The African continent will see two dozen elections in 2019. While many observers herald this year’s surfeit of political contests as a sign post of the “Third Wave of Democratization,” others are less optimistic, noting the violence that often accompanies putatively democratic elections across the continent. Indeed, the causes and consequences of electoral violence in Africa are currently at the fore of work in both academic and policy circles. And the focus on electoral violence is warranted—in 2019 alone, violence has marred the political process in countries as diverse as Senegal, Nigeria, and Malawi, among others.
States are Far Less Likely to Engage in Mass Violence Against Nonviolent Uprisings than Violent Uprisings
What drives governments to crack down on and kill their own civilians in the context of popular uprisings? This is the topic of our newly-released special report with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. In it, we explore why governments engage in mass killings – or the intentional killing of 1,000 or more civilian noncombatants – in the context of both violent and nonviolent mass uprisings. Among 308 popular uprisings since 1955, we find that mass killings are surprisingly common, yet they are strongly associated with certain types of resistance. More broadly (and strikingly), we find that characteristics of the uprisings are just as significant as features of the states they are confronting.
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.
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.
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.