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.