Clashing Claims: Conflict and Violence as Unintended Consequences of Tenure Transformation at Enoosupukia, Kenya

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"In recent decades, violent conflict has become a metonym for Africa. Conflicts on the continent have manifested in a variety of forms, from civil wars between armies, as in Sudan, to communal violence between citizens, as in the Rwandan genocide. In Kenya, a relatively peaceful and stable country, periodic eruptions of violent conflict have occurred at the nexus of politics, ethnicity, and land. In three distinct periods, prior to independence in 1961, in the era of political liberalization between 1991 and 1997, and again after the most recent general election in 2007, violent clashes have pitted members of different ethnic groups co-resident on contested lands against one another resulting in death, injury, and displacement. But the complexities of local conflicts over land and the motivations of local participants to violence have been overlooked as the role and motivations of the elite have been the focus of attention. In this paper, I use one example of this type of violence, an ethno-political clash over land at Enoosupukia, which took place in October 1993, to examine how tenure insecurity and local conflicts over land rights factor into what has previously been understood as political violence. While recognizing the important part played by the politicization of difference and incitement by key members of the national elite, I argue that violence at Enoosupukia was a product of the propagation of multiple, incompatible institutions of land and resource governance through which competing claims to land have been voiced. The conflicts underlying violence are not merely a result of the uneasy co-existence of traditional notions of land as territory with modern notions of land as commodity, but rather an unintended consequence of state-supported efforts to transform tenure, from 'customary' communal tenure to 'modern' private property."



conflict, land tenure and use, institutional analysis, local participatory management, violence