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Meet researcher Caroline Archambault

Scientists of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs research completely different subject, among which terrorism, cybercrime and migration. We give the floor to several of our very best researchers. In this episode: Caroline Archambault researches the Masai in Kenia.

Her current research focuses on human rights, international development and demography in sub-Saharan Africa. Her activities include: management of natural resources, education, The pastoral lifestyle, urban informal settlements and migration through the lens of gender studies and research on youth and young people.

What is the topic of your research?

‘The change in land governance in southern Kenya. The Maasai who live there are pastoralists. In former days they herded their livestock on communal lands. But since the 1960s there has been a growing tendency towards privatization. First by instituting group ranches, communal farms run by representatives from the community. Later on by further dividing these group lands into private plots. My main question: who benefits?’

What did you find?

‘Gender counts. No, there’s not one single women’s or man’s perspective, but it does matter if you’re a man or a woman in terms of what you consider and prioritize. At first sight women seem only to lose out. They’re not officially registered as landowners, do not officially own livestock, and seemingly do not have much formal political power. But in reality many women are very powerful. Actually, women are really at the center of the pastoralist economy, and even more so after privatization. Now you have to ask your neighbors if you can move your animals over their land. Husbands tend to use the social connections of their wives to “massage” things. The (informal) influence of women increases. But other things have become more difficult through privatization.’

Why is your research relevant?

‘It’s too simple to think that because men formally own the land, they then control the pastoral economy. Women are influential and powerful, but perhaps in different ways.  It is important to ascertain where women’s vulnerabilities lie, what may happen if women get wider access to resources or have these resources taken away from them. Land governance need not be a simple choice between private or communal.’


‘Informal power is really important and deserves more attention. Sometimes authorities or states develop policies to protect women. But in actuality they may undermine the informal system (in which women play a central role), and thereby diminish their influence instead of increasing it. A pitfall we should avoid.’

Your speciality is anthropology of human rights. What’s the connection with land tenure?

‘I started out researching the resistance to formal education among the Maasai. This had to do with the role of schools in dismantling Maasai livelihoods. Schools were very much geared to demilitarization, sedentation, undermining the system of clans and age groups. The Maasai didn’t so much oppose schooling as the dismantling of their traditional way of life.

Today everyone wants to send their kids to school. Changing land governance, combined with population pressure and climatic instability, make pastoralism an unviable livelihood for the current young generation. They must diversify and education is the key tool for them to do so.’

Want to read more about this research?

Read the Research booklet of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs for free. In this publication, twelve researchers tell about their research.


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