My research focuses on trade and political violence in West Africa. Using social network analysis, I study how informal traders have adapted to transformations affecting the global economy by developing transnational networks that rely on ethnic, religious or business ties. I am also interested in understanding how violent extremist organizations operate using pre-existing social networks, how they extend their activities across borders, and what are their connections to insurgencies in Africa.
Over the last ten years, I have served as a lead investigator or partner on externally funded research projects from the United Nations World Food Program, the European Commission, the OECD, the European Spatial Planning Observatory, the governments of Luxembourg and Denmark, and the Carlsberg Foundation. I have also collaborated with the World Bank Trade Unit and the United Nations Counter-terrorism Executive Directorate.
Transnational terrorism in West Africa
From 2019-20 I am coordinating the new research program on insecurities in West Africa of the OECD. Using dynamic social network analysis, our goal is first to develop reliable data on the spatial patterns and social networks of violent extremist organizations in the Sahara-Sahel over time and at the smallest possible geographic and temporal scale for analysis. The project will then investigate the effect of foreign interventions on the networks of alliances or conflict between violent extremist organizations in the Sahara-Sahel. This work is conducted with Steve Radil, David Russell, Leonardo A. Villalón, Marie Trémolières, Tatiana Smirnova and Matthew Pflaum.
I am also leading an international research network funded by the Danish government that focuses on transnational extremist organizations, with a particular focus on African armed groups. Combining network science and political science we aim at developing a mixed-methods approach to transnational extremist organizations that can simultaneously take into account their social networks, political motivations, and spatial patterns.
Our book African Border Disorders, edited with Bill Miles of Northeastern University, was published in September 2017 with Routledge. See our blog or flyer. Most of this work has been conducted with Christian Leuprecht and David Skillicorn at Queen’s University.
Cross-border trade and regional integration in West Africa
From 2007-08, I have coordinated the West African Cities and Borders program of the OECD. This project builds on a memorandum of understanding signed by the University of Florida and the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) in Paris on March 2017. The collaboration aims to better anticipate changes in border cities within the Sahel and elsewhere in West Africa. The two-year program involves research activities dedicated to cities and borders and on policy initiatives aiming at facilitating exchange among researchers, policy-makers and the civil society. Upload the final report on women and trade here and the papers on border cities here.
In 2017 I also coordinated the Gender and Markets: Empowering Women in West African Markets project of the World Food Program with Leena Hoffmann and Paul Melly, both at Chatham House. We conducted a gendered analysis of regulatory, political and social frameworks that impact on women’s empowerment in agricultural markets and value chains in West Africa. This research contributed to an improved understanding of gendered patterns and frameworks as well as explore options for the humanitarian community to fully integrate women’s empowerment into market-based interventions in West Africa.
From 2013 to 2016, I have worked on two programs funded by the OECD, which resulted in the publication of the Atlas of the Sahel-Sahara and of Cross-border Co-operation and Policy Networks in West Africa. Before that, I led two other international collaborations focusing on cross-border trade in West Africa: the WANETS project with Rutgers University Professor Allen Howard, and the CROSSTRADE project with the University of Niamey.
Spatializing social networks
With my colleague Steve Radil of the University of Idaho, we seek to problematize the treatment of networks in geography by exploring the largely underutilized literature on social networks as an alternative to the now dominant ANT and assemblage frameworks. Our research discusses the conceptual connections between key concepts in geography and those in network theory. Our work opens new directions for geographers that are interested in more than the metaphor of the network.
I have participated in several other research projects dedicated to European borders, such as MetroNet, Metrolux, GEOSPECS and METROBORDER. Our work has contributed to define European cross-border city-regions and measure cross-border integration. Before the war broke out in Mali, I have been involved in the Hombori Project on tourism and economic development led by the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.
A full list of research projects is available in my CV.
My Google Scholar profile is here.