Mapping the Geography of Political Violence in North and West Africa

By Olivier J. Walther, Assistant Professor in Geography, University of Florida and consultant for the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD); Steven M. Radil, Assistant Professor in Geography, University of Idaho and David Russell, consultant for SWAC/OECD

A worrying turn

The security situation in North and West Africa has taken a worrying turn. Within the span of a few years, Mali has faced a military coup, a secessionist rebellion, a Western military intervention, and several major terrorist attacks. In the Lake Chad region, Boko Haram is attempting to revive an Emirate, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries. In Libya, the bombing campaign by NATO in 2011 hardly put an end to the civil war that continues to oppose rebels and militias. If the trend observed so far continues, this year will be the deadliest recorded in the region since 1997, with more than 8 300 killed through June.

Despite the multiplication of security studies, the geography of conflict throughout the region is obscured by the large number of belligerents, their divergent political strategies, and a focus on individual countries as the primary context of the continuing violence. While violence remains on the increase, it remains unclear whether violent organisations are intensifying their efforts in particular localities, spreading insecurity to a growing number of regions, or relocating under the pressure of government forces. Continue reading