Julius Maina Nderitu

Enhancing Research with Cultural Consultation and Insightful Guidance

Campo East Africa Safaris stands at the forefront of redefining the conventional safari experience, offering not only unparalleled tour services but also extending its expertise as a cultural consultant and logistical support for research endeavors.

Our unique position enables us to provide research support services and facilitate nuanced conversations. We help you navigate the complex cultural landscapes that researchers are likely to encounter in East Africa.

This dual role is vividly illustrated in a story from Dawning.org, where Julius Maina Nderitu of Campo East Africa Safaris transcends the traditional role of a driver to become a fieldwork hero during an investigation into the water crisis’s impact on local communities.

We have reprinted the blog post below for readers to grasp the depth of our capabilities fully. Through this narrative, it becomes evident that Campo East Africa Safaris provides more than just access to breathtaking vistas and wildlife; we offer a gateway to deeper understanding and meaningful engagement with the region’s social and environmental challenges, making us an invaluable partner to research organizations and NGOs seeking to uncover the truths of East Africa.

The Driver

The inside story of how our driver became our fieldwork hero.

March 2024

When you visit the Maasai Mara National Reserve for the first time you feel as if you’ve been there before. You’ve seen it already, on film or somewhere else, and that sense of familiarity can distract you from seeing what’s really happening there, in front of your eyes.

On a clear day, you can see for miles. The grassy plains extend outwards in every direction, interrupted only by the flat-topped acacia trees that dot the landscape. A less natural sight also dots the horizon: open-topped SUVs on the prowl for a coveted snap of the reserve’s true rockstars: elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, and rhinos. It’s a familiar scene to the men behind the wheels. They are the human gatekeepers who shepherd the adoring visitors in and out daily. But not all visitors are welcomed guests.

On Friday November 26, 2021, as the park closes and the sun sets over the savanna, some 200 hoofed visitors enter Maasai Mara. These are not wild African bison, but domesticated cattle, driven in by two young herders, fully aware of the threat of attacks from wild animals or the 10,000 Kenyan shilling ($72) fine they face for bringing illegal livestock onto park grounds.

In recent years, severe drought led to a shortage of available pasture, forcing herders into a dilemma: Graze illegally on the reserve, risking confrontations with wardens and attacks by lions, or watch their livestock starve to death.

The two young men and their cows might have gone unnoticed were it not for a nearby SUV: a Toyota Land Cruiser carrying DAWNING’s research team, at the end of a long day of work.

We were in Kenya traversing five diverse regions to investigate the impact of the water crisis on the rights of women and girls. The project involved three weeks of fieldwork, close to 100 in-depth interviews, thousands of photographs, and the collaboration of a diverse team of 25 professionals (more than half Kenyan).

The sighting of the herd causes a stir inside the mud-spattered Land Cruiser, at the time bound for a base camp miles away. Our team is tired, but recognizes a rare opportunity to speak directly with Maasai herders about the six-year drought that forced them there.

Our driver, Julius Maina Nderitu, makes a sharp U-turn, flinging the team sideways as he approaches the herders. Julius is not confident that the herders will speak to us. He thinks they will run away the moment he beckons them over.

Julius is a polite and portly man with a shaved head and wide smile. Sensing no threat, the herders oblige. Controlled chaos ensues within the car, as our team wakes up to the extraordinary opportunity. Not sure how much the herders will stand our rapid-fire questions, Julius translates in his friendly voice – an exercise in teamwork that felt natural.

In exchange for anonymity, the young herders speak freely about the choice they made: “It is worth it to come into the park, even if you lose cows and have to pay a fine. It is better to lose 20 cows rather than having all of them die of hunger.”

Our team sped off to find the park wardens, who where also persuaded by Julius to talk openly with us about the daily invasion of cows at night. The improvised commando mission shone a light on an unexpected angle of the story, and an unexpected new team member.

Julius Maina Nderitu was born in 1979 in a small farming community near the foot of Mount Kenya. The firstborn of four, his upbringing was spent close to nature. Julius’ uncle, a guide at Maasai Mara, regaled his nephew with the stories of his safaris.

Once old enough to care for the family’s goats and sheep, Julius would bring them to the edges of a nearby forest to graze. There, he saw small animals like impalas, as well as footprints of lions and hyenas, which he and his friends made a sport of trying to analyze.

The family’s relationship with nearby wildlife was not always peaceful. During the dry season, hungry elephants were known to ravage the family’s farm at night in search of food. “It was so destructive,” Julius recalls, “but at the same time, I sympathized with them. We had supper, we are full, but the animals are hungry—that’s why they’re coming to our farm.”

Later in life, he became a vegetarian in solidarity with the threatened wildlife around him.

Julius moved to Nairobi for college, where he dedicated himself to studying languages—first Japanese, then Spanish. Following in his uncle’s footsteps, he founded Campo East African Safaris in 2010, catering at first to Spanish-speaking tourists.

Our team was different from his usual clientele. We were working every day from early morning to late at night, and we had no interest in sightseeing. For the first ten days, he mostly stood back and listened, mindful of his role as a driver. But guides in the savanna aren’t the same as guides in Times Square.

That November evening in Maasai Mara, encouraged by our team and guided by his own instincts, Julius seamlessly took on a new role, more routinely described as “fixer”—a local contractor hired to use their knowledge of local linguistics, politics, culture, not to mention street smarts, to bring tough projects to life.

In Julius’ case, we might say “safari smarts” – an intuitive ability to decipher and follow tracks, to see what’s not there to piece together what is. But this type of essential and specialized work too often goes uncredited or even unacknowledged in international projects.

After Maasai Mara, Julius became deeply collaborative with our team. We drove 200 miles north to the village of N’Gambo, whose residents’ lives are upended by the opposite problem: N’Gambo lies partially submerged under Lake Baringo, which flooded catastrophically three years ago after a week of torrential rains, forcing villagers to flee with whatever they could carry on their backs.

By the end of 2021, some 76,000 families had been relocated to a nearby camp, with scant access to water and other basic services. One villager said her family’s food rations abruptly halted after one month at the camp.

In dire circumstances and without government support, residents of N’Gambo survive by any means necessary. Many women and girls from the camp, desperate for money, turn to sex work in Marigat, the nearest city. “Young girls will do anything to survive,” a local schoolteacher lamented. “Even girls in our classes have engaged in prostitution with men in the community to get money for soap and sanitary pads.”

En route to our small hotel in Marigat that evening, the DAWNING team stops at a roadside canteen. Over a round of Kingfisher beers, we discuss what the schoolteacher had said. “There has to be someone organizing and connecting them to clients,” insists Raul Roman, our project director. “If there really is a prostitution and trafficking ring in Marigat, there has to be a king.”

Julius interjects slyly, “maybe it’s a queen. A woman would have an easier time gaining the trust of these displaced women—particularly if they’re young.”

“Can you find this queen?”

“Yes. But it’s going to be a late night.”

“Do it.”

The team awakes to a muggy morning, eager for news. In the small communal kitchen at our camp, Raul makes a beeline for Julius before bothering to put any food on his plate.

“Did you get the queen?”

“I did. We see her at 11 a.m.”

The previous evening, Julius took it upon himself to walk into the bar at the most upscale hotel in Marigat, a watering hole where sex workers are known to regularly meet clients. He struck up a conversation with a waiter: “Who are these girls at the bar? They look very new. Are they from the city?” Waiter: “No, they’re from the villages. We only see them at night. They’re looking for men.”

“Are they working alone?”

“No, they have a boss. She should be here later.”

As the boss arrived, the waiter pointed her out. She initially believed Julius to be a customer. But his affable demeanor shifted the tone, and she ultimately shared she had also lost her house in a flood.

The conversations Julius opened were game-changing for DAWNING in Baringo. They called attention to a more complex and nuanced reality than what most people perceived.

The pursuit of truth takes a village. Julius, our driver, became one of the best researchers we’ve ever had at DAWNING. In our upcoming book Pipe Dreams, published by FotoEvidence and based on our work in Kenya, Julius is credited as “Research Fellow and Driver”. His words, and a full-page watercolor of him, open the chapter on Baringo.

Reprinted with permission from Dawning.org.


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