States of Violence: Ethnicity, Politics, and Pastoral Conflict in East Africa

  • John G. Galaty McGill University
Keywords: Pastoralism, Conflict, Violence, African State, Kenya, Ethnicity


Focusing on cases of strife in pastoral regions of Kenya, this paper examines the relative emphasis that should be given to the endogenous dynamics of ethnicity and resource competition or the exogenous influences of the state in stimulating local conflict. Despite strong historical continuity in the definition of ethnic fronts of grievance and friction, the institutional framework for the exercise of local jorce, and the immediate factors that trigger conflicts, the paper suggests that ethnic and community-level dynamics today are framed, constrained, and engendered by the predicaments of legitimacy and power faced by the contemporary African state, especially in its problematic relation to regions and the cultural diversity they represent. Based on three cases of pastoral conflict (land conflicts, ethnic displacement, and raiding) in Kenya, the argument is made that pastoralists are involved most in conflict as ethnic actors when their interests are conjoined with the politics of patronage. When insecurity of the state and local pastoralists is diminished, collaboration in managing local rights and resources will increase.


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