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FENCING/deFENCING LAND: New pastoral commons in postcolonial Kenya

Mette Løvschal1, Marie Gravesen2

1Aarhus University, Denmark
2Danish Institute for International Studies, Denmark

Extensive processes of land enclosure currently unfold in Southwest Kenya largely driven by Maasai land users. Across areas previously held as common land, fences are spreading at an unpredictable scale that radically reconfigures the socio-ecological landscape. Paradoxically, although historically, privatization of common land has been associated with state dominance – today, many Maasai land users see enclosure as delineating new horizons of prosperity and autonomy. We explore the nexus between the enclosure and its lodging in layers of political pasts and how preceding forms of governance continue to influence the organization of land tenure across time frames. For this purpose, we present three case studies of land fencing and (de)fencing from the Rift Valley region of Kenya. We build on ethnographic fieldwork in the region undertaken between 2014-2016 with more than 80 interviews, combined with archival resources from The National Archives in Kew and new geospatial mappings of the fencing expansions. The cases provide insight into the ways in which enclosure co-produces plural and ambiguous land tenure relations, elsewhere referred to as new commons. Moreover, we focus on what drives pastoralists to (de-)fence in contradiction to interests in sustaining common pastures, and how the binding of land becomes its own political deliberation.

TERRAIN D'ESCRIME / DEFENCING: De nouveaux biens pastoraux au Kenya postcolonial

Mette Løvschal1, Marie Gravesen2

1 Université d'Aarhus, Danemark
2 Institut danois d'études internationales, Danemark

De vastes processus d’enfermement des terres se déroulent actuellement dans le sud-ouest du Kenya, principalement sous l’impulsion des utilisateurs des terres masaï. Dans des zones auparavant considérées comme des terres communes, les clôtures se propagent à une échelle imprévisible qui reconfigure radicalement le paysage socio-écologique. Paradoxalement, bien qu’historiquement, la privatisation des terres communes a été associée à la domination de l’État – aujourd’hui, de nombreux utilisateurs des terres Massaï voient l’enceinte comme délimitant de nouveaux horizons de prospérité et d’autonomie. Nous explorons le lien entre l’enceinte et son logement dans des couches de passé politique et comment les formes de gouvernance précédentes continuent d’influencer l’organisation du régime foncier à travers des échelles de temps. À cette fin, nous présentons trois études de cas de clôtures terrestres et de (dé) clôtures dans la région de la vallée du Rift au Kenya. Nous nous appuyons sur le travail de terrain ethnographique dans la région entrepris entre 2014-2016 avec plus de 80 entretiens, combinés avec des ressources d’archives des Archives nationales de Kew et de nouvelles cartographies géospatiales des extensions de clôtures. Ces cas donnent un aperçu de la manière dont l’enceinte coproduit des relations foncières plurielles et ambiguës, appelées ailleurs nouveaux communs. De plus, nous nous concentrons sur ce qui pousse les pasteurs à (dé) clôturer en contradiction avec les intérêts de maintenir des pâturages communs, et comment la liaison de la terre devient sa propre délibération politique.

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5 Responses

  1. I very much enjoyed your presentation. I have one quick comment and three questions.

    First, at one point you mention that there is a tragedy of the commons, but it seems that it is better described as a tragedy of privatization.

    Second, you describe how in the case of the greater Mara, pastoralists are erecting fences and in the case of Laikipia, they are taking down the fences to assert their rights to common pastures. What explains the differences in pastoralists’ strategies in these two cases?

    Third, do you think that pastoralists in the greater Mara will also tear down the fences in the future? Why or why not?

    Fourth, I am intrigued by the reference to archaeological fieldwork and would like to know more about how you used an archaeological approach to study pastoral commons. Do you have papers that you recommend?

    1. Thanks for your comments, they are really interesting and there’s lots to talk about. I will however try and keep the answers brief here.

      I like your point on seeing this instead of a kind of tragedy of prior privatization processes. – Our intention was, however, to point to the fact that although this really looks like a classical tragedy of a commons – instead it emerges out of those (temporally and spatially) overlapping and often conflicting tenure forms, consisting of both commoning, privatization and what happens in between.

      In the case of Mara and Laikipia, the expansion (and manifestation) of fences has happened at different points in time. Moreover, the two different strategies emerge out of two quite different scenarios – one in which ignoring fences or defencing is a protest against existing property regimes (Laikipia) and another in which fencing appears as defense and a protection in relation to a history of marginalization and in which non-manifest boundaries have been disregarded (Mara).

      I can’t recall the reference to archaeological fieldwork in our presentation, but this is super fascinating stuff and there is a whole list of references to dive into on the cross-section between landscape archaeology and pastoral commons! I will e-mail them to you. Till then check out our paper in Scientific Reports (Løvschal et al. 2017) and another one in JRAI (Løvschal 2020).

  2. I really enjoyed your presentation. I am amazed by the fencing boundary mapping in your 2017 paper. I saw they were hand digitized. Wonder if you have compared the land cover land use changes between the fenced and the neighboring unfenced areas?

    1. Thanks for your comment! We did look for fences in the neighbouring areas while doing the digitisation – to the south is the Serengeti National Park which is kept free of fences, but otherwise there are some quite heavily fenced areas, many in which fences precede the 1980s. There are currently a series of initiatives on community level to tackle the fencing issue which will be interesting to follow in the forthcoming years. We are also currently working on making the fencing data up to date (2017-2020) as well as testing out other methods (e.g. AI) for mapping out fences.

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