On Friday February 10th, Kathleen Klaus gave a Baraza presentation titled “Claiming Land: Institutions, Narratives, and Political Violence in Kenya.” Dr. Klaus received her PhD in Political Science from Wisconsin University in 2015 and is currently the Buffett Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University. The talk introduced Klaus’ book project which is focused on the relationship between access to, and narratives surrounding, land and the occurrence of electoral violence in Kenya. Electoral violence resulted in 1,500 deaths in 1992, 300+ deaths in 1997, few if any in 2002, and at least 1,300 in 2007. Additionally, hundreds of thousands were displaced during the 1992 and 2007 elections.
Though the study of political violence has received an increasing amount of attention within the political science discipline, the cross-national work which examines violence tends to attribute its occurrence to national-level factors (i.e., state capacity, political consolidation, electoral rules, ethnic heterogeneity, etc.). Klaus focuses on the sub-national level, however, and finds significant variation within sub-national boundaries, even within places with similar ethnic composition.
Using a mixed-methods (3-stage comparative case design, household survey with 750 respondents, archival research and key informant interviews), Klaus argues that the distribution and control of land shapes the process and organization of electoral violence in three stages: land rights inequality -> continuous land narratives -> escalation of election violence. First, Klaus identifies political incentives, security incentives, and logistical capacity as variables affecting whether leaders have the incentive or capacity to allocate land rights to supporters. Second, salient and contentious land narratives form as the result of relative land inequality, illegitimate land allocation processes, and individuals or communities’ experience with prior evictions. Finally, elites can mobilize electoral violence where a subset of citizens link the outcome of the elections with the ability to gain or secure land.