Leadership in Public Arenas

Traditional public leadership is the purview of men. Elders (usually from the same locality or patrilineal descent group) hold meetings under a large shade tree, adjudicating disputes, discussing community matters, and hearing appeals from community members. There are few positions of formal leadership in Samburu society, and meetings are ideally egalitarian, with all elders having an equal say. However, Samburu recognize that wealthy elders and good speakers have a more equal say than others. Within the age set there are positions of formal leadership. Most notably, a ritual leader (launoni) is appointed in each patrilineal section. He is given substantial wealth, and has considerable influence over his fellow Imurran. His role diminishes significantly, however, as they move into elderhood. Indeed, Samburu believe that their ritual roles diminish the soundness of launoni's minds, and that most end up in poverty.

Elders continue to meet to decide local matters, though national laws and institutions have limited their power. However, these developments have also opened up greater opportunities for women's leadership. While traditionally women exercised political influence only indirectly (e.g., through their husbands), some women—particularly Christian converts—have begun to assume leadership roles in churches and development organizations.

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