Mining the Maasai Reserve: The story of Magadi

Hughes, Lotte (2008). Mining the Maasai Reserve: The story of Magadi. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2(1) pp. 134–164.



Exploitation of soda deposits by foreign companies at Lake Magadi, Kenya, is the focus of one of many long-standing grievances in the Maasai community which stem from land and other natural resource alienation in the colonial era. A British company was allowed to mine soda in this corner of the former Southern Maasai Reserve as the result of a clause in the 1911 Maasai Agreement, made between representatives of the Maasai community and British government. But there is compelling historical evidence to suggest that it had no legal right to do so, and neither may its successors. This article examines for the first time the early history of the East Africa Syndicate and Magadi Soda Company’s activities in British East Africa, the circumstances in which they obtained their early leases, and connections between these and the Maasai Agreements, signed within days of each other. It traces the continuities to the present day, against a backcloth of historical and contemporary protest. The article places these events in the broader historical context of early land policy, the resignation of Sir Charles Eliot in 1904, and protest in the 1930s against the Native Lands Trust Ordinance, gold mining and other commercial activities in ‘native reserves’.

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