TAKE a walk along Namanga border, as you are crossing into Kenya and your way back to Tanzania, you will meet petty traders with all sorts of wares including ornaments on sale by majority of merchandise who happen to be women.
These are Masaai women who will first greet you, showing Tanzania friendly culture of 'jambo' before they tell you how important are their wares to you.
Their ornaments are spread on the ground while some are carried and displayed to passengers crossing across the two countries as well as no-man'sland. Enticed by their wares, a University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Senior Lecturer Dr Jehovaness Aikaeli once commented that: "Although Maasai women have indigenous knowledge and skills to make various ornaments for sale, they have still remained poor.
" Their indigenous knowledge has persistently lived in the community despite modern and scientific occurrences which have tried to displace it. Presenting a study finding on Commercialisation and Marketing of Women Indigenous Knowledge Products in Dar es Salaam recently, Dr Aikaeli, said most of Maasai women produce ornaments, but lack modern marketing strategies to sell them.
“They face a hurdle of unfavourable prices of their ornaments, because they do not manage to reach the lucrative end-users and export them,” he added.
The don who heads Department of Economics at the institution also said factors which limit their market participation are both internal and external.
He said the study that was carried out with UDSM as well as the University of Rwanda (UR), also discovered that some of Maasai women are 'fleeced' by some traders who act as middlemen in the business, because the women lack written contract binding them in the market.
The study shows that language is another barriers to their business because they only speak Maasai, and scanty Kiswahili and rarely communicate in English to sell their wares.
Though Maasai community have undergone transformation in their semi-nomadic lifestyle into tourism and offer cultural tourists attractions, some have decided to try their fate in urban centres as security guards, alongside sale of traditional medicines to live. Very few of them are engaged in small scale farming because their land is pure arid with scarce and unreliable rains.
Since their community is a patriarch setup, women are therefore, left with few economic options in comparison to men. Also commenting on their business, Prof John Machiwa, who is acting Deputy Vice Chancellor-Research at UDSM said that many women have been sidelined as the major source of manpower in many rural areas in the country to the extent that they find it hard to excel in modern economy. He said the concept has caught up with the Maasai women that is why they still take advantage of their indigenous knowledge to make sure wares for sale.
He said there should be a forum to address the challenge and improve their knowledge on the business as far as globalisation is concerned. He said in agricultural activities, indigenous knowledge also requires address to sustain their livelihoods.
“Rural household’s food processing and storage do not much require indigenous knowledge," he pointed out. Dr Aikaeli said there is a need to have improved storage facilities in such rural setups since majority of them depend on local cultivation of staple food to survive.
He said food processing and storage activities are mostly done by women in rural areas using indigenous knowledge that can not take them far also in business, adding: "Under the new project the Department of Economics at UDSM plans to reach out women in rural areas and improve their skills, besides enhancing their indigenous knowledge."