Checkpoints are central to dynamics of armed conflict, funding insurgents, driving violence, and shaping governance by armed state and non-state actors alike. This has been the case in Afghanistan and Yemen and from Mali to Somalia, and other areas across the world.

Still, checkpoints and roadblocks are often overlooked in debates over what drives conflict and how one should understand order in areas of contested statehood.

Aiming to address this gap, the International Centre for Tax and Development (ICTD), together with the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) and the Centre on Armed Groups (CAG) jointly launched this week a new working paper series on roadblocks and revenues. The series aims to shed light on checkpoints in conflict contexts across the world and provide a new window into dynamics of authority and power.

“Taxes and fees levied at roadblocks – whether by government agents and allies or armed groups – are familiar to people across areas of conflict and contested statehood. Roadblocks represent not just an opportunity for some groups to extract revenue, but can be a means of exerting control and of influencing trade, of shaping relationship with local communities, or engaging in a form of state-building,” ICTD Research Fellow Max Gallien, who co-authored the first paper of the series, said.

“Given that they can be found across the world, roadblock taxes are ripe for comparative analysis, for researchers making connections across their field sites, methodologies and experiences. That is what this working paper series seeks to contribute to – so we are really excited to see it launch this week,” he added.

The Politics of Passage

Co-written by Max Gallien, Vanessa van den Boogaard, Peer Schouten, Shalaka Thakur, and Florian Weigand, the first paper of the series tackles how checkpoints constitute a distinct claim to authority with their own logic and effects on conflict dynamics and political order-making.

The authors coin the idea of the politics of passage which refers to the struggles over movement and authority that play out at roadblocks in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

The new paper:

  • provides a definition of roadblocks;
  • explores the historicity of circulation struggles in relation to state formation; and
  • outlines a new research agenda on roadblocks, offering reflections from existing research and avenues for future work.

The series is based on a partnership between ICTD, DIIS, and CAG, and a series of workshops hosted in Copenhagen (2023) and Caux (2024), which brought together an international community of scholars.

ICTD’s work on conflict and informality

Looking at conflict areas has long been part of ICTD’s substantive work on informality and tax, currently led by Gallien and van den Boogaard. This area of ICTD research aims to map the extent, composition, and experiences of “tax-like” payments that lie outside of statutory laws, and to understand their implications for livelihoods, fiscal decentralisation, service delivery, and broader local governance reform.

See ICTD’s previous work related to conflict and informal taxation here.