This article draws attention to the central role played by the Ethiopian state in reconfiguring contemporary (agro-)pastoral conflicts in Ethiopia’s semi- arid lowlands. Contrary to primordialist and environmental conflict theories of pastoralist violence, we shed light on the changing political rationality of inter-group conflicts by retracing the multiple impacts of state-building on pastoral land tenure and resource governance, peace-making and customary authorities, and competition over state resources. Based on an extensive comparative review of recent case studies, post-1991 administrative decen- tralisation is identified as a major driving force in struggles over resources between transhumant herders in Ethiopia’s peripheral regions. Our analysis emphasises the politicisation of kinship relations and group identities and the transformation of conflict motives under the influence of the gradual incorporation of (agro-)pastoral groups into the Ethiopian nation-state. Ethnic federalism incites pastoralists to engage in parochial types of claim-making, to occupy territory on a more permanent basis, and to become involved in ‘politics of difference’ (Schlee 2003) with neighbouring groups.