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Research & Publications

My research examines how the use and control of land and natural resources shape contentious politics, violence, and post-conflict politics, particularly across sub-Saharan Africa. I focus on three related lines of inquiry that include: 1) electoral and communal violence, focusing on causes, dynamics, and effects, 2) political economy of land and property rights, and 3) elections, voting, and clientelism, and 4) the politics of refugee inclusion. I draw on a range of methods including in-depth interviews, narrative analysis, archival research, experimental and observational survey research, and spatial data analysis. 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!


Communal Conflict and Barriers to Sustainable Peace

With Jana Krause

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 behaviors that erode in- and out-group altruism, reinforce inter-group polarization, 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.

"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.

“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.

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.”

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.

Closing the Gap: the Politics of Property Rights in Kenya
World Politics (forthcoming, April 2023). With Mai Hassan. 

Politicians and scholars alike have advocated for land reform as a tool to address political insta- bility and poverty. Yet in many cases of land reform, governments provision land but withhold property rights. Why do leaders withhold these rights and when do they grant previously with- held rights? We argue that land rights are a distributive good that leaders relinquish conserva- tively and selectively in order to build popular support. Using micro-level data from Kenya – where successive governments have distributed most of the country’s arable land through land reform – we find 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.

Explaining the Gender Gap: Women & Land Titling in Kenya.

With Mai Hassan (In progress) 


Can Politicians Exploit Ethnic Grievances? An Experimental Study of Land Appeals in Kenya

Political Behavior (2020) 42: 35-58

Studies of conflict-prone settings claim that political leaders can increase electoral support by appealing to perceived ethnic grievances. Yet there is little empiri- cal research on how appeals to group-based grievances work and the types of vot- ers most likely to respond to such appeals. To explore the political effects of eth- nic 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 rheto- ric 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.

Demanding Recognition: Citizen Demands for Clientelism in Sub-Saharan Africa

(R&R, With Jeffrey Paller and Martha Wilfahrt)


Why do citizens engage in political clientelism, and how do they understand their role in patronage exchanges? Existing scholarship provides two explanations. Material explanations suggest that citizens respond to environments of scarcity, and use clientelism as a way to secure livelihoods. Culturalist explanations suggest that citizens demand goods from leaders due to a social norm of reciprocity. While both explanations find empirical support in sub-Saharan Africa, they overlook a key component of political clientelism: the demand for social recognition. Social recognition is the acknowledgement of citizen claims for respect and dignity as human beings, which requires equality as members of the polity. Drawing from three diverse African contexts – urban Ghana, rural Senegal, and coastal Kenya – we suggest that political clientelism provides an avenue of social recognition, or the acknowledgement of one’s identity and dignity as a human being. The paper builds on ethnography, interviews and focus groups conducted over many years of field research, to focus on the way that citizens make meaning of their relationships with politicians. The paper provides new insights into the logics of political clientelism, citizen strategies and practices amidst unequal power relationships, and the role of emotions in democratic politic

Altruistic Hosts? Refugee Settlement and the Politics of Land in Uganda


Sub-Saharan Africa currently hosts more than 26 percent of the world’s 70 million refugees (UNHCR 2019). Existing studies provide important insight into the destabilizing effects of refugee populations, identifying macro and highly-local factors affecting host-migrant dynamics. Yet we know less about how refugee settlement policies alter host-migrant relationships. Uganda’s model of refugee settlement provides a unique but important case. The government promotes a policy of “self-reliance” by providing refugees with a plot of land for housing and cultivation. This policy, however, relies on the willingness of host communities to lease customary land to refugees. This raises a key question for the study of host-migrant relations: Why are some host communities willing to host and grant land to refugees, while others are not? What factors strengthen or erode this seemingly altruistic gesture? Exploiting micro-level variation across four refugee-hosting communities, the paper combines in-depth interviews and survey data to evaluate four possible motivations for granting land: material (access to development), altruistic (goods hosts), empathetic (shared experience of displacement) and political recognition. Broadly, the paper demonstrates that the way international agencies and host governments acquire and designate land for settlement powerfully affects host-migrant relations, helping to explain where hosts will seek to incorporate or exclude refugees. 

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