Unruly Nature and Technological Authority: Governing Locust Swarms in the Sahel

Thèse de doctorat, géographie, Université de l'Arizona, 2014. Directeur: Paul Robbins.


This dissertation examines how states and international organizations respond to complex ecological problems that are mismatched to their management capacity. The study concentrates on effort by scientific advisors, technicians, and bureaucrats to manage the population dynamics of the desert locust, Schistocerca gegaria in Western and Northern Africa. Desert locusts periodically invade crops and pastures, where they cause massive depredations that undermine agricultural productivity and food security, often in extremely impoverished regions. The immensely complex and bio-geographically stochastic breeding and gregarization dynamics of the desert locust put the insect at odds with the conventional spatiality of the state. This make it difficult for managers to precisely predict and effectively control locust outbreaks and invasions.

To better understand the factors shaping institutional responses to this insect, I address three interrelated questions primarily informed by political ecology, political geography, and critical development studies: (1) What historical trajectory yielded the contemporary configuration of locust control? (2) Why do some approaches to locust management become selected over others amongst experts and organizations? (3) What is the relationship between the spatial dynamics of locust outbreaks and invasions, on the one hand, and the spatial logic and imperatives of the state?

Analysis of interviews, field observations, and archival records indicates that the ability of the desert locust to evade and exceed the conventional spatiality of the state has made this pest problem an appealing field to innovate and enact new regimes of governance that operate transnationally. This has embedded locust control in the historical arc spanning from formal colonialism to the current configuration of independent states supported by international programs of foreign aid and technical assistance. In this context, concerns for the professional viability of locust expertise within state agencies and international organizations favor the selection of strategies that best fit the modalities of access to development aid and resources. This motivates state-mandated locust managers to favor the adoption of locust control strategies that are best aligned with capacity building goals of these programs, and that incorporate locust management in broader interventions of social and environmental improvement.