Why infrastructure still matters: Unravelling water reform processes in an uneven waterscape in rural Kenya

Jeltsje Sanne Kemerink, Stephen Ngao Munyao, Klaas Schwartz, Rhodante Ahlers, Pieter van der Zaag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


Since the 1980s, a major change took place in public policies for water resources management. Whereas before governments primarily invested in the development, operation and maintenance of water infrastructure and were mainly concerned with the distribution of water, in the new approach they mainly focus on managing water resources systems by stipulating general frameworks for water allocation. This paper studies the rationales used to justify the water reform process in Kenya and discusses how and to what extent these rationales apply to different groups of water users within Likii catchment in the central part of the country. Adopting a critical institutionalist’s perspective, this paper shows how the water resource configurations in the catchment are constituted by the interplay between a normative policy model introduced in a plural institutional context and the disparate infrastructural options available to water users as result of historically produced uneven social relations. We argue that, to progressively redress the colonial legacy, direct investments in infrastructure for marginalized water users and targeting the actual (re)distribution of water to the users might be more effective than focusing exclusively on institutional reforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1081
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Infrastructure
  • Institutions
  • Irrigation
  • Water reforms


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