Maasai Warriors cricket team play a T20 cricket match against the Ambassadors of Cricket from India, in Ol Pejeta conservency in Laikipia national park in Kenya. Carl de Souza / AFP Photo
Maasai Warriors cricket team play a T20 cricket match against the Ambassadors of Cricket from India, in Ol Pejeta conservency in Laikipia national park in Kenya. Carl de Souza / AFP Photo

From lions to Lord's: Kenya's Maasai cricket warriors

OL PEJETA, KENYA// With lions lurking in the long grass, the barefoot Maasai warrior gallops into a sprint and swings his spear arm - delivering a fast-paced cricket ball straight at the wicket.

Dressed in flowing red skirts and draped in colourful bead necklaces, the warriors from the legendary Kenyan tribe are one of the world's most unusual and unlikely cricketing teams.

"It is a sport that at first seemed very strange to us," said Robert Kilesi Piroris, 28, Maasai warrior and cricket player.

"But today the game brings us and the community together, and we love it," he added, speaking as he waited to bat in a friendly match, on a pitch mown out of the rolling grass savannah of northern Kenya, with giraffe strolling past in the distance.

It is doubtful you could find a place more different from the birthplace of the sport on the manicured grass of Britain's famous Lord's Cricket Ground.

But that is exactly where the Maasai hope to go, after they were invited to join an international competition at the renowned field in August, at the Twenty20 cricket "Last Man Stands World Championships" in London.

"We can show the world that we may look different to those dressed in cricket whites but can still play the game," said captain Sonyanga Ole Ngais.

The team needs to raise funds, drumming up support and sponsorship for the trip, but has already shown its ability to take an international tour, playing in South Africa in 2012 in short format Twenty20 games there.

Freddie Grounds, a major in the British army which trains troops in the Laikipia region of Kenya, joined in the match to make up numbers on a visiting Indian team playing against the Maasai.

"It's an amazing experience and sight to see them play here," said Grounds, but added that it would be nothing compared to the sight of the warriors playing at Lord's.

"Lord's is the spiritual home of cricket ... I guess that the traditional members of the MCC [Marylebone Cricket Club, owner of Lord's] will find it all a bit bizarre," Major Grounds added.

"But if they can get there - and let's hope they can raise sufficient funds to do it - you know, people just won't be able to believe themselves."

British troops stationed in Kenya keen to encourage the Maasai are even helping out to clear a cricket field for the team, since the players currently have to walk for several hours from their dispersed and remote villages to reach a training ground.

But the Maasai team are not simply about playing a good game, but also about raising awareness of key issues that their community faces.

They visit schools to talk about Aids prevention, early marriage, gender equality, environmental protection and battling alcoholism and drug addiction.

Schoolchildren turn up to watch the game here, while entertainment on the sidelines and during breaks in the game include simple dramas and songs focusing on HIV awareness. Tents alongside the grounds also offer HIV tests encouraging people to get tested to know their status.

Another key issue that the cricketers can flag is the effect rampant poaching is having on wildlife.

"We've come to watch the game but we learn about the problems of poaching too," said Murunga Tialolo, a schoolboy at the match, proudly showing the posters displayed near the pavilion of army canvas tents.

Cricket, imported into Kenya during British colonial rule, is played in scattered schools and in the east African country's largest cities.

The Maasai team uses cricket metaphors to deliver messages within its highly traditional and patriarchal community, in which early marriage and female genital mutilation are firmly rooted customs.

For captain Ngais, keeping the traditional dress is a way of showing that the team members are true Maasais while still working to move their society forward.

"We want to show people that we are trying to battle some of the retrogressive issues in our culture," he said. "But the good part of the culture, it's there all the time," he added, pointing to his necklaces.

While passionate about cricket, the team still needs plenty of practice should players raise the funds to go to Lord's.

But professionals are optimistic. Vikram Dayal, an ex-Mumbai cricketer heading a touring team playing in Kenya, was quick to praise the Maasai's "raw and natural talent" at the game, and said he is hopeful team members could one day "be playing for the national team".

The biog

Name: Marie Byrne

Nationality: Irish

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Countdown to Zero exhibition will show how disease can be beaten

Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease, an international multimedia exhibition created by the American Museum of National History in collaboration with The Carter Center, will open in Abu Dhabi a  month before Reaching the Last Mile.

Opening on October 15 and running until November 15, the free exhibition opens at The Galleria mall on Al Maryah Island, and has already been seen at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.


Our family matters legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

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Director: Berkun Oya
Starring: Aslihan Gürbüz, Fatih Artman, Cihat Suvarioglu
Rating: 4/5

The Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi’s Arabic Language Centre will mark International Women’s Day at the Bologna Children's Book Fair with the Abu Dhabi Translation Conference. Prolific Emirati author Noora Al Shammari, who has written eight books that feature in the Ministry of Education's curriculum, will appear in a session on Wednesday to discuss the challenges women face in getting their works translated.

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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