Photo Credit: BIEA Nairobi
Research Interests
  • Social Assistance Policies
  • Cash Transfers
  • Citizenship and Identity
  • Localization and governance
  • Inequality
  • African Politics
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Ethics of Field Research

I. The State at the Margins: The Politics of State Social Assistance and Citizenship in Rural Kenya and Tanzania

My book project examines the transformative impacts of state social assistance, and in particular cash transfer programs, on the relationship between the citizen and the state. As I demonstrate, similar cash transfer programs have had profoundly different effects on the perception and practice of citizenship as a result of divergent post-colonial nation-building strategies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Tanzania, the post-colonial nation-building project constructed a cohesive national identity and made possible a cohesive and duty-based conception of citizenship that is deeply rooted in perceptions of a singular national community and norms of reciprocity. The introduction of means-tested cash transfer programs in Tanzania, then, did not challenge commonly-held understandings of citizenship and of the state’s role vis-à-vis the citizen. In contrast, in Kenya, the post-colonial era was marked by the distribution of state resources through patronage networks, exclusionary economic and political policies that discriminated based on ethnicity and an absence of a central unifying nation-building project. This fostered an exclusive, entitlement-based conception of citizenship, which is directly tied to the individual and their relationship to various patrons. The introduction of cash transfer programs, which are distributed based on need rather than patronage, has led to a gradual reconceptualization of citizenship towards one rooted in reciprocal rights and duties. I demonstrate that cash transfers can have a transformative impact on citizenship and theorize the mechanisms through which this change takes place. In doing so, I show that the divergent histories of post-colonial state formation not only shape citizens’ conceptualizations of citizenship and their everyday engagement with the state, they also produce distinct patterns of inclusion and exclusion for the rural poor, which mediate the impacts of social assistance policies.

The research for this project was conducted over 24 months between 2015 and 2018 in Kenya and Tanzania. It is based on a quasi-experimental research design that compares Luo areas on either side of the Kenya-Tanzania border, including communities where cash transfers have been implemented for a decade and areas where they have not yet been implemented. I conducted interviews with 147 policy-makers and officials, interviews with 724 citizens in eight rural communities, alongside complementary ethnographic analyses.

II. The Localization of Cash Transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa

This project theorizes the localization of cash transfer programs in sub-Saharan Africa. It seeks to understand why some governments choose to expand cash transfer programs, as part of broader social protection frameworks, while other programs fail to expand beyond the pilot phase, as well as the choices governments makes about the forms of cash transfer programs. It examines the international pressures and national politics of cash transfer expansion, with a particular focus on local dynamics in Kenya and Tanzania.

Versions of this project have been presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference in April 2016 and the American Political Science Association Annual Convention in September 2016. In May 2019 I presented a version of the Tanzania paper entitled, “From Program to Policy: The Adoption and Localization of the Community-Based Conditional Cash Transfer in Tanzania” at the APCG Online Colloquium. Ruth Carlitz and Jeff Paller acted as discussants. The conversation can be viewed here.

III. The Ethics of Compensation During Field Research

This project is a collaboration with Professor Lauren Maclean at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. It examines the ethics of compensation during field research. It traces the rise in demands for compensation while conducting qualitative field research in countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing from our field research in East Africa and West Africa, as well as an original survey of US-based and Africa-based political science scholars we provide concrete suggestions for scholars conducting field research in African countries based on the type of research conducted, the research participants and the research setting.

IV. Electricity Provision and Political Participation in Kenya

This project is a collaboration with Dr. Chris Gore (Ryerson University), Dr. Lauren Maclean (University of Indiana, Bloomington), Dr. Jennifer Brass (University of Indiana, Bloomington), Dr. Liz Baldwin (University of Arizona) and Dr. Winnie Mitullah (University of Nairobi). It is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant and examines how electricity provision shapes citizens political participation in Kenya through a multi-year survey, interviews and focus group discussions.