ESR 7: Turning conflict into coexistence: cross-cutting ties and institutions in the agro-pastoral borderlands of Lake Naivasha basin, Kenya
Fellow: Eric Mutisya Kioko
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig, University of Cologne, Germany; Prof. David Anderson, Warwick University, UK.
Host Institution: Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Cologne
Project Period: 3 years from 1st October, 2013
The Kenya’s Rift Valley has experienced bloody violent conflicts in the last few decades, which are largely linked to the politicisation of land and ethnic categories. The Maasai/Kikuyu agro-pastoral borderlands of Maiella and Enoosupukia, in the hinterlands of Lake Naivasha’s agro-industrial hub, are particularly notorious in the history of ethnicised violence. In October 1993, an organised assault perpetrated by hundreds of Maasai vigilantes, with the assistance of game wardens and administration police, killed more than 20 farmers of Kikuyu descent. Consequently, thousands of migrant farmers were violently evicted from Enoosupukia at the instigation of leading local politicians. Nowadays, however, intercommunity relations are surprisingly peaceful and the cooperative use of natural resources is the rule rather than the exception.
How did formerly violent conflicts develop into peaceful relations? How did competition turn into cooperation, facilitating changing land use? I conducted anthropological fieldwork relying on a mixed methods approach between 2014 and 2015 to explore the value of cross-cutting ties and institutions for peaceful relationships and non-violent resolution of conflicts across the previously violently contested borderlands. In the studied area, cross-cutting ties and the conflicting loyalties associated with them emanate from land rentals (leasehold arrangements between Maa-speaking landowners and Kikuyu tenants), intermarriage, trade, and friendship. The main idea was to understand how various networks of relationships cross-cut social boundaries, redefine identities, and contribute to a cohesive social fabric, while supporting the local economies (market-oriented cultivation, livestock trade, and entrepreneurship). By utilizing the institutionalist perspective, I examined how institutions emerge in the context of changing human-environment relations. Specifically, I studied the establishment and value of local peace committees, an attempt to standardize an aspect of customary law, and “Nyumba Kumi”, a strategy of anchoring community policing at the household level, which were framed by ideas of decentralization and delegation of responsibilities from the state to the community level.
While the major thrust of social science literature in East Africa has focused on the search for root causes of violence, very little has been said about the conditions and practices of cooperation and non-violent conflict resolution. In addition, situations where prior violence turned into peaceful interaction have attracted little attention, though the analysis of such transitional phases holds the promise of contributing to applicable knowledge on conflict resolution.
Brief results and thoughts
- The formation of alliances in multi-ethnic settings is not a new phenomenon – it is reminiscent of historical patterns. Their persistence, particularly in the context of East Africa and Kenya, indicates a form of historical continuity, which remains rather “undisturbed” despite the prevalence of ethnicised political economies. Nowadays, factors such as demographic pressure, landlessness, poverty, economic motivations, among others, drive actors to appropriate resources in the frontiers – areas that are considered to have immense economic potentials. The pursuit of commodities (land, livestock, etc.) and markets, though risky (e.g. possible conflicts) does not seem to deter particularly young Maasai and Kikuyu from pursuing better lives. The alliances formed have both social and economic significance and provide the hope for peaceful relations, the foundation upon which local economies thrive. Indeed, alliances or cross-cutting ties tend to override identities, especially where mutual benefits drive such associations. For instance, leasehold arrangements between herders and farmers support the livestock economy.
- Obviously, the sustainability of cross-cutting ties and the effectiveness of local institutions is notoriously difficult to determine because they are dependent on socio-political factors, which play out in specific communities and contexts. Current developments provide some hope for enduring peaceful relations. However, peace is not simply the absence of violence, but the capacity for and practice of nonviolent cooperation in the face of pertinent challenges. How communities cope with violence and respond to its damaging effects can be seen as an indication of their “resilience”.
Gravesen, M. and E. Kioko (in prep). Appropriation of resources in the frontiers: collaborative cattle raids and win-win land deals in Laikipia and Narok, kenya
Kioko, E. M. (forthcoming). Insecurity and land conflicts: can local peace committees and Nyumba Kumi reduce violence and crime in Kenya? Africa Spectrum.
Kioko, E. M. & Bollig, M. (2015). Cross-cutting Ties and Coexistence: Intermarriage, Land Rentals and Changing Land Use Patterns among Maasai and Kikuyu of Maiella and Enoosupukia, Lake Naivasha Basin, Kenya. Rural Landscapes: Society, Environment, History, 2(1): 1, pp. 1-16, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.16993/rl.ad
Kioko, E. M. (2015). Regional Varieties and “Ethnic” Registers of Sheng, In Nico Nassenstein and Andrea Hollington (eds.) Youth Languages Practices in Africa and Beyond. Mouton de Gruyter. Berlin, pp. 119-148.
Kioko E. M. (2012). Poverty and Livelihood Strategies at Lake Naivasha, Kenya: A Case Study of Kasarani Village. Köln: Hundt Druck GmbH.