A Spatial Theory of Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa
Lance Hadley | BIG Research Reports | #57
The state as a territorially homogenous container for sovereign power is typically utilized as a conceptual frame of analysis in intrastate conflict. However, observations of the territorial distribution of conflict in post-colonial weak states suggest geographic clustering in borderland territories. Especially in the Sub-Saharan African context, borders, despite the permeability and the arbitrariness appear to be a strategic territorial resource for alternative agents of sovereignty. While recent quantitative exploratory scholarship has suggested the significance of peripheral borderlands to intrastate war, little discussion has attempted to develop a formal theoretical framework (Buhaug 2010; Buhaug and Rød 2006; Buhaug and Lujala 2005) Combining a decade of empirical conflict observations from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) with an adaptation of Kenneth Boulding’s Loss of Strength Gradient (Boulding 1962), this paper attempts to develop a qualitative framework of state power that accounts for the spatial distribution of civil conflicts within states; or, why state power is often challenged in Africa’s borderlands. Select case comparisons are employed to explore this framework and suggest that borderlands in weak states are often spatially located where alternative sites of power can opportunistically challenge state sovereignty. Exploring the strategic importance of borderland areas, this paper seeks to elevate the discursively marginalized territory of state peripheries to the priority of developing states and the international development and security community.
Determinants of Civil Conflict in Africa: Borders as Political Resources
Lance Hadley | BIG Research Reports | #58
Contemporary spatial research on civil conflict in Africa has largely focused on borders and the state periphery as spaces of limited political and economic opportunity. These studies largely adopt approaches that present borderland citizens as operating in structurally desolate spaces of poor governance, economic opportunity and political inclusion. While spatial analyses are permitting unprecedented focus on borderland structures, causal mechanisms that explain how the geographic opportunities present from nearby international borders inform strategies of rebellion remain undeveloped. To explore this, this paper repositions the socio-economic processes in the borderlands as the central unit of analysis. In particular, this paper conceptualizes international borders as a political resource that is exploited by borderland groups to access unregulated ‘in’ and ‘out-flows’ of strategic capacity. This access to alternative strategic capacities is hypothesized to provide the opportunity for border citizens to challenge structural grievances and attempt alternative (if unlawful) governance structures within the borderlands. Lastly, this paper concludes with a spatial theory of conflict specific to Africa’s borderlands whereby relative distances from the state capital, in combination with weak state capacity, creates sites of competing power structures and ultimately violent civil conflict.
The Puzzle of Nonviolence in Western Sahara
Matthew Porges and Christian Leuprecht | BIG Research Reports | #78
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that has been controlled by Morocco since 1975, has seen virtually no violent resistance by the indigenous Sahrawi people since the conclusion of a 1975–1991 war between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. That lack of political violence is puzzling in light of several factors, including broad support for independence, social and economic disparities between Moroccan and Sahrawi inhabitants and Morocco’s repression of Sahrawi culture, resistance, and expressions of pro-independence sentiment. This article examines the absence of violence and draws lessons from Western Sahara: why some populations resort to violent resistance and others do not, and how best to frame and to study politically charged subjects such as insurgency, terrorism, and sovereignty. In addition to advancing theories of nonviolence, this article makes a methodological contribution to the study of resistance movements and improves our understanding of the conflict through fieldwork that included approximately 60 interviews with Sahrawi activists conducted in Morocco and Western Sahara. Western Sahara is difficult to study for a number of reasons, including its remoteness, relative international obscurity, and Moroccan suppression of dissenting research.
Matthew Porges and Christian Leuprecht