Rural Africa is undergoing massive social-ecological change, as a result of the impacts of climate change, large-scale land acquisitions and investments, food and energy production, population displacement, and also resistance against these processes.

In Kenya and Tanzania specifically, where much of our work is based, this planned transformation is envisaged in the governments’ ‘Vision 2030’ and ‘Vision 2025’respectively with their planned large-scale investments and infrastructure projects. Extraction of oil and gas, wind power, the Standard Gauge Railways, agricultural intensification through irrigation, conservation and road-building are just some of the developments initiated in recent years. These “mega-projects” which are often developed in previously marginalised areas which were seen to have little economic value (Mkutu 2015) have the ability to “…transform landscapes rapidly, intentionally and profoundly in very visible ways” (Gellert & Lynch 2003).  Other projects are not yet far out of the planning stages, like the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor project and the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Tanzania, but are already causing much expectation, speculation and opportunism as people try to position themselves for the potential gains (Chome 2020).

The concept of frontiers has been developed in recent scholarly work on Africa (Geiger 2008; Rasmussen & Lund 2018). We see frontiers as areas where a new social order is advancing, often ignorant of and insensitive to what has gone before it (Schetter & Müller-Koné 2020; 2021, Enns & Bersaglio 2020). Investors, governments, donors and other citizens often imagine exciting visions of modernity, prosperity and social and economic transformation, galvanizing support and carrying the developments along, even beyond the official plans (Jasanoff and Kim 2015). However, the various visions can lead to cooperation, or to competition, contestation and conflict (Unruh et al. 2019). Moreover, although projects in frontier areas can reverse marginalisation for some, they also have the tendency to dispossess indigenous populations (Greiner 2013, Mkutu and Mdee 2019). This is often made possible because of weak legal and policy frameworks, or a suspension of such protections which may frequently happen where potential gains are so great (Tsing 2003, Korf & Schetter 2012). We see therefore, that frontiers are places of both indirect and direct violence and conflict. They are also places where new formations of violence emerge, involving both state and non-state armed groups, as well as hybrid forms of security, to defend or acquire valuable investments and interests (Mkutu 2019, 2020).

The Frontiers site presents some work from the project “Violent Futures: Contestations along Frontiers in East Africa” looks at the relations between future-orientated activities, otherwise known as future-making and dynamics of violence. “Violent Futures” is part of a larger research collaboration which commenced in 2018, known as “Future Rural Africa: Future-making and social-ecological transformation.” It is a multi-disciplinary, multi-site collaboration along three different Africa infrastructure/development corridors (in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia/Angola/Botswana/Zambia/Zimbabwe) which brings together European and Africa researchers in cutting-edge research sponsored by the German Research Foundation DFG (Deutsch Forschungsgemeinschaft). Other work comes under various projects including “Understanding the Dynamics of Water Scarcity and Violence” by researchers in USIU-Africa and University of Warwick, sponsored by the British Academy of Sciences.


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