Politics and the peasantry in Kenya: the lessons of Harambee
Barkan, Joel D.
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As anyone familiar with Kenya knows, Harambee, or self-help is a pervasive phenomenon which engages just about all rural dwellers, many city dwellers, most politicians and many state personnel. The widespread popularity and political significance of self-help has been documented in the literature for over a decade. Most studies, however, have assumed a rather homogeneous peasantry, and failed to examine the differential popularity of self-help in terms of the varying material circumstances of different strata within the Kenyan peasantry. This essay is addressed to the neglected question of what, precisely, is the social base of self-help. Based on survey research data from 2,075 respondents in seven districts, this paper argues that Harambee is particularly popular among "small" and "middle" peasants - those who own between one and ten acres of land. The paper further argues that the landless obtain benefits from Harambee projects as virtual "free riders" while "rich" peasants (those owning more than twenty acres) subsidize the poorer elements of the community through what is in effect a progressive form of local taxation. Whether "rich" peasants support Harambee, to the extent of their ability to pay, however, is an unresolved question.