Causes and Trajectories of Local Conflict among Pastoral Peoples in North East Africa
Pastorilaist (herding) societies in Africa are claimed to be prone to violence due to structural conditions of environmental vulnerability, scarcity of resources and decentralized socio-political organization. Their contact with expanding state structures, and with neighboring groups in different socio-economic conditions, are seen to add to instability, due to the underlying hegemonic project of national states, while major economic and demographic changes also play a role. This paper presents a comparative overview of general factors that come into play in the ‘production of conflict’ in and between pastoral societies, focusing on Northeast Africa. It is contended that while conflict was a regular feature of life in traditional pastoral societies, its nature and frequency have notably changed in the confrontation with state forces, whereby unresolved tensions between traditional and ‘modern’ judicial conflict regulation mechanisms play a role. External agencies approach these pastoral societies in conflict without paying proper attention to the larger political-economic context in which they operate and which constrains them in a political and ideological sense. Some case examples are adduced to make this point. These and other case studies reveal that structural instability in contemporary pastoral societies is usually not properly interpreted by outside agencies and is not easily ‘resolved’. The paper concludes with a general model or checklist of conditions and factors of conflict production in pastoral societies.
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