Book chapter

Changing Patterns of Political Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa have declined in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare. African civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s are less common compared to the mid-1990s. The character of warfare has also changed. Contemporary wars are generally small-scale, fought on state peripheries and increasingly across multiple states, and involve factionalized insurgents who typically cannot hold significant territory or capture state capitals. Episodes of large-scale mass killing of civilians are also on the decline. That said, other forms of political violence that receive less attention in the academic literature are increasing or persistent. These include electoral violence and violence over access to livelihood resources, such as land and water. Geopolitical shifts since the end of the Cold War are a leading candidate to explain the changing frequency and character of warfare in sub-Saharan Africa. New global priorities, including changes in external state funding opportunities for insurgents, an emphasis on change through elections, investments in conflict mediation strategies, and the rise of China are hypothesized as critical factors shaping the new patterns of warfare.