Infrastructure projects and rural politics in northern Kenya: the use of divergent expertise to negotiate the terms of land deals for transport infrastructure

Document Type



East African Institute


In 2012, construction began on the Lamu Port–South Sudan–Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor in northern Kenya. Once complete, LAPSSET will connect Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia with a new transport infrastructure, including a highway, railway and pipeline. Authorities promise that LAPSSET will drive economic growth by improving trade and attracting investors while also stimulating development in rural areas surrounding transport routes. Despite this promise, many rural land users remain concerned about how LAPSSET stands to alter their access to and control over land. This contribution reflects on how these rural groups are attempting to negotiate proposed land-use changes for LAPSSET by creating and deploying expertise that challenges authorities’ claims about the costs and benefits of the corridor for rural landscapes and communities. The analysis shows that just as expertise can be constructed and circulated ‘from above’ to legitimise land deals for transport infrastructure, counter-claims can be produced and mobilised by rural land users to unsettle these land deals. This paper contributes to recent research that examines the specific strategies used by rural actors to influence proposed land-use changes, as well as research that considers how power inequalities shape and constrain the ability of different rural groups to negotiate the terms of land deals to their own advantage.