Kopytoff's model of the African frontier has opened room for renewed approaches to settlement history, politics, ethnicity and cultural reproduction in pre-colonial Africa. This interpretative framework applies well to central Benin (Ouessè). Over the long term, mobility has been a structural feature of the regional social history, from pre-colonial times onwards. Movements of people, resources, norms and values have been crucial in the production and reproduction of the social and political order. The colonial intrusion and its post-colonial avatars gave way to renewed relations between mobility and locality, in particular in the form of a complex articulation between control over labour force, access to land and natural resources, and out- and in-migrations. This article argues that the political frontier metaphor provides a useful heuristic device to capture the logic of state making, as the changing outcome of organizing practices taking place inside and outside state and non-state organizations and arenas. Governmentality in post-colonial central Benin thus results from the complex interplay of mobility, control over resources and state-led forms of ‘villagization’.