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.
While Kanu, led by Gichuru and Mboya, pushed to have the right to buy land anywhere enshrined in the Constitution under the Bill of Rights, Oloitipitip’s Maasai United Front wanted to safeguard Maasai interests against the large tribes, especially the Kikuyu and the Luo, who had congregated within Kanu. Because of his position as MUF chairman, Oloitipitip was part of the Maasai community delegation that went to press for Maasai rights during the Lancaster Conference.
Back at home, on June 25, 1960, in the tiny African District Council Hall of Ngong, Oloitipitip hosted Muliro in a meeting that changed the politics of Kenya. It was in this meeting, bringing together most of the smaller parties, that Kadu was formed. The move threw into jeopardy the plan to form a single African party and this threw Kanu’s perceived dominance of the political terrain out of balance.
Muliro, an avowed critic of Gichuru-Odinga’s Kanu, had formed the Kenya African People’s Party and led other parties, including Ngala’s Capu, the Somali National Association and the Kalenjin Political Alliance, to the noon meeting before they emerged to address a mass political rally. Others at the meeting were Moi, Towett, Ngala,and Francis Khamisi. For that, Oloitipitip was thrown into the heart of Kadu politics, rubbing shoulders with some of the finest politicians as the clamour for independence reached the point of no return.
Oloitipitip was elected Kadu’s national organising secretary and it was in his Ngong backyard that the first Kanu-Kadu violence erupted in November, 1960, after Kanu leaders had driven to Ngong for their first political rally as a registered party. It was this acrimony that informed land politics in Maasailand and it would shape the leadership of Oloitipitip later on.
The defection of John Keen to Kanu caused Oloitipitip to vow to finish him politically and he issued an ultimatum that was dismissed by Keen.
“I do not recognise elders whom I consider stooges, to whom I cannot sell my poltical convictions,” said Keen as the battle lines were drawn.
During the June, 1963, General Election, Oloitipitip went for the Kajiado South seat on a Kadu ticket, which he easily clinched, thus starting a parliamentary career that would span an uninterrupted 23 years.
However, Kanu, led by Kenyatta, carried the victory, capturing 66 of 117 seats in the House of Representatives, and 19 of the 41 seats in the Senate. From this victory Oloitipitip emerged as the senior-most Maasai politician after John Keen had failed to capture the Kajiado North seat.
After independence in December, Kenyatta started consolidating his leadership and this led to the defection of key Kadu members in both the Houses to Kanu. The first to cross the floor were Toweett, William Murgor, Seroney and Oloitipitip, leaving the Kadu leadership of Ngala and Moi with no alternative but to dissolve the party. By this time, Oloitipitip’s arch-rival Keen had been nominated as a member of the East African Regional Assembly.
The post-independence party politics in Maasailand revolved around the personalities of both John Keen and Oloitipitip as they jostled for Kanu leadership. Determined to oust Oloitipitip and his allies in Kajiado, Keen organised local branch elections in 1969 in which all Oloitipitip supporters were locked out. In his victory speech, Keen accused Oloitipitip of keeping the Maasai “under a thick blanket.” But it was Oloitipitip who had the last laugh. Kanu secretary-general Robert Matano overturned the elections and installed Oloitipitip’s men back. Keen was by then Kanu’s organising secretary while Oloitipitip was a Cabinet Minister. Oloitipitip, a conservative Maasai, believed that the Maasai should not be forced to change their lifestyle, which always put him at loggerheads with Keen and his supporters. But it was conservation politics that made him the man to beat.
In his early political years, Oloitipitip found himself tackling the thorny issue of what to do with the large Amboseli Game Reserve in his constituency as the animal-human conflict continued. At the desk of the Ministry of Wildlife was a plan by a wealthy US industrialist, Royal Little, who had proposed a plan for the Maasai to get an alternative source of water in exchange for setting up 500km sq of a national park in the Amboseli game reserve. The plan had the backing of the ministry and, although the Kajiado County Council also agreed, it was shot down by Maasai elders. Oloitipitip sided with the elders, insisting on a local solution to the wildlife crisis.
A conservationist and wildlife researcher, David Western, who worked at Amboseli, came up with a strategy for the East African Natural History Society in 1969. Oloitipitip accepted the draft plan and convinced the elders to accept the setting up of an Amboseli National Park and the monetary aid offered by the New York Zoological Society. But Oloititip, fearing the wrath of the elders, later retracted and it took Kenyatta’s intervention for the project to proceed. In 1971 Kenyatta decreed 500 square kilometres of Amboseli as a national park. When Oloitipitip led a delegation to Kenyatta to plead with him to reverse the decision, they got some 130 square kilometres back.
Oloitipitip was pivotal in all discussions that involved the Maasai and any policies either by donors or international conservation groups had to involve him as the link man to the community. Money from wildlife started to stream into the community with the building of schools and hotels to cater for tourists. Oloitipitip’s wealth grew too. When the Kimana Group Ranch was proposed outside the expansive Amboseli, Oloitipitip seized the chance to own a lodge next to the ranch. The Kimana Safari Lodge was opened in 1978 and was expected to cash in on tourists outside the Amboseli Park. This endeared him to powers around Jomo Kenyatta and he became a close friend of many politicians eager to set up camps outside the Amboseli National Park.
In 1983, for example, John Keen and Oloitipitip engaged in bitter debates over group ranch management. Keen accused Oloitipitip of corruption on the allocation of group ranches to his political allies, particularly those from outside the Maasai community. This was in reference to the allocation of a 100-acre farm to a prominent non-Maasai, on the Kisaju Group Ranch.
In national politics, Oloitipitip was eclipsed by the powerful Cabinet figures from Central Province as he served in the obscure Ministry of Natural Resources. It was during the Change-the-Constitution debate in 1976, that Oloitipitip distinguished himself by confronting heavyweights led by Gema leaders Njenga Karume and Kihika Kimani and Cabinet ministers Jackson Angaine and Njoroge Mungai.
Oloitipitip joined the group supporting Moi and which comprised Njonjo and G.G. Kariuki. It was Oloitipitip who collected protest signatures from MPs opposed to the Karume-Kihika-Angaine campaign, which he called unethical, immoral and bordering on criminality.
By then, only Cabinet Minister Shariff Nassir from the Coast had come out openly to oppose the Gema leaders. Oloitipitip collected 98 signatures, including from 10 Cabinet Ministers. This endeared him to the Njonjo axis. With those signatures, the change-the-constitution group had no chance in Parliament to force such a change. Again they could not muster the two-thirds majority required. But more than that, Njonjo had silenced the debate by declaring it illegal even to imagine the death of the President. Oloitipitip was to politically pay later for this alliance with the Njonjo axis.
Oloitipitip was appointed into Moi’s first Cabinet after the 1979 General Election as Minister for Home Affairs, a portfolio previously under the Office of the Vice-President.
But it was Oloitipitip’s later appointment as Minister for Local Government that enabled him to change the local authority landscape by increasing the number of municipal and urban councils when he elevated obscure rural shopping centres into municipal and town status.
Oloitipitip promised government funding for water, sewerage and other infrastructures, an issue that was to feature during a Commission of Inquiry set up by Moi to investigate the conduct of Njonjo in 1984. With powerful forces within the Moi presidency fighting for a place, Oloitipitip had sided with Njonjo in his bitter wars with Vice-President Kibaki.
In 1981, the two sides held two separate rallies. Njonjo was in Kikuyu while Kibaki was hosted in Mathare by Cabinet Minister Munyua Waiyaki. The Njonjo meeting attacked “anti-Nyayo elements”, while Kibaki held the view that no one had the mandate of screening who was loyal to President Moi.
Oloitipitip once took on Kibaki for that sneer, saying that the Vice-President was ignorant of how the Government operated. He would also answer Butere MP Martin Shikuku, who had questioned the source of wealth of some Cabinet Ministers. Shikuku said they should declare their wealth, but Oloitipitip dismissed Shikuku and his friends as a “bunch of communist agents too lazy to work to get rich”. Yet it was Kibaki who would earn Moi’s support when in 1984 he warned politicians against undermining the Vice-President. This soon triggered the “traitor” debate, which would lead to the fall of Njonjo and his allies. Those targeted were Oloitipitip, Zachary Onyonka, Charles Rubia and G.G. Kariuki.
Oloitipitip was the only minister allied to Njonjo who won back his seat after the snap 1983 General Election. Moi relegated him to the backbench. Oloitipitip was later arrested for flouting the tax laws and in June, 1984, he was jailed for 12 months for failing to pay some taxes on a hotel he owned in Loitokitok, Maasai Boarding and Lodging. He was then expelled from Kanu and lost his parliamentary seat at a by-election that was won by Moses ole Kenah.
Upon release, an ailing man, he retreated to managing his wealth that included residential houses in Nairobi’s Lavington, a slaughterhouse, several ranches and a tourist lodge. Troubled by obesity, Oloitipitip died in Rombo on January 22, 1985, aged 61 and while being attended to by a medicineman.