The Contested Lands of Laikipia

Histories of Claims and Conflict in a Kenyan Landscape


Pastoralists, ranchers of European descent, conservationists, smallholders, and land investors with political influence converge on the Laikipia plateau in Kenya. Land is claimed by all - the tactics differ. Private property rights are presented, histories of presence are told, charges of immorality are applied, fences are electrified and some resort to violence. The region, marked by enclosures, is left as a tense fragmented frontier.
Marie Gravesen embedded herself in the region prior to a wave of land invasions that swept the plateau leading up to Kenya’s 2017 general election. Through a rich telling of the history of Laikipia’s social, political and environmental dynamics, she invites a deeper understanding of the pre-election violence and general tensions as never done before.
The manuscript is a revised version of the author's dissertation accepted by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Cologne in 2018.

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Marie Ladekjær Gravesen, Ph.D., Cologne University, is a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). Historically and anthropologically, her work addresses land contestations, enclosures, social-ecological dynamics and adaptation in East- and West Africa.
Laikipia has seen more violence than any part of Kenya over the past 30 years. Marie Gravesen here tells us why. Political claim-making, ethnic mobilisation, and land invasions set the terms of Laikipia’s struggles, in a context marked by resource competition and diminishing livelihoods. Patient fieldwork and evocative story-telling brings Laikipia’s communities to life in this excellent book, but we also learn why the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. This is by far the best recent study of Kenya’s violent local politics.

David M Anderson, Professor of African History, University of Warwick
List of Figures and Tables

1 Introduction
 1.1 The State of Emergency in Laikipia, 2016–17
 1.2 Organisation of Chapters

2 Setting and Thematic Components
 2.1 Setting the Scene
 2.2 Notes on the Sensitivity to Voices in a Fragmented Setting
 2.3 Case Selection and Ecological Overview
 2.4 Thematic Components
  2.4.1 Contested Lands
  2.4.2 Ethnicity and Autochthony
  2.4.3 Fragmentation and Frontiers
  2.4.4 Commons and Customary Resources
  2.4.5 Plural Perspectives on Sustainable Land Management
 2.5 Concluding Remarks

3 Macro Perspectives: A History of Laikipia’s Contested Lands
 3.1 Laikipia in the Nineteenth Century
 3.2 Colonial Rule in Laikipia
  3.2.1 The Kenya Land Commission, 1932–34
  3.2.2 The Land Commission Questions
  3.2.3 The African Reaction
  3.2.4 The Emergent Urban Population and Trade
 3.3 Independence Politics and the Repercussions of the Mau Mau
  3.3.1 Pre-independence Mobility
  3.3.2 Transition of Power and Land
  3.3.3 Post-independence Politics
  3.3.4 Land Reform and Resettlement Schemes
 3.4 Post-colonial Land: Times of Autochthony
  3.4.1 Immigration and Land-use Fragmentation
  3.4.2 Violence and Political Instrumentalism
 3.5 Concluding Remarks

4 Blaming the Others: Ethnic Identity and Claim-making
 4.1 Historical Grievances
  4.1.1 Present-day Grievances: Land, Ethnicity and Politics
 4.2 Meta-Narratives of Claims and Their Repercussions in Lorien
 4.3 Discursive Claims to Land
  4.3.1 The Pastoralists
  4.3.2 The Smallholders
  4.3.3 The Ranchers
  4.3.4 The Conservationists
  4.3.5 The Absentees
  4.3.6 Group Mobility
 4.4 When Claims of Entitlement Are Acted Out
  4.4.1 Encroachment and Raiding
  4.4.2 Killing of Wildlife
 4.5 Concluding Remarks

5 Enclosing the Land: From Common Land to Freehold Farmland and Back
 5.1 The Construction of Enclosure in Laikipia: The Story of the Dykes
 5.2 Towards Land Enclosures in Ol Moran and Thome
  5.2.1 Symbolic Enclosures in Thome
  5.2.2 Physically Enacted Enclosures in Ol Moran
 5.3Present-day Enclosures in Laikipia
  5.3.1 Practices of Enclosing Space: The Naming of Places
  5.3.2 Physical Enclosures: Fencing
 5.4 Concluding Remarks

6 Ambiguous Institutions: Twilight Actions of Land-buying Companies
 6.1 All Things Come to Those Who Wait – or Do They?
 6.2 The History of Land-buying Companies and Land Hunger
 6.3 Institutional Pluralism and Land
 6.4 The Case of Thome Farmers Company
 6.5 The Power Dynamics of Land-buying Companies
 6.6 Repercussions of Private Land Redistribution
  6.6.1 Absentee Landlords
  6.6.2 Absent Title Deeds and Vernacular Land Markets
 6.7 Concluding Remarks

7 Africanisation or Invasion: Laikipia’s land-use Change
 7.1 Diachronic Perspectives on Land-use Change in Three Case Study Areas
  7.1.1 Lorien
  7.1.2 Ol Moran
  7.1.3 Thome
 7.2 Historical Perceptions of the Landscape
  7.2.1 Travel Writers’ Perceptions of New Land
  7.2.2 Rights, Borders and Water: Land-use Practices from the 1930s
  7.2.3 The Peak and Transition of European Settlement in the 1960s
 7.3 Present-day Land-use Dynamics of an Africanised Landscape
 7.4 Concluding Remarks

8 Conclusion
 8.1 Understanding Laikipia
  8.1.1 Frontiers, Fragmentation and Colonial Residue
  8.1.2 Legal Pluralism and Land Rights
  8.1.3 Ethnicity and the Politicisation of Land Claims
  8.1.4 The Sustainablity of Land-management Practices
 8.2 Resolving the State of Emergency in Laikipia, 2016–17
 8.3 Final Thoughts

All concerned with land contestations related to the 2016-17 land invasions in Laikipia, and scholars from African Studies, Anthropology and History interested in land rights, access claims, frontiers and fencing
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