Project B03, Violent Futures

Project Summary

B03 applies the concept of frontiers – shifting socio-spatial boundaries, defined by an expansive social order that is pushing into new terrain – to analyze the relations between future-making and dynamics of violence in East Africa. To this end, phase 1 conducted qualitative empirical research on large-scale infrastructure and conservation projects in pastoral rangelands – namely, the Lamu Port, South Sudan, and Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor in Northern Kenya. Our findings served to further develop and refine our heuristic concept of frontiers. In the current phase we will turn that concept into an analytical tool for undertaking systematic and comparative empirical research of development corridors in Kenya and Tanzania. 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 where the LAPSSET corridor is planned. 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. Work Package 3 investigates the changing social orders through the lenses of organized violence within Samburu county in Northern Kenya. This work package will examine to what extent in a frontier constellations do organized violence change. An additional Explorative Work Package (ExWP) studies the Central Corridor in Tanzania and will concentrate on variations in future-making practices. The Central Corridor cuts through pastoral rangelands like the LAPSSET corridor. However, 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. Hence, we hypothesize that the social transformations and the dynamics of violence will also be different than in the LAPSSET corridor. Due to the political situation in Tanzania, the ExWP has a rather testing character and is not located at the core of the 2nd phase of B03. Towards the end of phase 2, Work Package 4 will synthesize our findings from work packages 1, 2 and 3 as well as the ExWP. By investigating the interrelations between future-making practices at frontiers and violence, we intend to stimulate discussions also relevant to other project partners within the CRC about boundary-making as one of the CRC’s bridging concepts.

Research Areas: Kenya, Tanzania

Keywords: Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies

Key Questions

1.How can an understanding of violent dynamics in frontier constellations contribute to developing measures for mitigating their most destructive effects?

2.2) 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?


Analysis of various databases and the interactive map of violent incidents generated in phase 1; qualitative empirical research: (semi-structured interviews, observation, informal conversations, document analysis) in selected case study areas.

Key Findings from Phase I

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.


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