different turn following the return of Kenyatta from Britain in September, 1946, with the Mau Mau uprising and the first popular political party, KAU, gathering momentum. With the uprising, the British turned to Kenyans outside the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru tribes to help crush the Mau Mau movement. Oloitipitip, though a former soldier, refused to be conscripted, and sympathised with the African demand for independence. He also convinced his clan not to join any war on the British side.

With the jailing of Kenyatta, the next stage of politics involved the future of Kenya and land became a thorny issue, the Maasai having lost millions of acres to big colonial ranches. It was their desire to negotiate for a proper post-independence deal that brought together the most learned, among them Oloitipitip, to form the Maasai United Front (MUF) to negotiate for Maasai rights. Oloitipitip, who was elected chairman, joined hands with a young Nation newspaper journalist, John Keen, as secretary-general, and Justus ole Tipis to champion for Maasai land rights. The British government had insisted on the willing-buyer willing-seller policy rather than a blanket return of the “lost” land to the communities.

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