It happened in 1983, then in 1988. Now Maasai leaders are again fighting for the contentious, if not nominal, title of community spokesman.
In 1983, burly Cabinet minister Stanley Oloitiptip was replaced by Narok North MP Justus ole Tipis after he was linked to the botched 1982 coup attempt.
Come 1988 and Mr Tipis was dwarfed by Mr William ole Ntimama, who not only took his seat but also become President Moi’s pointman in Kajiado and Narok districts.
The latest contest follows the death of former Internal Security minister George Saitoti last month and the growing pressure on octogenarian Ntimama to quit for younger leaders.
While Prof Saitoti was not a kingpin in the mould of Mr Ntimama, who is also Heritage minister, he was wealthier and enjoyed the trappings of State power more than any other Maasai leader.
Prof Saitoti’s tenure as Vice-President for 14 years coupled with the powerful ministerial dockets he headed made him the most influential politician in Maasailand.
Mr Ntimama, on the other hand, was recognised as the cultural and spiritual leader of the community.
But his influence has been waning in recent years. Younger politicians are calling for a generational change in politics, arguing that Mr Ntimama belongs to the llnyangusi group that has called the shots since independence.
Others from this generation are the late Oloitiptip (who was the first Maasai Cabinet minister), former Narok West (now deceased) MP John ole Konchellah (an uncle of current MP Gideon Konchellah), the late Tipis (an Internal Security minister in the early years of the Moi administration) and former Kajiado North MP and fierce Maasai rights defender John Keen. Of these, only Mr Keen is alive.
Mr Ntimama rose to prominence when he replaced Mr Tipis as Narok North MP in 1988.
Mr Ntimama initiated Prof Saitoti into Maasai politics by declaring at a rally in Ngong’ town, in the run-up to the 1988 General Election, that if Prof Saitoti contested for the Kajiado North seat, his queue would ‘run from Ngong to Narok.’
“Mr Ntimama exploited Prof Saitoti’s stance of a reluctant hero to rise to prominence, distinguishing himself as a defender of the Maasai cause,” says Sironka ole Masharen, the author of Maasai Pioneers, which profiles the community’s leaders since the 1800s.
Apart from age, analysts say the campaigns will be shaped by land grievances, clannism, conservation of the Mau forest and sharing of proceeds from the Maasai Mara game reserve and the Amboseli National Park.
The community’s interests cannot be addressed in isolation from those of immigrants.
“In Kajiado, for instance, it is difficult to win any seat without the support of the Kikuyu. In Narok, the Kipsigis in Narok South and Kilgoris constituencies, as well as the Kikuyu in Narok North cannot be ignored,” says Narok politician Taleng’o ole Kiptunen.
Presidential aspirant James ole Kiyiapi has been mentioned as one of those best placed to inherit the mantle.
Prof Kiyiapi, the former Education permanent secretary, however, does not invoke his community’s backing in his campaigns.
“Each community would be excited to have one of their own on the ballot. The Maasai backing is crucial to me,” he says.
Other politicians eyeing the mantle are Defence assistant minister Joseph Nkaissery, acting PNU chairman and Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchellah, Narok South MP Nkoidila ole Lankas and Loitokitok MP Katoo ole Metito.
There is also intense lobbying to replace Prof Saitoti in the Cabinet. Allies of Mr Uhuru Kenyatta are said to favour the youthful Mr Metito.
PNU mandarins want it to go to Mr Konchellah because the seat “belonged to the party”.
Mr Nkaissery, a retired Army Major-General, is considered a rank outsider for the Cabinet slot since he is an ODM lawmaker.
To further complicate the Maasai leadership contest are the new positions such as that of governor and senator.
Then there is the question of clannism. Prof Saitoti was affiliated to the Keekonyokie clan, which straddles Kajiado North and Narok North constituencies.
Mr Ntimama comes from the Purko clan, the most populous.
Others are the Ilkaputiei, Ilmatapato and Ilkisonko in Kajiado and Loita, Moitanik, Uasinkishu, Siria and Ildamat of Narok and Trans Mara.
“Traditionally, the populous Purko and Keekonyokie have been pitted against each other and whichever clan the others support will carry the day,” says Mr Masharen.