Colonial settler Powys Cobb petitions the colonial government to award him 30,000 acres of Maasailand in Mau Narok and he settles the land that year. This land lay within the recognized boundaries of Southern Masai Reserve established by the 1904 British-Maasai Treaty.
Colonial administrators allow settler occupation of the Northern Masai Reserve in exchange for expanded borders of the Southern Reserve. Those borders are negotiated on site with Ole Masikonde and other Maasai elders who give their agreement to the move only if all of Mau Narok continues to be included in the Masai Reserve, as the area’s headwaters provide drought relief and forest necessary to the survival of the entire community. The larger area was referred to as the “Promised land” in colonial documents to designate ‘the land promised to the Maasai people,’ though the designation was, later, co-opted by Powys Cobb who came to refer to Mau Narok as his own personal ‘promised land.’
The second Masai Agreement established the northern border of the Masai Reserve in reference to undefined land ‘set aside for Powys Cobb,’ and official maps did not actually identify a northern border. This delay gave Powys Cobb time, under the protection of the Colonial Government, to construct the northern border of the Masai Reserve by choosing the best land for his individual use and gradually occupying it. The land was not officially surveyed until 1916, and Mau Narok was not officially severed from the Masai Reserve until the publication of Sanford’s Official Administrative History of the Masai Reserve in 1918.
Colonial court rejected the claims of the Maasai community to all land ceded in the 1911 Agreement arguing that “…this court has no jurisdiction over this matter since it is a matter between two sovereign states…” Maasai attempts to go to the Colonial Court of Appeal were thwarted through a combination of strategies that included intimidation, manipulation and non-cooperation.
As Maasai villages were gradually removed one-by-one to accommodate Cobb’s settlement, the Maasai Community filed grievances with colonial administrators and steps were taken by colonial police to contain Maasai resistance. Maasai protests included outright defiance and refusal to move their villages, continued grazing and interference with the settler farming activities on the land. The colonial government countered Maasai resistance with arrests, giving authority to local police shoot Maasai trespassers, and prosecution, fines, jail time, livestock confiscation, and forced relocation of the villages around the farm. In response, Maasai leaders launched and sustained a campaign for the return of Mau Narok arguing that this “Promised land” was guaranteed to the Maasai people in the 1911 Agreement which reaffirmed the northern boundary of the Southern Reserve established in the 1904 Agreement, and which was promised to Maasai leadership at that time.
Maasai-Cobb conflict escalated leading to arrests and jailing of 6 Maasai people for trespass. Later colonial District Commissioner Baden ordered a retrial of the convicts. In the subsequent hearing the Maasai were acquitted on grounds that the land on which they were arrested, land that was well within the current borders of Mau Narok, was disputed and outside of a boundary that had been negotiated by a colonial administrator, Storrs-Fox, in 1923 and that recognized the rights of the Maasai community to use and occupation of Mau Narok.
In the process of drafting Kenya’s constitution, Maasai leadership renewed claims to 12 parcels of land which it continued to claim had been illegally occupied by colonial settlers under the protection of the colonial government. This fight was taken all the way to the Lancaster Conference and sustained through the entire constitutional era. At this time, in-coming President, Kenyatta colluded with a section of other African leaders including Ronald Ngala to deny the Maasai community the opportunity to present its grievances at the Lancaster House Conference.
Settlement Fund Trustees, a government agency, was created to facilitate compensation to colonial settlers for the land they abandoned upon returning to Europe. Britain loaned Ksh 6 Billion to the new Kenyan nation to compensate the departing settlers. Repossessed land was by agreement to be returned to original native owners, though no land was returned to the Maasai community and instead was occupied by other Kenyans through government resettlement.
Mrs Powys Cobb wrote to Bruce McKenzie, Minister for Agriculture, to request the government’s permission to sell her remaining land to the Maasai as the land’s original owners, to establish an agricultural training school which she offered to continue to fund after her departure to Europe. In secret letters obtained from various sources, McKenzie rejected her plan saying the Maasai did not know how to use the land productively.
The beneficiaries of the Settlement Fund Trustees schemes, and those who inherited Maasailand from the Kenyatta government’s land redistribution policy in Mau Narok, include Simon Nyachae, the family of Mbiyu Koinange, and several other entities closely associated with Kenyan leadership.
Comprehensive research study was launched by faculty and students of Prescott College to look into the Maasai land history and establish past and current ownership of Mau Narok. Farther documentation is available in our publications.
A suit is filed in the High Court of Kenya by 52 members of the Maasai community to reclaim Mau Narok under the Kenyan Constitution and United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
The government, without regard for the pending lawsuit, purchased 2,246 acres of the original Powys Cobb’s 30,000 acres land to resettle IDPs. The community returned to Mau Narok to prevent the settlement of IDPs until the conclusion of the court case. Leadership of the movement received death threats, arrests were made, and military police occupied the land in question.
Moses Ole Mpoe and the second Maasai activist were killed in very suspicious circumstances. Arrest orders were issued for two members of the Mbiyu Koinange family, and the Maasai community remains unconvinced that the accused persons are the sole architects of this crime.