Large-scale land acquisitions in Kenya: the Yala Swamp case study of Kenya’s land governance system and actual practices
This thesis examines debates concerning large-scale land acquisitions in Kenya by looking at the case of the Dominion Farms Limited takeover of Yala Swamp. The case study illustrates actual practices of Kenya’s land governance system in terms of how large-scale land acquisitions take shape and their results on the ground. The study explores changes that have taken place at Yala Swamp from 2003 to 2013 and assesses them against the backdrop of recent and emerging land governance regulatory frameworks at national, regional and global levels. The study’s research methodology and data analysis reveal that the new large-scale land acquisition phenomenon has a historical dimension in that it perpetuates a continued legacy of land dispossession of local communities of the unregistered land thereby disrupting their livelihoods. This thesis contributes to a lively intellectual debate and literature on land governance by examining land issues from a governance and political economy perspective. Yala Swamp was chosen as a case study of large-scale land acquisition. The case shows how new land regulatory policies are being shaped and constrained by what is considered beneficial for foreign investment but not necessarily in tandem with local communities’ needs and expectations. This thesis is anchored on the assumption that land governance frameworks’ transformative potential depends on the extent to which they are able to address the structural factors that entrench continued poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, environmental degradation and land conflicts. The thesis argues that initiatives that facilitate the corporate takeover of land and other resources from the poor in order to give to large-scale investors foreclose the smallholder agricultural space for future expansion. It further argues that an understanding of land reform processes from a governance and political economy perspective offers insight that could not only improve the design of land governance regulatory frameworks, but also provide pathways to support implementation.