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Bumbling Bureaucrats, Sluggish Courts and Forum-Shopping Elites: Unending Conflict and Competition in the Transition to Private Property


  • Esther Mwangi

    (Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor)


For close to two decades Maasai herders in Southwestern Kenyan have been struggling to subdivide their collectively held group ranches into individually owned and titled parcels. Scholars have indicated that conflicts over property assignment are resolved where more powerful individuals can either bear the costs of extended conflict or can credibly threaten retaliation. The conditions under which conflicts persist are less well understood, yet persistent, non-violent conflicts can have significant impacts on livelihoods and land management. Based on in-depth interviews and reviews of archival material, this case study provides an account of the persistence of distributional conflict during the subdivision of the Maasai group ranches. The study suggests that fragmented, uncoordinated authority renders conflict resolution difficult where asymmetries of power and resources among competing actors are minor and where political entrepreneurs perceive opportunities for vote seeking. Such conditions, which allow forum-shopping among competing actors, contribute to the conflict's persistence.Depuis presque deux décennies les éleveurs masaïs du sud-ouest du Kenya luttent pour la subdivision de leurs exploitations collectives en parcelles individuelles et privées. Les chercheurs ont montré que les conflits d’attribution de propriété se résolvent dans les cas où les individus les plus puissants peuvent, soit assumer le coût d’un conflit étendu, soit exercer des menaces crédibles de représailles. Les conditions dans lesquelles les conflits persistent sont moins bien comprises; pourtant des conflits non violents prolongés peuvent avoir des impacts significatifs sur la subsistance des éleveurs et la gestion des terres. À partir d’entretiens approfondis et d’une recherche d’archives, cette étude de cas rend compte de la persistance des conflits liés à la subdivision des fermes collectives masaïs. L’article suggère qu’une autorité fragmentée et non coordonnée rend la résolution des conflits difficile, dans les cas où les asymétries de pouvoirs et de ressources entre les acteurs concurrents sont faibles et où les entrepreneurs politiques perçoivent ces conflits comme des opportunités de ‘chasse aux voix’. De telles conditions, propices au ‘forum shopping’ parmi les acteurs concurrents, contribuent à la persistance de ces conflits.

Suggested Citation

  • Esther Mwangi, 2010. "Bumbling Bureaucrats, Sluggish Courts and Forum-Shopping Elites: Unending Conflict and Competition in the Transition to Private Property," The European Journal of Development Research, Palgrave Macmillan;European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), vol. 22(5), pages 715-732, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:eurjdr:v:22:y:2010:i:5:p:715-732

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