In This Review

Political Violence in Kenya: Land, Elections, and Claim-Making
Political Violence in Kenya: Land, Elections, and Claim-Making
By Kathleen Klaus
Cambridge University Press, 2020, 372 pp

Political violence has ebbed and flowed throughout Kenya’s postcolonial history, often taking place around elections. And some regions of the country have proved much more violent than others. Klaus’s superb study presents an overarching explanation for these outbreaks of bloodshed in the country. Other theories of political violence in Kenya have focused on weak institutions and the grievances of citizens but remain vague about the actual mechanisms that precipitate carnage. Klaus’s extensive fieldwork has allowed her to illuminate the underpinnings of this violence. She argues that specific ethnic groups have unequal access to land and to property rights and develop the sense of being wronged by other groups. Local elites exploit these resentments for their own particular political ends, often leading to explosive violence. Curiously, her study shows that violence is more likely where unequal access is in fact not particularly high but where a local patron with political ambitions can stoke people’s dissatisfaction with the electoral process.