13: Conflict and governance in pastoral frontiers

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Armed violence, banditry and insurrection were long associated with pastoralism. Pastoralists have been (and often still are) viewed as a threat to neighbouring sedentary societies, an impediment to state formation and the extension of centralised power, and a menace to peaceful development. The lecture by Jeremy Lind reviews perspectives on the causes of conflict – from resource scarcity thinking to perspectives on ‘greed and grievance’ – and considers their suitability to understanding conflict in pastoralist contexts.

Early ethnographies glorified customs of warfare and warriors in pastoralist society, perpetuating the notion of a backward and violent social order in need of pacification. State violence against pastoralists was justified as part of a civilizing mission to bring peace. Unsurprisingly, state institutions were not trusted. The state’s presence was minimal at the frontier, where day-to-day governance was usually the domain of hybrid structures, involving customary authorities, local government and non-state actors like temples, mosques and prominent local businesspeople all performing state-like functions.


Renewed state interest in pastoral areas – such as through infrastructure corridors and extractive developments – makes it essential to understand the political economy of governance in pastoral areas. The lecture considers how states might extend power in new settlements: by co-opting sub-national elites – extending a model of patronage evident in a wider political system; through devolution and the establishment of sub-national administration; by imposing state security and representatives of centralised administration; or through focusing only on privately-secured, high-value enclaves.

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Taking a pastoralist context that you are most familiar with:

  • What is the nature of conflict that is happening now or in recent history?
  • What factors do you think are important in explaining these conflicts – resource/climate, socio-cultural, political economy, greed or grievance?
  • How have state-society relations changed over time?
  • Does expanding or deepening state power in pastoralist areas inevitably lead to greater conflict?


Photo credit: Hussein Salesa

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Feedback and questions

If you have feedback or questions on the course, please send them by email to n.oxley@ids.ac.uk