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Clashing Claims: Neopatrimonial Governance, Land Tenure Transformation, and Violence at Enoosupukia, Kenya



This article revisits a case of violent conflict at Enoosupukia, Kenya, in October 1993, that has previously been analyzed as a clear example of top-down, elite manipulation of neopatrimonial domination. Drawing on stories collected during more than eighteen months of fieldwork, I produce an ethnohistorical account of the interrelated processes of formal tenure change and informalization through which neopatrimonial governance of land was established at Enoosupukia. Focusing on the participation in and instrumental use of formal and informal institutions by the current inhabitants of the area, I argue that clients in neopatrimonial political systems are neither mere pawns nor passive victims, but rather active, even if often marginal, participants. Applying this framework to explaining the genesis of violent conflict at Enoosupukia, I show that violence was not produced through top-down incitement, but rather through a convergence of patron and client interests in the context of a significant shift in the networks through which rights in land are claimed, challenged, and protected. The point is not to shift the blame for violence from the elite to the marginalized, but rather to show that manipulation of disorder is multidimensional. Further, while clients may benefit from neopatrimonial connection to instruments of state power through elite patrons, they remain insecure and subject to disconnection. Thus the security of rights depends as much on maintenance of connection as reference to formal law. This paper shows that while neopatrimonial governance may “work,” it is fragile.