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Family histories and rural inheritance in Kenya

Robert Miller
Francis Karin
Kate Bird
Esther Kaloi Nteza
Raphael Gitau
Mary Mathenge


Inheritance systems and practices have a key role in people’s ability to exit poverty, or, conversely, plunging them further into it. As land is the major asset in low-income developing countries, how property is passed on and divided between future generations is a significant factor. This paper looks at inheritance through minimally-structured interviews with several generations of Kenyan families, seeking to explain that the how and why of poverty can be understood in the wider family context. It analyses their fortunes and misfortunes over a given time period in the context of property ownership rights.  It also looks at the impact of education and the inheritance of cultural capital.  When both fertility and survival are high, traditional patterns of land inheritance can lead to progression sub-division of land with long-term adverse implications for sustainability. While inheritance in Kenya is male dominated, the paper nonetheless examines the position of women in the chain as vectors of male property rights. The application of male-oriented customary law where inheritance is concerned, rather than the use of statutory legislation, was found to be the reality for the overwhelming majority of the participants in the study.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


assets gender Kenya inheritance

ISBN: 978-1-908536-17-4


1 Family histories and rural inheritance in Kenya PDF 568.8 KB

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