Guest speakers at UF

This semester, four guest speakers will be speaking in my class “Politics of Ethnic Conflict” CPO 4721 at the University of Florida.

ibOn February 8, my colleague Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim from the University of Florida will present his new paper “The Wave of Jihadist Insurgency in West Africa” published in the West African Papers series of the OECD.




kirwinOn February 15, Matthew Kirwin, who works as an analyst at the State Department will discuss his research on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other violent extremist organizations.



steven-radilOn February 22, Steve Radil from the University of Idaho will present a paper in which he uses social network analysis to understand the patterns of conflict and cooperation among 30 prominent warring groups within Syria, tracking relations between them over time.




danOn March 29, my colleague Dan Eizenga from the University of Florida will discuss his recent paper “The Unstable Foundations of Political Stability in Chad“, also published in the West African Papers series of the OECD.

Linking borderlands research and policy

MalanvilleDec2017 (12)

Linking borderlands research and policy was at the heart of a conference organized by Point Sud Bamako and the African Borderlands Research Network at LASDEL in Niamey last week. Thanks again to Mareike Schomerus and Gregor Dobler for having us on board and putting together such great panels!

My colleagues Leonardo Villalón, Leena Hoffmann, Lawali Dambo, Moustapha Koné and I presented our research on cross-border policy networks in West Africa and our on-going project Cities and Borders, both funded by the OECD.

While in Niamey, Bill Miles and I also officially launched our new edited book African Border Disorders published with Routledge this year.

Help us map One Stop Border Posts in Africa!

Regional Economic Communities have built dozens of One Stop Border Posts – or Postes Juxtaposés in French – in Africa over the last couple of years. OSBPs convert a two stop border crossing point into a one stop border with a view to facilitate intra-African trade.

As part of the 2017-18 Cities and Borders program of the OECD, we would like to map these border posts and know whether they are operational or not. Help us update our list by downloading this Excel file and email us at owalther[at] Thanks for your help!

The Gaya-Malanville One Stop Border Post, 2010-16

This satellite view of Malanville, in northern Benin, was taken in 2010, before the Niger-Benin OSBP was constructed. The city market – one of the largest in Benin – is near the top of the picture. Image: Google Earth.


This is Malanville in 2016, after the construction of the OSBP. The market has moved to the west of the city and been replaced with a huge border post. As of today, the OSBP is not operational. Image: Google Earth.


Political violence in the Sahel-Sahara

The Sahel and the Sahara are faced with exceptional political instability involving a combination of rebellions, jihadist insurgencies, military coups, protest movements and illegal trafficking.

In this new OECD working paper and blog, I argue that the Sahel-Sahara is not just the victim of an escalation of wars and conflicts that marked the 20th century. The region has also become the setting of a globalized security environment, which blurs the lines between what is local and global, military and civilian, domestic and international, politics and identity.

Using ACLED data on violent events from 1997 to 2016, I show that the current period combines three types of organized violence: armed struggles for political power, criminal activities for personal gain, and human rights violations to create homogeneous ethnic and religious areas. I also highlight the need to strengthen regional co-operation, restore the legitimacy of governments, and establish inclusive governance solutions in conflict zones.

The paper is an update of the chapter entitled “Security issues, movement and networks in the Sahara-Sahel” I wrote for the OECD Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel in 2014. It also builds on “Strange bedfellows”, a blog I wrote with Antonin Tisseron in The Broker in 2015.


Mapping conflicts and alliances across North-West Africa

The relationships between armed groups in North and Western Africa are often characterized by widely varying rivalries and alliances. Groups that were fighting each other one day can very well be allied the next day.

In a recent paper published in Terrorism and Political Violence, my co-authors Christian Leuprecht and David Skillicorn and I have used network analysis to represent alliances and conflicts among 179 organizations involved in violence in the region. Building on ACLED data from 1997-2014, we show that the structural positions of armed groups affect their ability to resort to political violence. In other words, groups with similar allies and foes have similar patterns of violence.

Our new paper combines, for the first time, two spectral embedding techniques that have previously been considered separately: one that takes into account the direction of relationships between belligerents, and one that takes into consideration whether relationships between groups are positive or negative.


Nigeria and Benin to host major border conference in 2018

The 16th edition of the Border regions in Transition (BRIT) Conference will be co-hosted by the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin from October 15 – 18, 2018.

It is the first time that BRIT – one of the two leading border conferences in the world – is organized in Africa. The conference, which will address “North-South Dialogue on Border Management”, has received the institutional support of several Nigerian authorities.

Since 1994, BRIT conferences have been jointly held in two cities situated in different countries, including San Diego-Tijuana (1999), Jerusalem-Palestine (2005), Fukuoka-Busan (2012), and Hamburg-Sønderborg (2016).

More information about BRIT 2018 will soon be available at


New book addresses transnational organizations in Africa

Our new book “African Border Disorders” was published in the Routledge Series in African and International Politics this week. Edited with my colleague Bill Miles at Northeastern, the book explores the relationships that bind states, transnational rebels and extremist organizations, and borders in Africa.

Combining network science with geographical analysis, the first part of the book highlights how the fluid alliances and conflicts between rebels, extremist organizations and states shape regional patterns of violence in Africa. The second part examines the spread of Islamist violence around Lake Chad through the lens of the violent group Boko Haram, which has evolved from a nationally oriented militia group, to an internationally networked organization. The third part of “African Border Disorders” explores how violent extremist organizations conceptualize state bound­aries and territory and, reciprocally, how the civil society and the state respond to the rise of transnational organizations.

This edited volume is the first tangible output of our international network funded by the Danish government. It builds on a two-day workshop organized at the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers–The State University of New Jersey in September 2016.

Editors: Olivier J. Walther and William F.S. Miles. Contributors: Dan Cunningham (NPS), Caitriona Dowd (IDS), Nikolas Emmanuel (Copenhagen), Sean Everton (NPS), Christian Leuprecht (Queen’s), William F.S. Miles, Jaume Castan Pinos (SDU), Steven M. Radil (Idaho), David Skillicorn (Queen’s), Kristen Tsolis (MIIS), Olivier J. Walther, Bruce Whitehouse (Lehigh), Quan Zheng (Queen’s).


“Hezbollah’s Global Tentacles”

Our paper our Hezbollah’s criminal networks in North America finally appeared in print in Terrorism and Political Violence. Written with my Canadian colleagues Christian Leuprecht, David Skillicorn and Hillary Ryde-Collins almost two years ago, the paper uses social network analysis to map two fundraising networks for which sufficient open-source intelligence was available. It confirms that the networks conformed to the hub-type structure, where a relatively small number of highly connected actors develop transnational linkages and funnel a portion of the illicit gains to their home country without engaging in domestic attacks. Read the full paper by clicking on this eprint link.

Dearborn network (Operation Bathwater)

New book on cross-border policy networks in West Africa

Our new book “Cross-border Co-operation and Policy Networks in West Africa” was launched at the 2017 European Conference on African Studies (ECAS). Published by the OECD Sahel & West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat, the book uses social network analysis to examine how policy actors involved in cross-border co-operation contribute to the regional integration process in West Africa.

In addition to Laurent Bossard and Marie Trémolières from SWAC/OECD, the book was discussed by Daniel Bach (Sciences Po), Mohamadou Abdoul (GIZ), Leena Hoffmann (CILSS) and Bruce Byiers (ECDPM).map.PNG.