A Theory of Land and Electoral Violence: Evidence from Kenya

Colloquium | March 13 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Kathleen Klaus, Visiting Assistant Professor, Welsleyan University, Department of Government

 Center for African Studies

This talk presents the main theoretical chapter from my book manuscript, Claiming Land: Institutions, Narratives, and Political Violence in Kenya. The book examines an enduring puzzle in the study of electoral violence: How do elites organize violence and more so, why do ordinary citizens participate? Existing theories emphasize weak state institutions, ethnic cleavages, and the calculations of elites, yet few specify how the incentives of elites interact with the motives of ordinary citizens. In this chapter, I present a new approach to the study of electoral violence by shifting the analysis from elite-centric theories to one in which elites must coordinate with ordinary actors. In contexts where land shapes livelihood and identity, and tenure institutions are weak, land can serve as a key device for coordinating the use of violence. This joint-production of violence is part of an historically-rooted process that I analyze in three causal stages including: 1) land rights inequality between groups, 2) contentious land narratives between these groups, and 3) the ability of elites to use these narratives to organize violence. I test this theory in subsequent chapters, drawing on original survey research, interviews, and archival research that I conducted in Kenya (2010-2013).

Kathleen Klaus is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Wesleyan University. Her research focuses on contentious politics and violent conflict, land rights, elections, and peacebuilding, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and Kenya in particular. She has also conducted extensive research in Ghana and Malawi.

Professional website: https://www.kathleenklaus.com/