By Clarissa Hughes
In April 2016 the Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya won the prestigious African Responsible Tourism Award in a glittering ceremony in Cape Town. Accepting the award on behalf of the conservancy was Gerard Beaton, Asilia Country Director and Chairman of the Naboisho Tourism Partners of the conservancy.
But what of the Maasai, the very people whose land this wonderful example of responsible tourism depends on? On 10th June 2016 they held their own ceremony in Naboisho to celebrate both the Best in Wildlife Conservation prize and the overall Best for African Responsible Tourism prize.
A beautiful, clear day presided over the event, which was held on a ridge overlooking the entire area. As far as the eye could see, Naboisho and her neighbouring conservancies sparkled in the sun, bolstering the momentous occasion. The Maasai arrived in buses, on motor bikes, in cars and on foot wearing their finest regalia and beadwork.
This was their moment, their glory.
Maasai blankets, red, orange and blue, fluttered off the backs of women, children and men like banners in the breeze. Waiting for the festivities to begin the women and children sat to one side while the men prepared the meat for the feast. Local school children practiced songs and dances they would perform later in the day.
Dignitaries, landowners, tourism partners, local government officials, non-governmental organizations, rangers and neighbouring conservancies’ representatives had been invited to celebrate what is recognized by all Maasai in the region as a highly prized accolade. Each dignitary was given a specially made-for-the-occasion Maasai necklace and a Maasai blanket.
“Their pride was palpable,” said Beaton. “The winning of the award is a crowning moment in Naboisho’s history, and indeed for all the Mara Conservancies. It has been ten years since the first Mara Conservancy was created and this award has given us all a boost to go forward in new directions, knowing that what we’ve achieved is something good, and recognized internationally.”
In true African style, after the speeches (35 of them) came the feast. Music and African rhythms helped the food go down. With an estimated 800-1,000 people in attendance the buzz of success vibrated for miles around.
Mara Naboisho Conservancy is a partnership between more than five hundred Maasai households and five ecotourism operators, including Asilia Africa. Together, the partners formed a community wildlife conservancy in 2010 which protects over 20,000 hectares of critical wildlife habitat.
“It gives us confidence that tourism is the right way for us to utilize this land.”
John Sengeny, Chairman of the Landowners, explains why this award is incredibly important to the Maasai. “It gives us confidence that tourism is the right way for us to utilize this land. This will help when the leases are renegotiated. It also cements the whole idea of Naboisho, which means ‘Coming Together’. This international recognition makes landowners feel included in a very special way.”
Handing out the awards, Lena Munge, CEC Tourism & Wildlife of Narok County Government said: “Naboisho is a great example of where through wildlife conservation local communities and tourism investors can jointly thrive. We, as the Narok County Government, are proud to be associated with the Mara Conservancies.”
After receiving an additional gift of a baby goat in recognition of his role in the success of Naboisho, Beaton added: “We’re all immensely honoured by this award. It comes as a real boost after six years of hard work in this unique partnership.”
With renewed vigour the Naboisho Conservancy will be looking into refining its model, finding new and compatible revenue streams which may include a commercial cattle scheme and expanding the scale of beadwork production.
“With further upside for all partners we hope that Naboisho leads the way to a long-term sustainable future for all concerned,” said Beaton.