Ungoverned space

This report is one of two adapted from the recent Small Arms Survery report ‘Policing the Periphery: opportunities and challenges for Kenya police reserves’).

Commentators have noted the importance of considering not only failed or ungoverned states, but also spaces within otherwise functioning states that may be failed or ungoverned. Rabesa et al. provide a useful framework for considering ungoverned spaces in terms of four dimensions.

The first is the level of state penetration of society, including its management of infrastructure and the economy. The second is the extent to which the state has a monopoly on the use of force, including the presence of autonomous armed groups and criminal networks, and the extent of access to small arms.

The third is the extent to which the state can control its borders and the fourth is whether the state is subject to external intervention by other states.

In the Greater Horn of Africa region many such areas have been marginalized since colonial times due to their remoteness, inhospitability, aridity, and inhabitants’ often strong resistance to attempts at control. The first district administrator of Kenya’s North Frontier District, which comprised Laikipia, Samburu, and West Pokot, advised:
there is only one way to treat these northern territories … to give them whatever protection one can under the British Flag and otherwise to leave them to their own customs as far as possible, under their own chiefs. Anything else is uneconomical.

These areas remain under-developed to this day, with little physical or communication infrastructure, low levels of state presence, and an under-provision of state security. Where present, police and the judiciary are under-resourced and unable to carry out their functions. Border management is a challenge and may be a source of conflict. Borders are vast – the western border of Kenya is 933 km in length with only three immigration posts – and in some cases contested, with a history of interstate conflict over oil, land, and minerals.

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