Bi-polar development: A theoretical discursive commentary on land titling and cultural destruction in Kenya

Cogent Social Sciences 5 (1):1674054 (2019)
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Development economist Hernando de Soto Polar has effectively advocated for property rights in the Third World, as his ideas have influenced the policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations Development Programme. He envisions land titling as a means of lifting the poor out of poverty. I argue that his classical liberal interpretations of property and the good life are dangerously naive. One can see the dangers of de Soto’s imperialist and one-dimensional vision after considering the cultural destruction that results from his brand of development in pastoral Kenya. Also, this article demands a reframing of standardized development approaches. It argues that the conventional view is prone to creating unstable, culturally hegemonic relationships between the government and entrepreneurs, and the people of the land. Asymmetrical lawfare is another nondemocratic feature of de Soto’s development. This article emphasizes that Kenyan pastoralists are not inherently vulnerable people but that they have been rendered vulnerable by society. Lastly, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is the basis for an alternative to de Soto’s development design. UNDRIP was a hard-fought legal protection for the world’s indigenous peoples that makes human dignity central to development. The Global North and Global South produce differing visions of development. This article points to Kenya as an example of how the Global North’s vision has fundamentally failed because it disenfranchises pastoralists—the very people policymakers and policy supporters claim it is intended to benefit.



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Alexander Sieber
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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