GEOPV: Geographies of Political Violence Across African States

Prof. Raleigh and ACLED researchers at the University of Sussex are involved in a five-year project on the geography and stages of political violence in Africa, funded by the European Research Council’s Young Investigator Grant Program.

The central aim of this project is to explain what causes the various types of political violence found within and across African states. In contrast to the widespread view that conflict is confined to a few crisis prone states, new evidence suggests that almost all states are sites of substantial, widespread political insecurity (Raleigh et al. 2010). Civil war accounts for less than half of all political violence occurring across African states; the remaining conflict is composed of communal and political militia violence, rioting, protests and violence against non-combatants outside of a war context. These forms of ‘invisible’ violence often involve state collusion and present a widespread risk to civilians.

This project tests whether different governance practices and policies within states creates incentives for distinct types of violent reactions on the local, regional and national level. It employs the latest available disaggregated data methodologies for spatial and temporal dynamics. Further, it introduces spatial and scaled approaches, which are the most rigorous and well suited to a comprehensive conflict study, as risks, triggers and dynamics are spatially inscribed and hierarchical.

The theoretical contribution of this work is an examination of how insurgency and opposition violence are spatial and political processes that are shaped by the political, economic and social geographies of states. The empirical contributions include an extension of the most comprehensive data on political events collected and publicly available (ACLED) and a merging of these disaggregated data with information on local level political, economic, social and environmental conditions throughout Africa.

Research in the GEOPV project considers which factors shape the distinct conflict environments that can be found across African states. Our focus is subnational in scale, and several papers linking forms and changes in subnational governance and conflict are, or will be, available for download here. These include recent papers that highlight the variation in the type and intensity of violence within countries (see “Conflict Landscapes”) and how democracies, autocracies and unstable governments experience different dominant forms of political violence.

In addition, work on Islamist violence, ungoverned space, local traditional authority and conflict in Sierra Leone, and relationships between food prices, local climate and violence are parts of a larger focus on ‘Conflict Environments’.

Further, researchers investigate why conflicts occur where and when they do. To that end, active projects include an examination of Africa’s changing conflict trends; the links between the ‘political marketplace’ and violence patterns; the consequences of political elite volatility in government; devolution and violence; states’ ‘conflict carrying capacity’, and the role of religious, ethnic and regional identity in creating organized violence. While time is largely under-addressed within conflict studies, two recent papers on the volatility of violence within civil wars and the stages of violence expand upon the importance of understanding escalation and diffusion over time.

Ultimately, the goal of disaggregated conflict research is to interpret, describe and analyze modern African political violence. New forms of violence look quite different than typical civil war studies would suggest. Conflict is now conducted mainly by governments and ‘political militias’- organizations that function as violent agents of political elites, and have proliferated since a shift to democratization. These findings are introduced and extensively discussed in the first article to track the movements of these organizations. Urban violence, patterns of instability in the Sahel, the clustering of discrete forms of political violence, communal violence, and rioting behavior are also new agendas in the GEOPV project.

Please contact Prof. Raleigh with further inquiries.