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Maasai livestock scientist picked for Kenya governor

Kitengela rangeland in Kenya: Maasai scientist David Nkedianye

Kitengela rangeland: Maasai scientist David Nkedianye (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Livestock scientist David Nkedianye was on Wednesday 27 March 2013 sworn in as the first governor of Kajiado County, in Kenya. Elected in the country’s general election of 4 March 2013, Nkedianye, a Maasai, beat seven candidates to become governor under a new political dispensation that devolved significant power from a central government to 47 county governments, each headed by a governor.

The ILRI -trained scientist and former teacher was initially picked by the Kajiado County professionals as the preferred candidate for governor by a team that scrutinized the history of the candidates and what they had done to improve the lives of communities living in the county. During his time as an ILRI scholar, he researched issues in his home area, the Kitengela rangelands, home of Maasai pastoralists, about an hour’s drive southeast of Nairobi, working to better understand the interaction between Maasai herders, livestock and wildlife as well as land use in the county. He worked closely with the community and helped to establish an NGO called ‘Reto-o-Reto’ (Maasai for ‘I help you, you help me’), which started as a research project conducted jointly by ILRI and Maasai communities in East Africa.

That five-year project (2003–2008) experimented with boundary-spanning research to help balance action in poverty alleviation and wildlife conservation in four pastoral ecosystems in East Africa, including the Kitengela pastoral ecosystem just south of Nairobi National Park. Nkedianye co-authored a scientific paper generated by this project entitled ‘Evolution of models to support community and policy action with science: Balancing pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation in savannas of East Africa’, which was published in 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a prestigious American science journal.

The paper won the 2012 Sustainability Science Award, which is given annually by the Ecological Society of America to the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the preceding five years that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

At the community level, Nkedianye chairs the Kajiado Community Task Force, whose mandate is to implement the Kitengela/Isinya/Kipeto Land Use Master Plan (LUMP), the first of its kind in Kenya. Because his efforts and those of his teams, subdivision of land in Kitengela is now capped at 60 to 80 acres, which is helping to stop the mushrooming of unplanned settlements and the uneconomic subdivision of these rangelands.

He graduated with a PhD in ecology and natural resource management at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in 2010. during his time at ILRI, he spent time with ILRI partner William Clark as his faculty host at the Harvard J.F. Kennedy School of Government in 2007 in  the Sustainability Science Program.

Kajiado lies just southeast of Nairobi and is both a cosmopolitan and rural county. Some have dubbed it the bedroom of Nairobi due to its close proximity to the city and with many of the city’s residents renting homes and commuting from there. Yet it remains rural and home to many pastoralists who have suffered human-wildlife conflicts and survived some of the worst droughts in the region. Harmonizing these dichotomies are some of the challenges that the new governor will have to deal with.

Nickson Ole Parmisa, a community leader in Kitengela who worked with Nkedianye during his time at ILRI, says: ‘We appreciate David’s effort and struggle to save Kitengela lands and pastoralist community. We hope now that the “land use master plan” our community developed will be fully implemented. I think local people have been praying for this, and they and wildlife and livestock will all benefit.’

Nkedianye says he has used his knowledge from his years of research work with ILRI and others to increase ‘rights awareness’ and to determine pastoral land ownership, access and use by the community.

Shirley Tarawali, Nkedianye’s research director in ILRI’s ‘People, Livestock and the Environment Theme’, who now serves ILRI as director of Institutional Planning and Partnerships, says, ‘David is well placed now to do much to get livestock and other research into real good use in Kenya. We congratulate him on his many achievements, and look forward to working with him for the betterment of poor pastoral herders.’ See related stories at

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