Publications: Frontier NGOs: Conservancies, control, and violence in northern Kenya

During the last decades, the boundaries between humanitarian aid and development on the one side and security and physical force on the other side became increasingly permeable. Several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in the field of humanitarian aid and development established their own security measures and structures of force in order to fulfill their mandates. In this article, we deal with the particular question of why and how NGOs become involved in organizing forces in nature conservation areas, and to what effect. This question is analysed using the example of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), which is the largest NGO governing conservancies in northern Kenya. During the last two decades, NRT emerged as a state within the state: its influence and control reach far beyond the realm of conservation. To understand the role NRT is playing, we apply the approach of Frontier Studies. We shed light on the reshuffling of the organization of force in northern Kenya – habitually considered to be the role of the state – as a consequence of the establishment of conservancies by NRT. NRT’s security personnel have become a decisive force in northern Kenya, which is not only providing security but is also drawn into inter-communal violent conflicts. We aim to explain why an environmental NGO could become such an outstanding player in the (re-)organization of force, and why the state at least tolerates the expansion of NRT. With this example, we would like to draw attention to the very fact that in frontier contexts NGOs resemble non-governmental agents of the state. They become exposed to public discourses, while the government can easily absolve itself of any blame.

Schetter, C, Mkutu, K, & Müller-Koné, M 2022, ‘Frontier NGOs: Conservancies, control, and violence in northern Kenya’ World Development, Vol. 151, March 2022, 105735, DOI.

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