Reading between the lines of the colonial archive on the northern Kunene Region, Namibia, this article documents the uncertainty of colonial rule in this arid and mountainous borderland. So doing, it advocates a phenomenological approach of the state. Indirect rule and apartheid were primarily experienced in terms of its livestock policy. Livestock also was the principal stake of the intended development of the region. For the colonial regime this material development (a technical, a-political government intervention) needed to be preceded by an administrative development (the division of the region into different “Homelands” and the establishment of an elaborate apparatus of discipline and control). The local population, however, perceived vaccination and branding campaigns, export permits, water holes and the like as part of a more encompassing politics of identity. So rather than talking politics, the members of the Tribal Council talked development in order to resist apartheid and segregation. In this, they were relatively successful too: the administrative development of the northern Kunene Region was held back for many years and only gained impetus together with the increasing militarization of the region in the course of the 1970s. The author argues that even apartheid and segregation needed to be negotiated. Thus he places development in a multifaceted, albeit violent and oppressive encounter. Perhaps the main reason for the initial failure of segregated development was that a modernist regime such as the South African one was unwilling to recognize the particularity and negotiated character of the colonial encounter, and unable to acknowledge the uncertainty of its outcome.