This paper traces the re-spacing of pastoral drylands in Africa. We argue that rendering pastoral resources legible and profitable occurs both within and beyond the state. Through a multi-sited case study from Ethiopia’s Somali region, we excavate different mechanisms of sedentarization, whereby processes of state territorialization and indigenous commodification become mutually entangled. Sedentarization is not imposed by the state or corporate capital, but by indigenous merchants who capture the frontier’s potential resource dividend. Land appropriation in the drylands is co-produced by political claims to territory, capital investment and new technopolitics through which indigenous (pastoral, Somali) merchants and politicians become complicit with the state’s project of territorialization and sedentarization in a self-governing fashion. The irony of this situation is that the (Ethiopian) state has failed to consolidate sedentarization through planned interventions. Instead, capital investment by local and transnational Somali merchants has opened up a neoliberal frontier that re-spaces drylands towards increasing sedentarization.