Land Conflict and Distributive Politics in Kenya

By Boone, Catherine | African Studies Review, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Land Conflict and Distributive Politics in Kenya


Boone, Catherine, African Studies Review


Abstract: This paper argues that even with the incorporation of land policy provisions into Kenya's new constitution, there is every reason to believe that in the near future, highly politicized land conflict will continue. This is because land politics in Kenya is a redistributive game that creates winners and losers. Given the intensely redistributive potential of the impending changes in Kenya's land regime - and the implications of the downward shift in the locus of control over land allocation through decentralization of authority to county governments - there is no guarantee that legislators or citizens will be able to agree on concrete laws to realize the constitution's calls for equity and justice in land matters. This article traces the main ways in which state power has been used to distribute and redistribute land (and land rights) in the Rift Valley, focusing on post-1960 smallholder settlement schemes, land-buying companies, and settlement in the forest reserves, and it highlights the long-standing pattern of political contestation over the allocation of this resource. It then traces the National Land Policy debate from 2002 to 2010, focusing on the distributive overtones and undertones of the policy and of the debate over the new constitution that incorporated some of its main tenets.

Résumé: Cet article postule que même avec l'incorporation dans la nouvelle constitution du Kenya des provisions pour les réglementations d'allocation des terres, tout semble indiquer que dans un futur proche, les conflits hautement politisés autour de la distribution foncière vont se poursuivre. La raison en est que cette politique est un jeu de redistributions qui engendre des gagnants et des perdants. Étant donné le fort potentiel de redistribution engendré par les changements dans le régime foncier au Kenya et les implications de décentralisation des prises de décisions vers les gouvernements locaux pour les allocations de terres, il n'y a aucune garantie que les législateurs ou les citoyens seront capables de se mettre d'accord sur des lois concrètes permettant de réaliser les objectifs établis par le changement de la constitution sur l'équité et lajustice des questions foncières. Cet article retrace le cheminement des choix dans les principes utilisés par le gouvernement pour la distribution et la redistribution des terres (et les droits affiliés) dans la vallée du Rift, en se concentrant sur les accords établis après les années 60 avec des petits propriétaires, les entreprises foncières, et les accords faits avec les réserves forestières. L'étude met l'accent sur la récurrence de longue date de la contestation politique sur les modes d'allocation de cette ressource. Elle retrace ensuite l'évolution du débat sur la politique foncière nationale entre 2002 et 2010, en se concentrant sur les tendances ouvertes et impliquées de la loi pour la pratique distributive, ainsi que sur le débat concernant les articles de la nouvelle constitution qui ont incorporé certains des principaux aspects de cette pratique.

"Sooner or later, land will yet again be the dominant issue in Kenya's politics." (R M. A. van Zwanenberg)

"Kenyatta setded his own people in the Rift. That is the problem we are having now." (Nairobi taximan, November 2008)

The land provisions of Kenya's 2010 constitution call for the establishment of a new National Land Board answerable to Parliament, and the enactment of sweeping parliamentary legislation to enact a National Land Policy diat is based on principles of justice and equity. It is heartening to view this as a clear advance over the highly politicized and often demonstrably corrupt land regime that has prevailed since the early 1960s (if not before). It is encouraging to think of Kenya's smallholders and other land-users as a vast national constituency with a shared interest in disciplining a rapacious and self-serving elite, and a common stake in the clean, fair, and transparent implementation of a democratically sanctioned set of laws governing access to and use of land. …

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