Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header



The "Geography of Political Violence Across Africa" project has offered several insights into the sheer quantity and variance of human suffering due to conflict. This research has greater resonance at this time of shifting international values and geopolitical norms, as it finds that political violence is increasing and shifting forms. This finding is in direct contrast to recent popular wisdom that suggested conflict was decreasing. The consequences are evident at every turn: people experience more diverse threats to their life than in previous years; development prospects are diminished in the face of persistent disorder, and looming famines threaten because of violence, not climate change.

Violence designed to topple governments has generally decreased, despite the ongoing wars in places like DR-Congo, Somalia and Libya. But disorder has become more common and volatile. Conflicts now involve more violent groups whose goal is to land grab, seek retribution, dominate local territories, and terrorize opposition supports. Even most groups fighting in the major wars -such as those in Somalia and Libya- have vastly different goals and behaviour. By some accounts, DR-Congo has several dozen different conflict groups allied and aggregated into multiple organizations; Libya has three governments, and at least one hundred and twenty-five distinct conflict groups. They are not all fighting with or against the government, but responding to the immediate threats and competition within their localities.

Civilians in the developing world are now attacked by more and varied groups than at any time under record. For example, in DR-Congo, the likelihood that two attacks are perpetrated by the same organization is 1 in 10, despite the millions poured into 'post-conflict' management. Decentralized violence is especially worrying because of how much funding and effort has gone into 'state capacity building' in the past two decades. The state is an object of competition, and regimes are not necessarily winning.

Modern violence generally results in fewer deaths than civil and international wars, but its instability is widespread, persistent and suffocating to society. It is designed to destabilize governments and populations, hinder political development and limit civic freedoms. It takes the form of elections marred by threats before and after voting; gangs that patrol cities; death squads; community vigilantes; political assassinations and violence upon political party supporters, journalists and ordinary, expendable citizens. Examples of these groups are common: the Janjaweed in Sudan; Sunni Tehreek in Pakistan; ZANU-PF militias of Zimbabwe; Kikuyu militias in Kenya; Fulani in Nigeria; the Awami League in Bangladesh; and Myanmar's National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

What has caused this disorder? Political instability increased while wars decreased for two reasons: domestic politics and political elites. Elites, such as national politicians, local leaders, regional governors, political opponents, business leaders, and former rebels, don't directly engage in violence; they hire, arm and support militias to do so. Conflict is created by the strong and powerful, it is not a reaction of the weak and poor. Conflict is a strategy to consolidate authority and access more power, territory, and money, and not due to a breakdown of a fragile government. Elites manipulate and abuse the 'rules of the game' for their own means if and when they can, according and the 'games within the rules'.

GEOPV employed multiple methodologies to examine conflict and collect data on conflict. By allying with ACLED, the most extensive African database on political violence and protest was supported, and the GEOPV researchers wrote both academic and public reports which summarized, examined and tested the patterns of violence emerging across the state. The collection of data, and the examination, took into account local groups and explanations for the violence, and reflected the diversity of risk to average African citizens.