We’ve been to hell and back… : Can a Botched Land Reform Programme Explain Kenya’s Political Crisis? (1963-2008)

A central argument pursued in this paper seeks to accord primacy to the unresolved land reform programme in Kenya in debunking the genesis of the country’s intermittent political crises since independence. It is argued that one cannot come to terms with Kenya’s failed democratic process without acknowledging the extent to which patrimonial politics were systematically developed and sustained, and the key to this was land. Land as a resource of political patronage, to reward, and punish, those who were part of, or were perceived as outsiders in an evolving political system that personified the ideals of its leaders gained a particular premium, easily manipulated across the three presidential epochs: Kenyatta (1963-1978), Moi (1978-2002) and Kibaki (2002-2007). The failure of land reform contributed immeasurably to the conflict that followed the December 2007 elections. The spatial character of the electoral violence (eg, Rift Valley and Coastal Province) suggests systemic faults that have marked decades of historic injustices brought about by a land reform policy largely informed not by a constitutional pronouncement but by the interests of the incumbent president. The paper concludes that an end to Kenya’s political crises is not fully contingent on resolving the land issue, but rather on transcending the quest for land reform as a contributor to economic growth and political stability. This outcome is achievable through more creative means of economic diversification. The reality of Kenya’s demographic and environmental pressures attests to the urgency of a shift in the meaning and symbolism attributed to land within the country’s polity and its economic realm.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections
Tags: Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Party of National Unity (PNU), United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan