Institutional change and politics: The transformation of property rights in Kenya's Maasailand
The evolution of property rights continues to concern scholars of institutions in particular and of economic development more generally. This study investigates why (and how) group ranch members in Kajiado District, Kenya, supported the subdivision of their collective landholdings into individual, titled units. It also explores the outcomes of this transition to individual rights.
An increasing scarcity value of land with population increase and the promise of new income-generating opportunities in the individualized arrangement are important factors motivating group ranch members to support subdivision. In addition, distributional asymmetries that arose out of a failure to enforce internal governance arrangements were important motivators. Difficulties in enforcing livestock quotas resulted in poorer livestock herders bearing the uncompensated costs of collective resource use, while the wealthy herders reaped the benefits. Problems with excluding non-members, particularly the wealthy, well-connected herd owners from neighboring individual ranches increased distributional conflict. Group ranch members saw in subdivision an effective way to eliminate these disadvantages. Distributional concerns were more pronounced during the (inequitable) allocation of land parcels following group ranch subdivision.
Individuals and groups shifted between formal-legal and customary institutions as they pressed for the assignment of their preferred property rights, and as they sought to ‘equalize’ parcel sizes. Power asymmetries between negotiating parties were important for conflict resolution, but where insufficient, state structures provided a more effective avenue for resolution. Viewed over a longer time scale, however, this transformation of property rights is path dependent with actors increasingly seeking exclusive rights in an effort to defend their land claims against threats of appropriation by the state, by Maasai elite, and by non-Maasai. Politics is at the core of institutional change.
Vegetation cover does not vary significantly between the management strategies that groups and individuals employ to manage their land after subdividing the group ranch. The relationship between management regime and vegetation structure is complicated by longstanding herd redistribution strategies among extended families and their stock associates. It is also obscured by emerging post-transitional arrangements in which rights are traded through leasing and pasture-sharing agreements.