Project B03, Violent Futures

Project Summary

This research project examines the violent side of future-making in rural Africa. It asks whether and how the social-ecological transformations which the overall CRC investigates, namely intensification of land use and conservation, change existing forms of organized violence or create new formations of violence. In contrast to boundaries between territories and groups, the frontier indicates a ‘tidal’ movement of advancing development into regions that administrators, politicians, and entrepreneurs define as ‘empty spaces’. This notion of frontier entails a linear, future-oriented progress from an ordered region into a supposedly empty or ungoverned space, characterized by wilderness, scarce population, and undeveloped economic potentials for human exploitation - from the view of the dominant proponents of these spatial transformations. The term frontier is thus built on certain imaginations, which contain notions of ignorance and prejudice. We take the habitus of ‘frontier entrepreneurs’ (e.g. planners, businessmen), who aim to project and to implement certain future visions, as constitutive for a frontier. The ‘frontier habitus’ is expressed by certain claims frontier entrepreneurs make, which often enough are contested by counterclaims of social groups in the projected areas. This can not only lead to the eruption of physical violence, but also changes in the formations of organized violence (e.g. militarization and privatization of security forces).

Research Areas: Kenya

Keywords: Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies

Key Questions

1. How does claim making develop in response to an observed frontier habitus?

2.How do dynamics of organized violence change with the opening of an imagined frontier?

3.What kind of claim making is connected to organized violence?


Qualitative empirical research: (semi-structured interviews, observation, informal conversations, document analysis) in selected case study areas.

Key Findings

We conducted qualitative field research along the LAPSSET corridor in Northern Kenya. Our main areas of research were the counties of Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, and Isiolo. With respect to our concept of frontiers, the following findings are important:

• State of exception: Large parts of the rangelands are trust land, administered by the counties on behalf of pastoral communities. It can therefore be acquired by the state with fewer legal constraints than titled freehold land.
• Frontier habitus: A ‘frontier habitus’ of planners that disregards existing social orders led to fears of marginalization, and loss of livelihood options among pastoral communities. The “dreamscape” of planners, however, also drew in different parts of the local population, who aspired towards venturing into agriculture, ranging, and new businesses.
• Dispossessions: Already rumours and mere announcements concerning the LAPSSET corridor exacerbated social inequalities through actual or threatened displacements and the reduction of rangelands.
• Blurring the lines: The new infrastructure development in combination with the presence of wildlife conservancies led to a blurring of the lines between armed state actors, the private sector, and security forces at the community level.
• Direct violence: Repeated quarrels over hoped-for benefits from the LAPSSET corridor have led to a reinforcement of ethnic boundaries accompanied by politically incited violence along county borders.

In a nutshell, the partially violent competition over land and boundaries and the blurring of the lines between state, private, and community structures of organized violence indicate an ongoing process of negotiation about social orders along the LAPSSET corridor.


Bond, J & Mkutu, K 2018, ‘Exploring the hidden costs of human–wildlife conflict in northern Kenya’, African Studies Review, vol. 6, no.1, pp. 33-54.

Grawert, E 2019, ‘Between “strong institutions“and the “political marketplace”: layers of land conflicts in Northern Kenya’, in FriEnt Studies, vol. 7, Land and Conflict Prevention. How integrated solutions can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, pp. 42-45, viewed 28 September 2020. Link

Grawert, E, Greiner, C, Klagge, B & Mkutu, K (forthcoming), Energy futures and politics of scale: Infrastructures and conflict along Northern Kenya’s frontier’. Submitted as chapter of the CRC volume Future Rural Africa – Envisioning African Futures in Uncertain Times; James Currey.

Korf, B, Raeymaekers, T, Schetter, C & Watts, M 2018, ‘Geographies of limited statehood’, in T Risse, T Börzel & A Draude (eds), The Oxford handbook of governance and limited statehood, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 167-187.

Mkutu, K 2019 ‘Pastoralists, politics and development projects. Understanding the layers of armed conflict in Isiolo County, Kenya’, BICC Working Paper series, no. 7, 2019, viewed 28 September 2020. Link.

Mkutu, K, 2020, ‘Security dynamics in conservancies in Kenya: The case of Isiolo County’, BICC Working Paper series, no. 3, 2020, viewed 28 September 2020. Link.

Mkutu, K, Mkutu, T. & Marani, M 2019, ‘New oil developments in a remote area: environmental justice and participation in Turkana, Kenya’, The Journal of Environment & Development, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 223-252. DOI.

Mkutu, K & Mdee, A 2020, ‘Conservancies, conflict and dispossession: the winners and losers of oil exploration in Turkana, Kenya’, African Studies Review, pp. 1-27. DOI.

Müller-Koné, M, Grawert, E & Schetter, C 2020, ‘Zwischen Naturschutz und Gewaltkonflikten: Conservancies in Nordkenia‘, Geographische Rundschau, vol. 72, no. 5, pp. 16-21.

Schetter, C & Müller-Koné, M 2020, ‚Frontier – ein Gegenbegriff zur Grenze?‘, in D Gerst, M Klessmann & H Krämer (eds) Handbuch Grenzforschung, Frankfurt: Nomos, pp. 235-248.

Schetter, C & Müller-Koné, M 2021, 'Frontiers’ violence’. The interplay of state of exception, frontier habitus, and organized violence, Political Geography 87 (May). Link.

Outlook for phase II funding

In phase 2 we will turn the concept of frontiers into an analytical tool for undertaking systematic and comparative empirical research of development corridors. We want to look into three additional case studies, each of which addresses a new aspect: Work Package 1 asks how an understanding of violent dynamics in frontier constellations can contribute to developing measures for mitigating their most destructive effects. It builds upon and further expands our field research in the Kenyan Northern Rift Valley. Work Package 2 investigates what analytical advantages can be gained from applying our frontier concept to regions where the socioeconomic context differs from the cases studied in the previous phase. In Narok County, located in the southern Kenyan Rift Valley, the planned standard-gauge railway (SGR) project cuts through a region which is no longer a purely pastoralist region but has already faced substantial socioeconomic changes. An additional Explorative Work Package studies the Central Corridor in Tanzania which cuts through pastoral rangelands. The positioning of the state in Tanzania is characterized by a much stronger assertiveness than in Kenya. This is why the way developmental visions are projected and implemented differs. Phase 2 of B03 will intensify our collaboration with African partners, particular with our long-standing partner Kennedy Mkutu (United States International University-Africa, Kenya) and with Lucy Massoi (Mzumbe University, Tanzania).

Partner Institutions