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Between international norms and land politics: the role of translocal actors in Kenyan arenas of land policy reform

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 February 2024

Francesca Di Matteo*
Affiliation:
French Institute for Research in Africa, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi, Kenya

Abstract

In Kenya, the return to the multiparty democracy of the 1990s and the initiation of the Constitutional Review of the early 2000s were two critical junctures that catalysed reform momentum and the development of transnational reform networks. Transnational relations were developed between Kenyan professionals (lawyers and academics among others), their international counterparts, and the local activists representing rural constituencies, so as to influence policymaking during constitutional and land policy reforms. These transnational networks influenced content and shape of land policy narratives by vernacularising the international norms that promote formal recognition of customary land rights. These international norms were not straightforwardly imported into Kenyan policies and statues: intense negotiations amongst actors in policy arenas resulted in their vernacularisation. Kenyan translocal actors appropriated the community land narrative, hybridised and reinterpreted it. This paper documents and analyses how the notion of community land was enshrined in Kenyan policy and constitutional documents through transnational relations. I argue that this notion of community land was shaped to the Kenyan historical and political context, at times defeating the original goal of promoting a property rights model alternative to land privatisation, and at times echoing the colonial category of tribal land, and exclusive territorial control.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

I wish to acknowledge the contribution of Prof. Catherine Boone, who reviewed this article and has been encouraging me to publish my work. Philippe Lavigne Delville also reviewed this article and provided very good advice for the structuring of the argument. Michael Ochieng Odhiamo, Odenda Lumumba, Martin Adams and Robin Palmer, who are amongst the protagonists of the story I tell in this paper, also reviewed this article and provided great guidance in disentangling complex multiscalar processes of land reform. I wish to thank as well the two anonymous reviewers who read and commented on my paper: their contribution was critical in streamlining the argument. I am also grateful to the editorial team of the Journal of Modern African Studies, who took me through the peer reviewing. Finally, I wish to dedicate this publication to the memory of Robin Palmer, who devoted his life to what he called ‘the long struggle for land reform in Africa’. His generosity, commitment and righteousness are a source of inspiration for many.

References

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