Land Conflict and Distributive Politics in Kenya
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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.