Trend2_Agents of Violence_Figure 1

Over the past 18 years, there have been distinct changes in the main perpetrators of organized, armed political violence on the African continent.[1] While every type of politically violent actor has increased their violence rates since 2009, organized, armed conflict in Africa is now mainly perpetuated by political militias and governments.

Since 2013, political militias are the most active armed political group, and 2014 experienced their highest level of activity since ACLED records began. In 2013, political militias accounted for over 36% of political violence; this increased to 38% in 2014. Political militias are militant groups who use violence as a means to shape and influence the existing political system, but do not seek to overthrow national regimes. These groups operate as ‘armed gangs’ for different political elites – including politicians, governments, opposition groups, etc.

In 2013, political militia activity was driven largely by both targeting civilians and battles with government forces. 2014 saw an increase in civilian targeting; violence against unarmed people comprised almost half (45%) of political militia activity in 2014, resulting in over 8,800 civilian fatalities. This fatality total is almost double that of 2013.  Militias decreased actions against government forces; battles between political militias and government forces comprised approximately 32% of political militia activity in 2014, down from approximately 40% of activity in 2013.

A plurality of civilian fatalities instigated by political militias occurred in Nigeria in 2014, largely at the hands of Boko Haram, which more than tripled its violent activity during 2014 over 2013. In 2014, Boko Haram was the deadliest non-state actor in Africa (i.e., responsible for the largest number of fatalities), and its aggregated acts of violence resulted in over 9,000 deaths. Another fifth of 2014 civilian fatalities instigated by political militias occurred in the Central African Republic, attributed to Anti-Balaka and Séléka. Please see the “Violence Against Civilians Trend” for a discussion of violence against civilians across Africa.

Governments continue to be the second most active perpetrators of political violence, involved in 29% of all events. Government conflict is at the highest reported levels in the past 18 years.

Both rebel groups and communal militias increased their rate of political violence in 2014. Rebel groups are responsible for approximately 15% of conflict events in 2014 – roughly equal to their proportion of participation in 2013. Yet rebel violence rates are now at the highest they have been since 1999.  Al Shabaab activity largely drives this increase; this group is the most violent non-state actor in Africa in 2014 (i.e., responsible for the largest number of conflict events), participating in over 1,200 conflict events. Al Shabaab is the non-state actor responsible for the third highest number of conflict deaths in Africa (second to Boko Haram and the SPLA/M-In Opposition in South Sudan); conflict involving Al Shabaab resulted in 3,269 fatalities in 2014.  Though the SPLA/M-IO was involved in less than a third of the number of conflict events relative to Al Shabaab, conflict involving the group resulted in more fatalities (3,316 deaths).

Communal militias are responsible for approximately 13% of conflict events in 2014, largely equal to their level in 2013. Substantively, communal militia conflict activity is at the highest levels reported in the past 18 years. Power vacuums, livelihood competition, and persistent localized contests explain most communal conflict rates across African states.

In addition to organized, armed political conflict, riots and protests also frequently occur in Africa.[2]  Protesters and rioters slightly decreased their rate of involvement in conflict and instability in 2014, participating in 5,339 riots and protests in 2014, down from 5,359 in 2013. Proportionally, these events account for approximately 34% of conflict events in 2014, down from over 39% of conflict events in 2013. Their rate of involvement still remains relatively high however – during the past 18 years, approximately 1,200 riots and protests occurred on average in each given year, making 2014’s 5,300+ riots and protests relatively high.


[1] Organized, armed political violence refers to battles between armed groups, remote violence, and instances of violence against civilians.  It does not include rioting and protesting or non-violent events, which are events also coded in ACLED.

[2] A riot is defined as a violent disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled for a common purpose; this rioting can be either spontaneous or organized.  Protests, meanwhile, are nonviolent, spontaneous organizations of civilians for a political purpose.  By definition, protesters do not engage in violence. Hence, if violence occurs during a protest as a result of protesters’ actions, it is a riot and not a protest. If violence is done to protesters in the event of a protest, the event is deemed an instance of violence against civilians as, by definition, the protesters were targeted while not engaging in any violence.