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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Making Law in rural Kenya

Grant reference: RES-000-22-2973

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Impact Report details

Making Law in Rural Kenya
Impact Report

Primary contributor

Author Suzette Heald


With security concerns high on development agendas, the research contributes to scholarly debates on the possibilities of community level policing through providing a major resource in the form of a film. At the local level, the lack of capacity and/or systemic corruption of the official agents of law enforcement, the police and the judiciary, have spawned a mass of vigilante-type movements. The research, concentrating on one such movement in Kuria District, Kenya, demonstrates the role community policing groups can make to ensuring livelihood and well-being as well as illustrating their limitations. In presenting the main results in film, it provides a significant resource to complement the academic writing and an important means of disseminating the research to academic and policy audiences for use in both research and teaching. It has impact implications for two - and in the main separate - academic constituencies: law, policy and politics in developing societies, on the one hand, and ethnographic methodology and visual anthropology, on the other. It contributes to the first in providing a vivid illustration of the dilemmas involved in providing rural security. In presenting the complexities of the situation, it offers no easy answers, thus inviting discussion of the future of such initiatives in countries where state provision for security has not only failed but become part of the problem. In so doing, it also makes a contribution to the second: to ethnographic methodology, the value of visual anthropology and the role of ethnographic film for both teaching and research.

With dissemination at the centre of this research, the main outcome is presented in the form of a 65 minute film, Law and War in Rural Kenya which concentrates on the origin of one community policing initiative and the problems it was facing ten years later. It has been fortunate in having (and continuing to have) multiple screenings; in the locale where it was made, elsewhere in Kenya, at National and International conferences, Film Festivals, University seminars, lectures, and film classes. It has been presented and screened at multi-disciplinary academic conferences in Denmark, USA, France, Germany and Britain, both independently and in conjunction with invited conference papers. Given the competitive nature of film festival screenings, it has also been successful in achieving 3 screenings at Ethnographic film festivals, in Denmark (2010), Britain (2011) and Canada (2011). This has been accompanied by invitations to give seminar and conference papers. Additionally, the film has also been accepted by the Royal Anthropological Institute for distribution and was reviewed by the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI (NS) 18: 486-7, 2012). Thanks to a fellowship I held at the Institut d'Études Avancées de Nantes the film was also translated into French as Guerre et Paix dans le Kenya Rural making it accessible to French-speaking audiences. In addition, two short satellite 5 minute films have also been edited and made available on YouTube in order to reach wider audiences.

With the film not completed until August 2010, it is still early to comment on the full impact of the project. Dissemination activities began early, initially through showing rough cuts of the film in 2009/10 during seminars in order to illustrate the research issues. Later rough cuts were also shown to film classes and other interested scholars to refine the editing. Thereafter, the final film has been widely screened. As indicated above, audiences for the film have been divided between academics concerned more with policy and the more general anthropological community, particularly those involved with visual anthropology. International Conference talks and screenings have been particularly effective in bringing it to the attention of academics working on development and security issues. For example, the International Conference on Access to Justice and Security held in Copenhagen in November 2010 introduced the research to a large constituency of those working on policing and security, some of whom have since used it in their teaching. In the same way, inter-disciplinary conferences held at LSE in September 2011, Washington, November 2011 and in Germany, May 2012 have resulted in the film being adopted for teaching. Screenings at film festivals in August 2010, May 2011 and June 2011, on the other hand, have been particularly effective in bringing the film to the attention of ethnographic filmmakers and the anthropological community. The fellowship I held at the Institut d'Études Avancées de Nantes for the academic year 2010/11 allowed me to introduce the research to the range of fellow residents from diverse intellectual backgrounds.

To my knowledge, the film has been used in teaching by a diverse international set of academics: in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town in course on Police and Policing: Explorations in Security Governance (Professor Elrena van der Spuy and Dr. Julie Berg); by Professor E. A. Brett, of the Department of International Development at the LSE; Professor Bruce Baker, Professor of African Security, Department of International Studies and Social Science, University of Coventry; Professor Frederick Cooper, Faculty of Humanities, New York University and Professor Sabine Klocke-Daffa of Institut für Ethnlogie, University of Münster, Germany, Royal Anthropological Institute not only accepted the film for distribution but additionally has arranged public and conference screenings and sent the film out for review. The research was also instrumental in gaining me a fellowship at the Institut d'Études Avancées de Nantes for the academic year 2010/11. As mentioned above, this gave me the opportunity to have the film translated into French and to introduce the research to fellow residents at the Institute.

The social and economic influence of such projects is, by its nature, difficult to determine. The situation in Kenya is in flux, with a new Constitution which, although it seeks to nullify some of the corruption inherent in the previous system, still needs to be fully implemented and tested. Community policing controlled by the Police was introduced in Kuria after the film was made but, as anticipated by many, has been deemed to fail. The situation thus remains open. However, the film is now known to a range of constituencies in Kenya, both at local and national levels, including the Kenyan Institute of Administration which undertakes security training for Government and related personnel. In the field of development policy, it has been taken up in UK by DFID. Since 2010, the film has been used in a module on the Security and Justice course. The course is designed to provide knowledge and guidance to policy makers, practitioners and others involved in delivering assistance in developing countries. It is funded by DFID, FCO, MOD and MOJ and is run 4 to 5 times a year. Some of the findings of the research have also been made available to wider publics, through the distribution of DVDs, public screenings in Nantes and London and though You Tube. Outreach was planned through a series of short 5 minute films, two of which have been completed, Elizabeth and A World in Passing. Both of these were accepted by the Cannes International Film Festival for the Court Métrage, thus introducing the subject to new audiences. They were later posted on You Tube.

The film Law and War in Rural Kenya is basic to the policy impacts in both Kenya and UK. Concentrating on the 'view from below' the film adds a novel perspective important for policy makers and challenges top-down development policies. In showing the agency and capacity of local actors and the complexity of the context in which they operate, it opens up the question of the attitude to be taken to such local level security innovations. Local justice and traditional values inevitably conflict with those deriving from National Law but, in situations of state failure in the provision of security, they provide pragmatic and popular local level responses to dealing with crime and insecurity. In dramatically illustrating this dilemma the film offers no solutions, thus opening up the issue for informed discussion and debate and relevant to all concerned with the forms of 'transitional justice' in Africa. The short films on the other hand are designed for non-specialist audiences, engaging them with the lives and personal views of specific individuals.

In 2010, screenings in Kuria brought the research to the attention of local people and security personnel who received it favourably. Later, DVDs were widely distributed at local and national levels. The research was then brought to the attention of the Kenyan Institute for Administration (KIA) and the Assistant Director of the film, Mathias Mwita, was invited to attend a series of Crime and Violence Prevention Training seminars over a period of nine months run by the KIA in conjunction with the United States International University through the sponsorship of Open Society Institute of East Africa in 2011/12. This drew 45 participants from the Kenyan Police, Provincial Administration, Legal Officers, and NGOs as well as academics. During these sessions, Mathias Mwita was able to give a talk on the film and DVDs were widely distributed. As a consequence, community policing in Kuria was adopted as a specific case study for the group. The film now being used in DFID training was brought to their attention at the International Conference on Access to Justice and Security held in Denmark in 2010. This large conference drew participants from Government departments, NGOs and academics. The Security and Justice course is run by the Libra Adivsory Group and the University of Birmingham.

The film, Law and War in Rural Kenya, has had an impact on the Assistant Director, Mathias Mwita who was offered training at the Kenya Institute of Administration, thus improving his career prospects and giving him further insight into security issues. In turn, he was able to introduce the film to the other Kenyan participants, drawn from a wide range of backgrounds as detailed above. The Security and Justice course run for DFID, FCO, MOD and MOJ is organised by Piet Bieshauvel, Principal of the Libra Advisory Group in conjunction with Paul Jackson of the University of Birmingham. Professor Bruce Baker of Coventry University, who teaches on the course, uses an extract of the film as a discussion starter on the Stabilisation Unit. He writes positively of the use of the film in engaging the participants and stimulating discussion. Piet Bieshauvel writes that 'the feedback we receive on every course is that this session is one of the most interesting and useful parts of the overall Security and Justice Course'. The course draws a broad mix of participants from the UK Government Departments above, together with delegates from foreign Governments and NGOs. The acceptance of the short films also had important professional implications for the film editor, James Uren, gaining him access as co-director to the Cannes Film Festivals in 2011 and 2012.

As film streaming becomes the popular form of delivery, it is hoped that the film will become a more widely available and useful resource for teaching. Further academic articles and a book are also in preparation.

There is a sense in which all impacts in a project such as this are unexpected since though hoped for they cannot be dictated in advance. Screening at film festivals, for example, is highly competitive with a limited number of possible viewing slots. Likewise, the exact nature of forthcoming conferences and invitations to present is unknown at the outset. It has been very encouraging to see how rapidity the film has entered into policy circles. Perhaps the most surprising impact came from the two short films completed so far as both have been accepted in the short film corner at the Cannes International Film Festival, Elizabeth in 2011 and A World in Passing in 2012.



Cite this outcome


Heald, Suzette. Making Law in rural Kenya: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-2973. Swindon: ESRC


Heald Suzette. Making Law in rural Kenya: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-2973. Swindon: ESRC.