“In Kenya’s highly competitive landscape, land has become the battleground
,” argued Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai
in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post
. Maathai joins a growing group of experts who emphasize that recent violence in Kenya stems not only from ethnic divisions, but also from longstanding tensions over resource allocation. Earlier this year, guest contributor Colin Kahl
asserted that the struggles between the Kikuyu, Luo, and Kalenjin tribes are partly based on disparate levels of property ownership.
The media sometimes portray the violence in Kenya as a simple manifestation of ethnic friction, but many commentators note the importance of land distribution and other factors. Maina Kiai, chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and a visiting public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, told The New York Times, “You have to understand that these issues are much deeper than ethnic. They are political…they go back to land.” In a similar vein, Oxford University’s David Anderson told Newsweek, “If this violence is really driven by ethnic hatred, why is it that violence breaks out in specific places that are utterly predictable? This violence…is provoked in areas that have a history of violence because of other issues, like land.”
Looking forward, Harvard professor Calestous Juma says that if mediation talks are to be effective, they will have to avoid “the template [of thinking] about Africa in terms of ethnic differences.” Similarly, Maathai emphasizes that “ruling elites must devote time, energy and resources to ensuring…equitable distribution of resources.”