A new spatial indicator of political violence in Africa

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While violence remains on the increase in North and West Africa, it remains unclear whether armed groups are intensifying their efforts in particular localities, spreading insecurity to a growing number of regions, or relocating under the pressure of government forces.

In order to provide some evidence for these crucial questions, my colleagues Steve Radil, David Russell and I developed a new Spatial Conflict Dynamics indicator (SCDi) that examines the intensity and concentration of violent events in North and West Africa since 1997.

The indicator is part of our project on foreign interventions and transnational insurgencies funded by the OECD. It is comprised of metrics that focus on two interrelated but different spatial properties of violence: the relative intensity of conflict across a region (spatial density), and the relative distribution of conflict locations relative to each other (spatial concentration).

The SCD indicator suggests that violence has both relocated and expanded over time. Contrary to popular belief that global extremist ideas fueled by transnational groups spread like wildfire across the region, the paper shows that conflict is largely localized. Less than a third of the regions with violence exhibit signs of diffusion.

However, the SCD indicator also confirms that the geography of violence is less isolated than 20 years ago. Multiple clusters of high-intensity regions have formed in the Sahel, where violence is spilling over to adjacent regions and countries. These clusters are more likely to be surrounded by a periphery of lower intensity regions than in the past.

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