‘I have opened the land for you’: pastoralist politics and election-related violence in Kenya’s arid north

Hybrid event: register for webinar at booking link below.

The spectre of election violence has hung over Kenyan politics ever since 2008, when post-election violence erupted across the country. These events paved way for major national reforms, including the devolution of central government and other governance changes, aimed at counteracting patterns of ethnic patronage and violence. Since then, Kenya’s subsequent election cycles have not seen the same explosion of nationwide violence and therefore little has been written about election violence in Kenya in the post-devolution years. However, this article highlights that in the arid, pastoralist-dominated north, there have in fact been significant episodes of election-related violence. It explores the case of Samburu, Isiolo and Laikipia counties during the 2017 and 2022 election cycles, when mass movements of armed pastoralists and herds forced their way, often violently, into targeted areas of land, resulting in widespread clashes, killings and displacement. The article investigates the endogenous authorities and machinations within nomadic Samburu communities involved in and affected by this violence, using a public authority lens. It argues that ongoing political changes in this region have created opportunities for political elites to mobilise territorial violence for strategic, anticipatory political ends in advance of elections, including through the little-documented practice of ‘vote shipping’.