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Research & Publications

My research examines how the use of and control over land, territory, and natural resources shape the dynamics of violent conflict, political order, and peacebuilding, particularly across sub-Saharan Africa. I focus on four related lines of inquiry that include: (1) causes and dynamics of electoral violence (2) political control and electoral mobilization, (3) social and political legacies of violence, and (4) land rights and climate resilience. I draw on a range of methods including experimental and observational survey research, in-depth interviews and participant observation, narrative analysis, and archival research. The sections below outline my publications, working paper, and projects around each of these themes. Please feel free to contact me for paper requests or questions!

ELECTION VIOLENCE

Political Violence in Kenya: Land, Elections, and Claim-Making (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

  • Examining a key puzzle in the study of electoral violence, this study asks how elites organize violence and why ordinary citizens participate. While existing theories of electoral violence emphasize weak institutions, ethnic cleavages, and the strategic use of violence, few specify how the political incentives of elites interact with the interests of ordinary citizens. Providing a new theory of electoral violence, Kathleen F. Klaus analyzes violence as a process of mobilization that requires coordination between elites and ordinary citizens. Drawing on fifteen months of fieldwork in Kenya, including hundreds of interviews and an original survey, Political Violence in Kenya argues that where land shapes livelihood and identity, and tenure institutions are weak, land, and narratives around land, serve as a key device around which elites and citizens coordinate the use of violence. By examining local-level variation during Kenya's 2007–8 post-election violence, Klaus demonstrates how land struggles structure the dynamics of contentious politics and violence.

"Gaining and Losing Land: The Micro-Mechanisms of Electoral Stability and Conflict in Kenya," Journal of Peace Research (2020) 57(1): 30-45

  • How does large-scale land reform affect electoral stability? While scholars have theorized elite-level logics of land distribution, few studies analyze the effects of these reforms on the attitudes and behaviors of ordinary citizens. Using a quasi-experimental survey in Kenya’s Coast region, this paper aims to test the effects of the Kenyan Government’s recent land titling campaign: the most ambitious and extensive since the country’s independence. Specifically, it evaluates a set of hypotheses about how gaining or losing land prior to an election affects an individual’s political preferences, trust in political institutions, and perceived election-time threat. Beyond increasing incumbent support, results indicate that title deed beneficiaries are more likely to trust state and electoral institutions than non-beneficiaries and those who have lost land rights. Yet while title deed recipients have more trust in state institutions, they are nonetheless more likely to perceive threat around elections compared to non-beneficiaries. Broadly, the paper presents a set of potential mechanisms through which land titling and distribution can shape how people participate in the electoral process. This can have significant implications for understanding the dynamics of stability and violence surrounding elections.

“Contentious Land Narratives and the Non-escalation of Violence: Evidence from Kenya’s Coast Region.” African Studies Review (2017) 60(2), 51-72.  *Winner of the ASA Graduate Student Paper Prize. 

  • This article examines the puzzle of the non-escalation of electoral violence. Drawing on evidence from Kenya’s Coast and Rift Valley regions, the article argues that land narratives along the Coast create few motives for people to participate in electoral violence because residents do not link their land rights with electoral outcomes. Politicians thus have far less power to use land narratives to organize violence. Two factors help account for this regional variation between the Rift Valley and the Coast: the strength of the political patron and the size of “outsiders” relative to “insiders.”

“Land Grievances and the Mobilization of Electoral Violence: Evidence from Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya” Journal of Peace Research (2015) 52(2): 622-635. with Matthew Mitchell. 

  • Recent studies have asked why elites resort to violence, yet many overlook the process and dynamics of mobilizing violence. How do politicians convince their supporters to fight? This article argues that in multi-ethnic and democratizing societies where land and property rights are weak and politicized, land grievances can provide leaders with a powerful tool to organize electoral violence. We develop a theory to show how land grievances can give rise to violent mobilization when leaders frame elections as a threat to the land security of supporters or an opportunity to reclaim land or strengthen land rights. Conversely, land grievances are ineffective when citizens do not believe that elections signal a credible threat to their land security or an opportunity to strengthen land rights. We further specify how the type of land grievance shapes the logic and form of violent action. Grievances based on land insecurity shape a pre- emptive logic of violence, while grievances based on competing land claims often shape an opportunistic logic of electoral violence. The article examines the validity of our theory using a comparative case study between zones of escalation and non-escalation of violence during post-electoral crises in Kenya (2007–08) and Coˆte d’Ivoire (2010–11). By observing the variation between positive and negative cases, the article identifies factors that foment and constrain the mobilization of election violence.

POLITICAL CONTROL AND ELECTORAL MOBILIZATION
"Closing the Gap: the Politics of Property Rights in Kenya,"World Politics, April 2023: 75(2). With Mai Hassan.
  • Politicians and scholars alike have advocated for land reform as a tool to address political instability and poverty. Yet in many cases of land reform, governments provide land but withhold property rights. Why do leaders withhold these rights, and when do they grant previously withheld rights? The authors argue that land rights are a distributive good that leaders relinquish conservatively and selectively to build popular support. Using microlevel data from Kenya—a country in which successive governments have distributed most of the country’s arable land through land reform—the article finds that leaders under democratic regimes are more willing to formalize rights than those under autocratic regimes. Further, the logic of land formalization changes with regime type. Whereas autocrats prioritize land formalization among core supporters, elites facing elections prioritize pivotal swing voters. The article demonstrates how the provision of property rights is primarily a function of political calculations rather than state capacity. 
 “Demanding Recognition: Citizen Perspectives on Clientelism in Africa.” With Jeffrey Paller & Martha Wilfahrt. African Affairs, 2023, 122(487): 185-327.
  • Politicians and scholars alike have advocated for land reform as a tool to address political instability and poverty. Yet in many cases of land reform, governments provide land but withhold property rights. Why do leaders withhold these rights, and when do they grant previously withheld rights? The authors argue that land rights are a distributive good that leaders relinquish conservatively and selectively to build popular support. Using microlevel data from Kenya—a country in which successive governments have distributed most of the country’s arable land through land reform—the article finds that leaders under democratic regimes are more willing to formalize rights than those under autocratic regimes. Further, the logic of land formalization changes with regime type. Whereas autocrats prioritize land formalization among core supporters, elites facing elections prioritize pivotal swing voters. The article demonstrates how the provision of property rights is primarily a function of political calculations rather than state capacity.

Can Politicians Exploit Ethnic Grievances? An Experimental Study of Land Appeals in Kenya, Political Behavior (2020) 42: 35-58. With Jeremy Horowitz. 

  • Studies of conflict-prone settings claim that political leaders can increase electoral support by appealing to perceived ethnic grievances. Yet there is little empirical research on how appeals to group-based grievances work and the types of voters most likely to respond to such appeals. To explore the political effects of ethnic grievance appeals, we conduct a survey experiment in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a region where a long history of conflict over land has sharpened ethnic tensions. We find that appeals to grievances have surprisingly little effect among most voters. We observe a positive effect only among ethnic “insiders” who feel land insecure, a small share of the sample population. Further, though imprecisely estimated, we show that exposure to prior violence may condition how some individuals respond to the appeals, decreasing support for candidates who employ divisive rhetoric. Finally, the results show that appeals to an ethnic-based land grievance are no more effective than a generic land appeal, indicating that group injustice frames have little effect. From a normative perspective these results are encouraging: they suggest that voters in conflict-prone settings may be less easily swayed by divisive ethnic rhetoric than much of the literature presumes.

Defending the City, Defending Votes: Campaign Strategies in Urban Ghana.” Journal of Modern African Studies (2017) 55(4): 681-708. With Jeffrey Paller. 

  • Rapid urbanisation in African democracies is changing the way that political parties engage with their constituents, shifting relations between hosts and migrants. This article examines the strategies that parties use to maintain and build electoral support in increasingly diverse contexts. Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic research in Accra, Ghana, we find that some urban political parties rely on inclusive forms of mobilisation, promoting images of cosmopolitanism and unity to incorporate a broad grassroots coalition. Yet in nearby constituencies, parties respond to changing demographics through exclusive forms of mobilisation, using narratives of indigeneity and coercion to intimidate voters who ‘do not belong’. Two factors help explain this variation in mobilisation: incumbency advantage and indigene dominance. In contrast to most scholarship on ethnicity and electoral politics in Africa, we find that these varying mobilisation strategies emerge from very local neighbourhood-level logics and motivations.

Explaining the Gender Gap: Women & Land Titling in Kenya. With Mai Hassan (Working Paper)
  • Across much of the Global South, women’s land rights remain significantly weaker than their male counterparts. Explanations for this gender gap focus on the role of discriminatory rules and norms and disparities in education and literacy. While national laws and practices may help explain much of the observed variation in women’s land rights between countries, we know far less about why women’s tenure security might vary sub-nationally.  We examine this question drawing on data from Kenya’s recent land titling program. Between 2013-2017, the Kenyan government issued 3.2 million title deeds to individual households. Yet despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing women the right to own property, only 10 percent of these title deeds were issued to women. There is, however, striking sub-national variation. In some counties, nearly 50% of title deed recipients were women, while in others, women received fewer then 3 percent of all issued title deeds. As a way of explaining this variation, we combine individual-level data on recipients of title deeds along with a number of local-level variables. Preliminary analysis suggests that conventional explanations do not account for much of the observable variation. Instead, we hypothesize that women are more likely to acquire land rights in spaces where women hold greater local political power. This paper aims to contribute to theories of property rights, economic development, and gender politics, highlighting the local institutional factors that enable or restrain the economic and political rights of women.

LEGACIES OF VIOLENCE

Can Peacebuilding Strengthen Social Resilience to Communal and Election Violence? Evidence from Kenya. With Jana Krause & Marika Miner (Working Paper)

  • How does exposure to political violence affect vulnerability to future violence? A growing literature in conflict studies considers the effects of political violence on a range of social, psychological, and political outcomes. Many of these recent studies, however, overlook the local contexts in which an individual is embedded or assume that the effects of violence move in one direction. Drawing on original survey evidence from Kenya conducted in July 2022, we evaluate a set of hypotheses about how exposure to electoral and communal violence interact with local peacebuilding practices to strengthen or erode community vulnerability. Broadly, we expect that exposure to violence increases vulnerability to future violence by shaping a set of attitudes and behaviours that erode in- and out-group altruism, reinforce inter-group polarisation, heighten threat perception, and valorize violence. Yet we also expect that local peacebuilding practices can mitigate otherwise negative effects of violence, providing communities with the resources to restrain violence. Our preliminary analysis demonstrates that exposure to violence is linked to attitudes that indicate higher vulnerability to potential renewed violence, such as diminished trust in neighbors and non-locals, and heightened fears and perceived insecurity. At the same time, we also find that violence exposure is linked to practices conductive to the prevention of potential future violence, such as maintaining regular contact with non-ethnics.

Does Violence Beget Violence? The Enduring Effects of Election Violence on Peacebuilding

  • This paper examines the enduring effects of election violence, focusing on how direct and indirect exposure to violence shapes perceptions of ethnic outgroups, political trust, and inter-ethnic interaction. Drawing primarily on a survey conducted five years after Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence, the paper finds that individuals who experienced election violence are less open to ethnic outsiders and less trusting of political authority. Yet contrary to existing expectations, it also finds that exposure to violence encourages social engagement between ethnic groups. Broadly, the paper contributes to research on election violence by specifying the micro-level mechanisms through which exposure to violence reinforces certain political orders while undermining others. These findings present both a challenge and an opportunity for the peacebuilding community. On the one hand, they indicate that because survivors of election violence are often less trusting of state institutions, state-led efforts at conflict mitigation may falter. However, these same individuals also appear more willing to participate in alternative forms of societal engagement, even across ethnic lines, suggesting that investments in very local and informal spaces of inter-group engagement may provide a viable approach to encouraging peaceful polling and preventing future election violence.

Altruistic Hosts? Land Politics and Refugee Settlement in Uganda 

  • The number of forcibly displaced persons globally has nearly doubled in the last decade. These trends have inspired a wave of research focusing on the security implications of forced migration. Yet this focus obscures the varied ways that host communities respond to such dramatic change. This project, by contrast, examines the local politics of refugee inclusion, asking why some citizens are willing to host refugees and share vital resources while others are not.  I focus on refugee inclusion in Uganda: host to the fourth largest refugee population. I hypothesise that where hosts feel agency over the refugee settlement process, they should be more inclusionary, and second, that local land tenure rules play a key role in shaping perceptions of agency. The project evaluates these claims using a household survey, a lab-in-the-field experiment, and in-depth interviews across refugee hosting regions. The combination of observational, experimental, and qualitative data provides a rigorous means of building and testing our theory, while enabling me to generalise beyond Uganda. By analysing how local politics affects inclusionary attitudes, I aim to provide a new framework for linking institutional and social-psychological approaches in the study of forced migration, while identifying the local factors that facilitate trust and cooperation between refugees and host communities.

“Strengthening social capital in conflict areas by improving mental health – Evaluating the effects of a randomized controlled trial in northeastern Nigeria.” Funded by the Swedish Research Council (Project leader: Jonathan Hall).

  • War has profound consequences for societies, impacting social networks and the trust and norms of civic engagement that sustain them. However, existing studies offer conflicting results. Some find war exposure reduces social capital, while others conclude the opposite. These mixed results suggest there are nuances in the experience of such life-changing events that are not being considered. The research faces methodological challenges as well due to the lack of random assignment to war exposure and difficulties in collecting data before an event or constructing a control group. A potential explanation for these diverging results is that war exposure increases the need to cooperate but also degrades mental health, which impairs social functioning. Those that are psychologically resilient, however, more readily cooperate in the face of common challenges, increasing their social capital. This project will implement a brief, low-cost, and validated psychosocial intervention in Borno State, Nigeria – a region highly affected by Boko Haram violence. We test its effectiveness in improving mental health and social capital by conducting a rigorous Randomized Control Trial, and gathering extensive longitudinal data. We aim to make a multidisciplinary contribution to knowledge on war exposure, mental health and social cooperation in war contexts, and to create an inroad for the development of mental-health approaches to fostering community resilience during war and its aftermath.

LAND AND CLIMATE RESILIENCE
“Land Tenure and Strategies of Climate Resilience.” Funded by the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), Government of Sweden. With Emma Elfversson.
  • How, if at all, does land tenure shape climate resilience? Existing analysis tends to focus either on vulnerability or technical responses (e.g., soil conservation), overlooking the institutional and political context that structures strategies of resilience. By contrast, this project considers the socio-political dimensions of climate resilience; ranging from the individual to collective, and cooperative to contentious, and encompassing household or community-level adaptation, political mobilisation and collective violence, and migration. We hypothesise that the politics and policies governing rights to land powerfully shape the decision-making frameworks of individuals and groups, affecting the resilience strategies that feel thinkable or feasible, and the perceived urgency or necessity of such actions. We explore these questions empirically in the context of Kenya (with plans to extend analysis to Ethiopia), which is significantly affected by climate change and where land tenure varies locally in important ways. We combine qualitative comparative case study analysis – leveraging regional and local-variation in key variables – along with a household-level survey that includes observational and experimental questions. Our study has important implications for understanding local sources of climate-resilience in authoritarian and (post)-conflict societies, and in particular, how land tenure structures the limits and possibilities of climate resilience.

 

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