Land Justice at Mau Narok
The Mau Narok Suit
A new Kenyan constitution recognizes Indigenous rights to land and MERC has led a movement for land justice through a court case that tests that promise.
The Maasai community is determined that the outcome of this case be decided, not through intimidation, violence or the exercise of power by the strong over the weak, but through a ruling of the Kenyan High Court.
In April, 2010 52 petitioners representing the Maasai community, led by Meitamei Olol Dapash, filed a suit in Kenya Superior Court to recover 30,000 acres of Mau Narok in northern Maasailand, land that was appropriated under British colonialism and continues to be occupied under independent Kenya.
Those named in the suit include Simeon Nyachae, former Provincial Commissioner for Rift Valley Province, whose farms occupy 10,000 acres of Mau Narok, and the family of Mbiyu Koinange, former Minister for Internal Security, whose farm occupies roughly 5000 acres. Both men were political associates of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta. Others named include the attorney general of Kenya, the Registered Settlement Fund trustees and other titled and untitled land owners.
Mau Narok is Sacred Land. Maasai set aside the most well watered land like Mau Narok for their survival during periodic droughts. Because the land is lush, it was occupied by British settlers back in the early 20th century to grow commodity crops.
Mau Narok is one of 12 areas of land whose appropriation and settlement ignore British colonial agreements and that were not returned to the community upon Independence.
The government attempted to resettle onto Mau Narok Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from other parts of Kenya, a tactic which threatened to engender violence and undermine the resolution of the issue in court. The case was stalled as judges rejected appointment to it, citing its controversial nature, and many death threats were received by leaders of what was becoming a movement for civil rights in Maasailand. The government issued general arrest orders for all Maasai people occupying the land and stationed paramilitary police to move people off of the land.
In December 2010, Mau Narok activist Moses Ole Mpoe was assassinated along with a friend, Ole Punye, and his brother Joseph Ole Mpoe was severely wounded as they left court in Nakuru. The Kenyan press covered the murder and subsequent trial, bringing the Mau Narok case into greater national visibility.
The Birth of a Movement
Mpoe’s death mobilized the Maasai community and his funeral was widely attended. On February 19, 2011, 15,000 Maasai people gathered on Mau Narok to show support for the court case, traveling from as far as Samburu to the North and Loitokitok in the East–a broad representation of the community.
Victory may take time but we believe it to be inevitable.
All government efforts to settle the land for other purposes have failed, and the issue will now clearly be settled in court. Kenya’s new constitution creates many fronts of opportunity: a reformed court; indigenous land rights and related provisions; and the establishment of the Kenyan National Land Commission (NLC.) In July, 2013, members of the NLC came to Narok to hear testimony from Maasai leadership about the Mau Narok case, which led the commission to issue a statement supporting the community’s claim to Mau Narok. In 2016, a lower court ordered the sharing of Rose Farm (about 3,000 Acres) in Mau Narok, between the Maasai community and the government. Under this arrangement, 1,200 acres of Mau Narok have been reclaimed, and Maasai continue to occupy larger portions in resistance to removal. The issue has been foregrounded in the Maasai proposal to the Kenyan Building Bridges Initiative and will be addressed in 2021.