Population And Development In Maasailand, Kenya

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




James L. Newman


Africa, Geography

Subject Categories

Human Geography


Population pressure is an imbalance between population and resources. This imbalance worsens when population grows faster than the economy can be developed. In the semi-arid and arid areas of Kenya population pressure has reached a crisis level. Recurrent food shortages, escalating undernutrition and malnutrition especially among infants and children, and chronic poverty are divesting residents' hope of ever leading a secure life. On the landscape, severe soil erosion and general vegetation and water abuse all are signs of the overexploitation of resources.

This study investigates the magnitude and spatial variation of population pressure in Maasailand. Another purpose is to assess government response to population pressure. It is argued that population is a critical component in regional development especially in the short term.

An historical analysis is used to trace the emergence of population pressure. Contemporary population pressure is investigated through the computation of carrying capacities and the analysis of its consequences in various ecological zones. Both documentary and field research provide data for the study.

The findings are that modern population pressure began during the colonial era. Exogenous factors (the colonial and postcolonial economic system and immigration) and internal societal dynamics (population growth) led the Maasai to lose control of their production system and to their inability to respond to changed circumstances. The Maasai were 'conquered' and incorporated into colonial rule, and then isolated and ignored. A mix of insensitive government policies and failure of the Maasai economic system to adjust, and increase productivity led not only to the impoverishment of the resource base, but to impoverishment of the people themselves. The empirical results show that within Maasailand, population pressure is greatest in the drier parts (zones IV to VI). Food insufficiency is characteristic and incomes are depressed. Overgrazing and soil erosion are severe. The same areas are also the most remote in terms of access to basic development infrastructure such as roads, markets, health facilities, and water.


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