Article from ROAPE Volume 8 Number 20
Law, Rangelands, the Peasantry & Social Class in Kenya

Law, Rangelands, the Peasantry and Social Class in Kenya
Vol.8 No.20 (Spring 1981), pp41-56
In the transformation of pre-capitalist modes of production into the capitalist one, the superstructures have of necessity also to change. Laws, particularly in their legislative forms in societies that have developed state institutions, are vital as facilitative and protective instruments in the brutal changes required by capital (Marx, Capital Vol.1, Chaps. 26-29). This essay looks into the post-colonial state use of legislation to establish group title registrations in Maasai rangelands, an exercise which has led to transformation of traditional common property ownership into capitalist private property ownership, albeit on group basis. This is helping to further class differentiations within the rural peasant households. State control that results from these forcible re-organizations helps the state and international capital, that comes via the state, to penetrate into the hitherto neglected rural areas so as to direct production and expropriate the surplus produced by the peasants. So far the debate has concentrated mainly on production relations in the Central and Rift-Valley provinces, which were dominated by expatriate settlers during the colonial period. This analysis extends the debate to other areas in Kenya's political economy. The peasant private ownership of what Njonjo calls ‘patches of land’ through the legislations that implemented the Swynnerton Plan starting in the colonial period, is politically significant in dulling the class consciousness of the peasants as an expropriated and exploited class, and who are ‘owners’ of mere subsistence plots, while at the same time being forced into wage labour as - ‘workers’ . The inability of the economy to generate sustainable industrialisation, and hence lack of employment opportunities leads the ‘peasants-cum wage workers’ to cling more to their ‘patches’ and to demand titles for these where they have not been provided. Produce from these ‘patches’ supplements the miserable wages paid to workers, wages that are sanctioned by the state and hence limits pressure on employers to raise the wages. At the other end the institutionalised low wages make the peasants-cum-wage workers cling even more tenaciously to their ‘patches’ . The net result at this stage in the development of capitalism and classes in Kenya is a balance between forces of peasantisation and those of proletarianisation.