In spite of difference : making sense of the coexistence between the Kamba and the Maasai peoples of Kenya
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The study seeks to deepen understanding on "interethnic coexistence". It is about how ethnic groups interact and engage in various forms of exchange to meet not only their daily needs but also to produce a stable state. This study is to a large extent about stability and harmony. It shows how ethnic groups that share common territory and resources interact and make sense of each other in everyday life and how the groups live together in spite of distinctions in language, discursive cultural practices, different modes of subsistence, scarcity of resources, disparities in social transformation and often conflicting political orientations. The groups in question are the Maasai and the Kamba of Kenya. The Maasai are a Nilotic speaking group and predominantly pastoral while the Kamba are a Bantu speaking group and mixed farmers. The two groups are neighbours, sharing a porous but "clearly marked" political boundary. These groups have an interesting multifaceted relationship. Both groups claim to display distinctive physical traits and even when these appear to be fluid, actors claim that they can intuitively tell "who is who". The Maasai have a "traditional" dress code while the Kamba have over the years discarded theirs. Whereas many Kamba readily adopt Maasai identity and learn Maa (Maasai language), it is hardly the other way round. Besides, while Maasai men easily marry Kamba women, Kamba men find it difficult to be accepted as suitors among the Maasai. Besides, the Maasai practice female circumcision, while the Kamba hardly do. Apart from these distinctions, the two groups stereotype each other a lot. For instance, the Maasai are said to be "backward" while the Kamba are portrayed as "cowards". Although the groups portray each other as enemies and incompatible, observation of everyday life suggests otherwise. The two groups have an elaborate system of interaction and exchange. While some of these exchanges are based on ecological specialisations, others involve business-client relationships where the Kamba control business while the Maasai act as customers. Moreover, Kamba men work as herders in Maasai homesteads in exchange for money, cattle or adoption. Other social exchanges take the form of intermarriages and schooling opportunities. However, the social and economic exchanges do not exclude conflict. The Kamba and the Maasai compete and fight over resources. Ethnic conflict is therefore seen as part of the coexistence process. The groups compete over land, water, pastures, social amenities, trading space and political power. Moreover, they have a long history of cattle raids. In as much as the groups live in some semblance of harmony, theirs is also an antagonistic relationship. Ethnic groups do not "coexist" in a vacuum. The study therefore examines how the state and other ethnic groups influence the coexistence of the Kamba and the Maasai. The study shows how the state has destabilised as well as enhanced coexistence among groups. Divide-and-rule tactics, aimed at undermining interethnic cohesiveness, also contribute to state stability. I also examine the "rings of dominance", where selected ethnic group members are rewarded in turns, and where "eaters" recruit "co-eaters". This practice of inclusiveness in governance enhances stability by pacifying ethnic groups and pre-empting rebellion. Finally, I make a case for a theory of interethnic coexistence. I argue that coexistence should be visualised as a multidimensional process. One of the dimensions is ethnic difference; one cannot talk about "interethnic coexistence" if the actors are not distinct. Secondly, I look at the dimension of "complementarity" and "interdependence" where I discuss coexistence as a relationship that involves mutual exchange. Interdependence is seen as a higher level of complementarity where exchanges are symbiotic or where groups seem to attain a status of being "indispensable". The Kamba and the Maasai oscillate between the two levels depending on the magnitude of vulnerability at a given time. Thirdly, I highlight the dimension of conflict. Here, I look at coexistence as an antagonistic process where there are rivalries, ethnic tensions and hatred as groups compete for resources and ethnic supremacy. Fourthly, I consider coexistence as a process characterised by compromises, negotiations and concessions. This is where actors strategise and concede to win acceptance from others. Compromises are made depending on what one party or both stand to lose or gain. Fifthly, I examine the notion of "common territory". The argument here is that "coexistence" has a bearing on physical space. Even when groups have independent territories, to say they "coexist" means the boundaries are porous. The sixth and last dimension discussed is the "external" aspects. The argument here is that interethnic coexistence is shaped and influenced by the state as well as other groups.