Kenya's Maasai tribes ask Māori for help on land sharing issues with geothermal providers

A Maasai tribesman.
A Maasai tribesman. Photo credit: Reuters

The relationship between iwi and geothermal energy companies is being used as a case study overseas as Kenya struggles to build geothermal plants and work with Maasai tribes.

Maasai - known for wearing colourful beads and red blankets - have been adversely affected by the building of new plants on their lands, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

In 2014 more than 1000 people were evicted from their land for the building of Kenya's Olkaria IV, and in 2016 protests by some tribes paused construction of the Olkaria V geothermal plant. Construction eventually resumed, but both sides of the dispute want to see relations improve.

Elder Mwangi Sururu travelled to New Zealand in November 2017 to meet with Māori and see how indigenous New Zealanders kept their identity while working with the energy companies.

"[The Māori] have conflicts, but they've found better ways to solve them," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"They were given a share in the power plants and the areas that were already being used for power production were leased directly from them."

Māori do have one benefit Maasai lack; they have ownership of the resources under their land while the Maasai have no rights to anything underground.

But there's hopes a new revenue-sharing Bill may even things out between the government and the Maasai. The state-run electricity company, KenGen, is hopeful it will pass and allow 2.4 percent of revenue to be put into a fund that would be split 75 percent to the government, 20 percent to local government and 5 percent to the local community.

Cyrus Karingithi, a resource development manager for the company, says it is negotiating with people living on the site of its next power plant about resettlement. Those involved in the negotiations have hope they will be better than previous incarnations now they have learned from Māori.

"Negotiations have not been completed," Maasai elder Maenga Kisotu told Thomson Reuters. "[The Māori] have shown us how they live with the energy companies."