The death of Interior cabinet secretary Joseph Nkaissery left a huge gap in Maasai politics.
Coming under a year after the demise of the legendary Maasai kingpin William ole Ntimama and his friend John Keen, as well as that of former vice-president George Saitoti four years ago, Nkaissery’s exit leaves the region without a numero uno.
While Mr Nkaissery was himself struggling to fit into the de facto position of a supremo – accepted without question among the various clans – there was no question that he was the most powerful man from his community.
It helped matters for him that at his death he was the highest ranking official from the region with fifteen years behind him in elective politics and before that a sterling military career.
The Maasai leadership system is also highly gerontocratic and at 67, he was a senior retired elder, of the Iseuri age group, and none of the current Maa leaders in office are as old.
“Nkaissery leaves a huge leadership crater. By design he was the most powerful Maasai. Just as Colin Powell was the most powerful black man on earth at a time Nelson Mandela was the most popular, I would say Nkaissery was our Powell. He was powerful, which is not to say popular,” explained Sironka ole Masharen, a historian who wrote the seminal book The Maasai Pioneers.
Mr Masharen described Nkaissery as principled and incorruptible. “He was a pure Maasai, the prototype about which the early white authors wrote: tall, elegant, handsome, honest, resolute, militant.”
It is these two last traits, ironically, which watchers of the politics of the region are blaming for the present state of the Jubilee party in Maasailand.
Despite scoring fairly well on the presidential vote in 2013, having all but one MP elected on the government side, and taking the governorship seats in Narok and Samburu, Jubilee has in recent years been wading through palpable stormy waters in the region.
“Nkaissery was doing his job as he knew it, but his abrasive character might have antagonised many. He is one of the factors which made the Maasai to hate the government,” offered Mr Masharen.
Mr Nkaissery’s first tour of duty in Narok was in February 2015 when he ordered the arrest of a number of leaders over alleged incitement.
The leaders, Narok Senator Stephen ole Ntutu, his younger brother Patrick (the Narok West MP), Narok North’s Moitalel ole Kenta, Narok South’s Korei ole Lemein and Emurua Dikirr’s Johana Ng’eno, were protesting what they termed as mismanagement of the affairs of Narok County under Governor Samwel ole Tunai.
They were locked up for two days at Muthaiga Police Station, earning them the moniker ‘Muthaiga 5’ and helping fuel a strong sense of martyrdom and Maasai nationalism.
“This is what the rain started beating Jubilee. It was a psychological blow for the Maasai to see their leaders humiliated in such a manner, a blow from which they have never quite recovered. They saw it worse that it was one of their own who was the source of this blow,” Mr Masharen said.
The security problem in Laikipia, in which officers from various units were in March accused of killing 500 heads of cattle, is also believed to have further fanned the winter of discontent among the Maasai.
The two bones of contention – the detention of Narok leaders and the killing of cattle in Laikipia – were in Mr Nkaissery’s docket.
Jubilee point men in the region, however, yesterday defended Mr Nkaissery’s record, insisting he was well on course to deliver the three Maa counties.
They said their campaign had suffered a blow with the sudden death of Mr Nkaissery.
Most of those who spoke to the Sunday Nation were dejected, admitting they had been thrown off balance with very few days to recover.
In a country where presidential contenders, especially President Kenyatta and Opposition candidate Raila Odinga have been parading local leaders they are working with in their campaign trail, the closeness to the polls denies the Head of State such an opportunity in Kajiado where the governor is an ODM man.
By the virtue of being the senior most Maasai in government, the fallen CS was also the main contact person for the ruling party in Narok and Samburu counties.
So devastating has the death been that Jubilee has had to cancel all its campaigns in honour of the retired military man.
Narok Governor Samuel ole Tunai, a man who alongside the late minister were charged with whipping the community to vote Jubilee, said the death has robbed the Maasai of a kingpin.
“I was shocked by his death, the Maa community is today at the cross roads. It’s a big loss which we are yet to come to terms with,” said Mr Tunai.
Nairobi County speaker Alex Ole Magelo, who is from Kajiado, said the Jubilee administration had lost their main point man in the region.
"It’s a big loss for us as a community, and it happened when the country is going for elections. This is tragic as it may take long to get a replacement if at all," he said.
Their sentiments were echoed across the political divide with a few suggesting that while Mr Nkaissery was an effective minister, his role in rallying the region behind Mr Kenyatta had come a cropper because of his abrasive character and the nature of his job.
Whatever the case maybe, it is highly unlikely that with a combination of factors including rapid urbanisation and attendant cosmopolitanism, the community will ever get another eloquent, fire-spitting defender of Maasai rights as did Mr Ntimama in a bygone era when he bestrode the land like the colossus.
Additional reporting by George Sayagie and Joseph Ngunjiri.