The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Land Rights: Case Studies from Kenya

Article excerpt

HEALTH & DISEASE Michael Aliber, et al. The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Land Rights: Case Studies from Kenya. Cape Town: HSRC Publishers, 2004. Distributed in Africa by Blue Weaver Marketing and Distribution, P.O. Box 30370, Tokai, Cape Town, 1966. Distributed elsewhere by Independent Publishers Group, 814 North Franklin Street, Chicago, II. 60610. Also available online at www.hsrcpress.ac.za. ? + 165 pp. Figures. Tables. Appendixes. Bibliography. No price reported. Paper.

This study of three Kenyan villages examines the linkages between HIV/AIDS and land rights, with particular focus on women and orphans. Although recent studies from eastern and southern Africa have suggested that die pandemic is increasing tenurial insecurity for vulnerable groups, this report refutes diis popular narrative. Whereas other studies have focused on the experiences of households affected by HFV, this project analyzes entire communities (in Embu, Thika, and Bondo Districts) with different degrees of population pressure on resources and different HIV rates. Through censuses, life histories, focus-group discussions, key informant interviews, and participatory mapping exercises, the research team attempted to isolate HIV/AIDS as an independent variable, link it to social stratification, and establish its relationship with land rights. To their surprise, they found very few cases of people selling land to pay for medicine, or AIDS widows and orphans losing land to brothers-in-law and paternal uncles. They did, however, find many examples of complex negotiations about access to and control of land. The key findings of the report are that AIDS-related land loss is not rampant in Kenya (as of 2003), that the major effects of AIDS on rural Kenyan communities are insecure access to labor and food rather than to land, and that "the impact of the pandemic on land tenure systems... [is] a highly mediated one" (34). They argue that AIDS places additional stress on the already conflict-ridden tenurial processes, but it does not directly cause dispossession.

In addition to its importance for AIDS research and policy, this report has much to offer scholars of African land tenure. It draws on analyses of Kenyan land issues by Shipton, Haugerud, MacKenzie, and OkothOgendo, and therefore displays a good sense of land tenure as a genderand age-mediated social process rather than a static structure. …