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BREAKING NEWS: Historic Mau Narok Case in Court

This past December, the trial for the return of ancestral land to the Maasai people was heard for the first time in Kenyan court.  The hearing was itself a major victory for the Maasai community in its efforts to regain land occupied  under British colonial rule and then reoccupied by wealthy Kenyans shortly after Indepdence in 1963. The community filed suit for the return of 30,000 acres of this land at a place called Mau Narok in April 2010, and since that time Maasai people at Mau Narok–men, women and children, have been threatened, beaten, jailed and even killed in an apparent effort to settle the issue outside of court. The Maasai community has stood strong. It has maintained a commitment to non-violence, and to its singular goal of receiving a fair hearing of this issue in Kenyan court. In the context of the court battle, a movement of Maasai people has coalesced around the Mau Narok case. On November 9, the case was moved  to the Court on Human Rights, and the next hearing date is set for December 15th. Many eyes in Kenya and the world are watching this case, which is considered to be an acid test of Kenya’s court, newly reformed under the Constitution passed in July of 2010.

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Maasai Civil Rights Movement Fights for Ancestral Land!

History has delivered a moment of opportunity to the Maasai community of Kenya not seen for the past 100 years, the chance to regain ancestral land stolen under British colonialism and retaken by wealthy and powerful Kenyans at the time of Independence. Seizing the opportunity, the Maasai community has organized a movement for civil rights that promises not only the return of this land, but sets precedent for other communities in Kenya and elsewhere.  Maasai communities moved their cattle back to unused parts of Mau Narok after the release in 2008 of research which confirms that the land’s occupation is illegal under international law and Kenya’s own law. Following the December 3, 2010 assassination of long time land rights activist Moses Ole Mpoe in the context of this case, the Maasai community began to gather. Through the past year, thousands of Maasai people have met for education, conflict resoluation and non-violence training, prayer and organizing. In February, 15,000 Maasai people gathered at Mau Narok from as far away as Samburu, Amboseli and the border of Tanzania, to show support for the case: this was  the largest gathering of Maasai people since before the colonial occupation of Kenya.

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Meitamei Olol Dapash, lead petitioner in the Maasai community suit to see the return of 30,000 acres of ancestral land at Mau Narok, has been arrested along with more than 50 Maasai community members, on charges of inciting violence. Olol Dapash, texting from jail, called the charges “frivilous” and vows to maintain the community’s commitment to non-violent occupation of Mau Narok while waiting for the determination of Kenyan Suprior court. 500 Maasai people are holding vigil outside of the jail insisting on Dapash’s release. Many Maasai people have been injured in the last two days by over 100 paramilitary government troops sent to clear Mau Narok of Maasai people and make way for settlement of other Kenyans. This recent assault by government troops coincided with a hearing of the case in Kenyan Superior Court in Nairobi on March 25, and appears to indicate  the government’s desperation as it is under pressure to clear and resettle the land before the court rules.

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The date for the next hearing has been set in the Maasai Community’s suit for the return of ancestral land at Mau Narok. On March 25, lawyers will present arguments to a panel of three Superior Court Judges in the downtown Nairobi courthouse, as Maasai people gather and wait in the streets outside to show their support for the case, filed in January 2010 by 52 members of the Maasai community for the return of 30,000 acres appropriated under colonial rule and re-taken by elite Kenyans following Independence.

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Police are free to arrest the aged widow, and son, of former Kenyan Cabinet Minister Mbiyu Koinange for the December 3 murder of Moses Ole Mpoe and Parsaaiayia Ole Kitua, activists of the Maasai community’s struggle to regain ancestral homeland at Mau Narok. Mbiyu Koinange came into possession of land at Mau Narok during his tenure as Kenya’s Minister of Internal Security in the 1970s; his rightful title is the subject of a suit brought by representatives of the Maasai community, which is currently being heard in Kenyan court. Maasai community leadership has demanded that the Kenyan government undertake a more thorough investigation of the murders, claiming to be unconvinced that the accused persons are the sole architects of this crime.

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