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Less Armed Conflict but More Political Violence in Africa

Courtesy of Steve Snodgrass/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 12 April 2017.

Conflict data sources show fewer armed conflicts, but are we getting the full picture?

Political violence in Africa is rising and it is more complex than before. But it is significantly less deadly than in previous decades, according to a number of conflict data sources.

Open-source conflict data is increasingly used to supplement reporting and analysis of trends in instability in Africa. A number of recent global reports, including the OECD States of Fragility 2016: Understanding Violence, use conflict data to show changes in conflict type, actors, tactics and intensity across and within countries over time.

While Africa accounted for only 16% of the global population in 2016, more than a third of global conflict took place here last year. Leading conflict data projects such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) show that conflict incidents in Africa rose significantly between 2010 and 2014, but have been declining since 2015.

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Internet Shutdowns During Political Unrest Are Becoming Normal – And It Should Worry Us

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Courtesy Michael Coghlan / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Political Violence at a Glance on 16 September 2016.

Last night, for the eleventh night in a row, Internet access was shut down in Gabon. Starting again at 7pm, network accessibility almost came to a halt. These “Internet curfews” come in the aftermath of highly contested and controversial national elections. Just over a week ago, Gabon’s incumbent president, Ali Bongo, declared himself winner of the elections by a narrow margin with 49.8 percent of all votes. His opponent, Jean Ping, who allegedly lost with 48.2 percent of votes has demanded a recount, and the international community has backed him up. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the election results, protesters took to the streets and set fire to a parliamentary house, while the opposition reported attacks against their premises by incumbent forces. Throughout the post-election tensions, the government has resorted to extreme digital censorship. Prior to the nightly Internet curfews, connections were cut for more than five days across the country while protesters took to the streets across Libreville, and according to Reuters, thousands were arrested under the charges of rioting.

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Revisiting Rebellion: Why Women Participate in Armed Conflict

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Courtesy simon/flickr

This piece was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 2 August 2016.

What makes a person choose to support or fight for a non-state armed group (NSAG)? This is a question that social science scholars have been asking for years. Work from political science and international relations has crystallized around two overarching reasons why individuals participate in organized political violence. The first, stemming largely from work by Ted Gurr, deals with grievance. This notion predicts that rebellion is not solely a rational act, but that it also requires feelings of frustration, exclusion, and/or relative deprivation. Scholars building on this idea have usually operationalized this to mean a grievance centered on political, economic, ethnic, and/or religious factors. The second school of thought, based on rational choice and economic models, predicts that individuals will choose to join a rebellion only when there is a perceived personal benefit–like power, money, or loot.

As noted in my recent article in the Journal of Global Security Studies, prior works that look at “greed” and “grievance” as motivating factors have found that both of these explanations are at least partly right. However, these examinations have usually been undertaken with the assumption that the default recruitment pool is made up of men and boys. Recent work has challenged this assumption, showing that women have contributed to the majority of NSAGs active since 1990, that they have contributed to rebellions in about 60 countries, and that women are more likely to be present in groups that use terrorism to further their aims (here, here, and here). Given this new knowledge, previous research using male-focused economic indicators or surveys that over-sample men seems to only tell part of the story.

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Violence Wracks Ethiopia  – But Don’t Expect Anything to Change

Courtesy of US Navy/ Wikimedia Creative Commons

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 11 August 2016.

Violent protests have shaken Ethiopia in the last month. More than 50 people have died, most of them shot dead by security forces. In contrast to an earlier wave of demonstrations that claimed the lives of more than 400 protestors and security agents early this year, this time the protests weren’t limited to the Oromo federal state, but instead originated in the Amhara region.

The spread of the protests — and the accompanying violence — points to increasing dissatisfaction with the government among large segments of the population. Together, the Oromo and Amhara people, whose presence largely correlates with the eponymous federal states, account for more than 60 percent of Ethiopia’s population.

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We Need to Rethink the Relationship between Mental Health and Political Violence

 

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Courtesy of Surlan Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 28 July 2016

Simplistic, sensationalist media coverage of terrorism obscures our understanding of its causes, and hinders our ability to prevent it.

After each atrocity, social media hosts the well-rehearsed rituals of mourning. News of the identification of the perpetrators is frequently followed by condemnation of the double-standard of media coverage – in relation to geography (sometimes misguided), and to language, particularly regarding the word ‘terrorist’. (It’s worth reading the BBC’s guidance about why it prefers not to use the term altogether). In recent months, it has become clear that there is frustration about the application of mental health diagnoses, especially in relation to white male violence, as well as confusion about the relationship between mental illness and terrorism. This is a fraught and difficult subject, rarely discussed sensitively on a platform such as Twitter, which rewards simplification and polarisation.

After the killing of Jo Cox, there was justifiable anger at ‘de-politicisation’ of her murder: many media outlets chose not to highlight Thomas Mair’s links to far-right white supremacist groups. His act certainly fits the definition of terrorism (‘one who uses violence or the threat of violence to further their political aims’) – although this does not discount the possibility that Mair may suffer from mental illness, nor does it negate the importance of a diagnosis. Rather than a reductionist either/or (“Is it ideology, or is it pathology? Chemicals in the brain, or ideas in the mind?”), it’s important to acknowledge that mental illness can be a contributory factor, because violence is often a confluence of personal, social and ideological elements. There’s a public bravura that prevents politicians from acknowledging this nuance (those that dissent are forced to state the obvious: ‘to understand is not to justify’) – all of which serves as an indulgence of ignorance, a dangerous form of self-denial.

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