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Negotiating Rural Land Tenure: An exploration of influential factors in Maasai household decisions to hold land as individual private property in Ewaso Kedong, Kenya Open Access


Other title
Private property
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Omosa, Eileen K.
Supervisor and department
Smith, Malinda (Political Science)
Krogman, Naomi (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
Tough, Frank (Native Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Krogman, Naomi (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
Smith, Malinda (Political Science)
Tough, Frank (Native Studies)
Natcher, David (University of Saskatchewan)
Shultz, Lynette (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
Rural Sociology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Rural land users in arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya find themselves in a period of history with unprecedented levels of change to the way land is held and accessed. In many pastoralists’ settings, including Kajiado County, rangelands are undergoing processes of fragmentation and enclosure attributed to transformations of land tenure from communal to individual private land holdings. The processes of privatization are of concern to development agencies, policy makers and scholars working on, and discussing the issue of what land tenure type would lead to rural development. Kajiado is an arid and semi-arid land where livestock keeping through pastoralism historically proved to be the most suited livelihood strategy. This dissertation uses a case study of Ewaso Kedong in Kajiado to explore both theoretical and empirical arguments to establish the rationale used by Maasai households in their choice to hold land as individual private property. The field study and subsequent discussions are based on the thesis that pastoralism as a livelihood strategy has historically been practiced on communal lands in arid and semi-arid areas (ASALs). The communal land regime enabled for the frequent movement of livestock in order to access water and pasture resources that are rare, seasonal and spread over large areas in the vast ASALs. To describe the changes and choices of land tenure made by Maasai households, I purposively selected adult men and women from indigenous Maasai households, and held individual interviews using an interview guide with pre-determined questions. The findings from the study indicate that changes have occurred to the land tenure of the Maasai. The changes have occurred since 1885, and are attributed to the Maasai search for tenure security that would enable households to strategize and manage uncertainties created by changes in climate, and by other events in their wider environment. There is a perceived superiority of registered land rights which has led to more subdivisions, fences and land sales. The emerging land markets have benefited households differently; some have been able to create wealth, while others have become poorer. The property relations practiced by the Maasai were found to be complex; shifting between contractual and social relational. Subsequently, the assets and identity of the Maasai are changing: there is a reduction in the size and composition of households, decision-making has devolved from the level of community elders to the household where it has become more participatory and inclusive of women and children, and the place called home has changed from being a territory to delimited land parcels. I draw the following conclusions from the study: no land tenure type has been able to provide absolute security of tenure to the Maasai as they have lost land under each land tenure regime. The Maasai are integrating into the wider market economy by reorganizing their assets, social relations and livelihood strategies, and the basis on which the Maasai are making decisions is comprehensive considering the institutions, laws, and environments surrounding their decision-making processes.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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