Bumbling Bureaucrats, Sluggish Courts and Forum-Shopping Elites: Unending Conflict and Competition in the Transition to Private Property

Abstract

For close to two decades Maasai herders in Southwestern Kenyan have been struggling to subdivide their collectively held group ranches into individually owned and titled parcels. Scholars have indicated that conflicts over property assignment are resolved where more powerful individuals can either bear the costs of extended conflict or can credibly threaten retaliation. The conditions under which conflicts persist are less well understood, yet persistent, non-violent conflicts can have significant impacts on livelihoods and land management. Based on in-depth interviews and reviews of archival material, this case study provides an account of the persistence of distributional conflict during the subdivision of the Maasai group ranches. The study suggests that fragmented, uncoordinated authority renders conflict resolution difficult where asymmetries of power and resources among competing actors are minor and where political entrepreneurs perceive opportunities for vote seeking. Such conditions, which allow forum-shopping among competing actors, contribute to the conflict's persistence.

Depuis presque deux décennies les éleveurs masaïs du sud-ouest du Kenya luttent pour la subdivision de leurs exploitations collectives en parcelles individuelles et privées. Les chercheurs ont montré que les conflits d’attribution de propriété se résolvent dans les cas où les individus les plus puissants peuvent, soit assumer le coût d’un conflit étendu, soit exercer des menaces crédibles de représailles. Les conditions dans lesquelles les conflits persistent sont moins bien comprises; pourtant des conflits non violents prolongés peuvent avoir des impacts significatifs sur la subsistance des éleveurs et la gestion des terres. À partir d’entretiens approfondis et d’une recherche d’archives, cette étude de cas rend compte de la persistance des conflits liés à la subdivision des fermes collectives masaïs. L’article suggère qu’une autorité fragmentée et non coordonnée rend la résolution des conflits difficile, dans les cas où les asymétries de pouvoirs et de ressources entre les acteurs concurrents sont faibles et où les entrepreneurs politiques perçoivent ces conflits comme des opportunités de ‘chasse aux voix’. De telles conditions, propices au ‘forum shopping’ parmi les acteurs concurrents, contribuent à la persistance de ces conflits.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Letter of 27 November 1995 from committee to DLASO. Disputes file.

  2. 2.

    Letter of 27 September 1995 from four group ranch members accusing the committee of misusing funds for survey resulting in the survey which began in 1989 being stopped in November 1993. Disputes file.

  3. 3.

    Minutes of 30 May 1996. Disputes file.

  4. 4.

    Letter from Director to DLASO dated 23 May 1996. Meetings file.

  5. 5.

    Letters of 26 August and 9 September 1997. Meetings files.

  6. 6.

    Letter dated 8 April 1998. Meetings file.

  7. 7.

    Letters of 19 May 1998 and 4 June 1998.

  8. 8.

    Letter dated 15 June 1999. Meetings files.

  9. 9.

    Letter dated 14 June 1999. Meetings files.

  10. 10.

    Letter from three group ranch members dated 28 February 1993. Disputes file.

  11. 11.

    Letter from DLASO to group ranch chair dated 25 January 1994, indicating complaints received. Disputes file.

  12. 12.

    Letter from chair to one complainant dated 3 February 1994, accusing the individual of cheating as he owned an individual ranch and was not part of membership. Disputes file.

  13. 13.

    Letter dated 28 July 1999 from male individual to Land Registrar, Kajiado district, imploring him to not give out titles because he and his father had not been shown their parcel despite having paid the required fees. Disputes file.

  14. 14.

    28 July 1999: list of 25 names including that of one woman, submitted to the Director Land Adjudication and Settlement, of people who claim not to have been given parcels though they were registered members. Disputes file.

  15. 15.

    Letter of 12 August 1999. Group ranch files.

  16. 16.

    HCC No. 561 of 2000.

  17. 17.

    HCC No. 233 of 2001.

  18. 18.

    ILPART/2001/21.

  19. 19.

    ILPART/2001/24.

  20. 20.

    ILPART/2001/18.

  21. 21.

    ILPART/2001/1.

  22. 22.

    ILPART/2001/19.

  23. 23.

    ILPART/2001/18.

  24. 24.

    ILPART/2001/20.

  25. 25.

    ILPART/2001/14.

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Acknowledgements

The American Association of University Women, the Compton Foundation, the Institute of Politics and the US National Science Foundation supported the first round of fieldwork in 2001. Harvard University's Centers for the Environment and for International Development (Sustainability Science Program) supported the second rounds of fieldwork in 2007 and 2009. I am grateful for the comments of Chinwe Ifejika-Speranza, Tobias Hagman, P.J. Hill, Sandra Joireman, Chacha Odera, Pauline Peters, Amy Poteete and participants in the ‘Workshop on the Workshop 4’, Indiana University, 3–6 June 2009. The field assistance of Lucas Anduga, Peter Ndirangu and Timothy Tonkei has been invaluable over the years, as has been the support of Moses Muli and Suzy Kidemi of Kenya's Land Administration. Comments from two anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. I am responsible for all errors.

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Mwangi, E. Bumbling Bureaucrats, Sluggish Courts and Forum-Shopping Elites: Unending Conflict and Competition in the Transition to Private Property. Eur J Dev Res 22, 715–732 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1057/ejdr.2010.38

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Keywords

  • property rights
  • Maasai
  • Kenya
  • forum shopping
  • privatization
  • distributional conflict