Socio-Economic Impacts of the Standard Gauge Railway Project on Local Pastoralists in Suswa, Narok County

By Ngare Willsmith Ochillo
This field research project licensed by the National Commission for Science, Technology & Innovation (NACOSTI) under License Number 562158 aimed to assess the socio-economic impacts of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project on the local pastoralist communities residing in Suswa, Narok County, Kenya. The SGR project commenced on 14 September, 2017 till 16 October, 2019 when it was inaugurated by the former President Uhuru Kenyatta. The project was jointly funded by the Government of Kenya and the Export-Import Bank of China and is part of the Mombasa- Malaba Railway. It starts from the West End of Nairobi Terminus through Nairobi National Park crossing Magadi Road at Embulbul. It then descends North West of Ngong Hills through a tunnel into the Rift Valley and proceeds to Mai Mahiu before terminating the 120-kilometer stretch at Duka Moja in Narok.

The study was conducted as part of the fulfilment towards the award of a Master of Arts in International Relations in collaboration with the Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC) and United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) research project on organized violence and large-scale land use changes entitled “Violent Futures: Contestations along the Frontier”, which is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation” (CRC 228) initiated by the Universities of Bonn and Cologne and funded by the German research association DFG (“Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft”).

The research focused on Suswa, a region in Narok County, which has experienced changes due to the construction and operation of the SGR. The study area is home to Maasai pastoral communities whose mainstay is pastoralism which is a livelihood strategy adapted to the prevailing environmental conditions.

A qualitative approach was adopted to gather comprehensive data on the socio-economic impacts of the SGR project between November 2022 and May 2023. The primary data gathered were augmented by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) data analyzed through Nvivo data analysis software which was used to interpret, code, and analyze the data.

Key Findings
The following are the key thematic findings of the study:
Socio-economic Transformation: The construction and operation of the (SGR) brought about socio-economic changes- such as job opportunities during the construction phase which were largely enjoyed by communities from outside. In the case of the Suswa SGR Project, the study highlighted that the Kamba community greatly benefited from the job opportunities at the expense of the residents. This disparity was because of the academic qualifications of the natives as well as job experience which the Kamba community boasted about having worked with the China Communications Construction (CCC) from Mombasa, leading to short-term economic benefits for the local community.

Disruption of Key Livelihoods: The SGR infrastructure, including fences and tracks, has disrupted traditional pastoralist livelihood practices. The altered livestock mobility and grazing patterns have resulted in challenges for the native community in accessing crucial water sources and traditional grazing lands. This, in turn has negatively impacted livestock productivity and overall household income.

Cultural and Social Changes: The SGR project attracted a male-dominated workforce from various regions in the country. As a result, these men left their homes and families behind to work on the project for extended periods. This led to a significant number of women being left without their husbands, assuming the roles of primary caregivers and decision-makers in their households. Additionally, there were cases of early pregnancies among the residents in Suswa as men working in the SGR project interacted with the young girls in the society who were vulnerable.

Key Recommendation (s)
Need for Mitigation Measures: The research findings emphasize the importance of implementing mitigation measures to address the adverse impacts of the SGR project. These measures include developing alternative livelihood options that align with the cultural values and traditional knowledge of the Maasai community, compensating for the loss of grazing lands and water access, strengthening market linkages, and promoting community participation in decision-making processes.

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