The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa

image of The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa

African governments are increasingly confronted with new forms of political violence. The situation is particularly worrying in the Sahara-Sahel where violence is on the rise. This degrading security situation has prompted African countries and their partners to intervene militarily to stabilise the region and to prevent the spread of extremism and violence against civilians. However, these initiatives face many obstacles due to the transnational nature and geography of violence. Tensions regionalise across state borders when armed groups, defeated by counter-insurgency efforts, relocate to other countries. This study maps the evolution of violence across North and West Africa, with a particular focus on Mali, Lake Chad and Libya. In the regions experiencing the highest levels of political insecurity, it identifies whether and how conflicts tend to cluster or spread, potentially across national borders. The work is based on a new spatial indicator of political violence designed to assess the long-term evolution of conflicts and provide policy options.



Characteristics of modern conflicts in Africa

Chapter 2 reviews the literature on armed conflicts in Africa, with a particular focus on their spatial dimension. The first section shows that no single cause can explain the increase in armed conflicts observed in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The governance of postcolonial elites, natural resources, sovereignty, ethnicity and religion are ingredients that combine in different ways and to varying degrees in each conflict rather than operating as universally deterministic causes. The second section shows that geography is a fundamental dimension of conflicts. Conflicts can be facilitated or constrained by geographical features such as mountains, borders, and distance to capital cities. Geography can also be a cause of conflicts when state and non-state actors fight for control over territory. Finally, conflicts can spread geographically, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The third section investigates how key geographical concepts such as distance, identity, borders, territory and scale affect the spatiality of modern conflicts.


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