Conflict networks in North and West Africa

Source: OECD/SWAC (2021)

The new OECD report on security was launched at the Sahel Coalition this week. Entitled “Conflict networks in North and West Africa”, the report maps the evolution of alliances and rivalries in the region since the late 1990s.

Using Dynamic Social Network Analysis, the report examines how rivalries and alliances shape patterns of violence across the region and how military interventions affect conflict networks.

More enemies than allies

This report finds that violent organisations fight much more than they collaborate with each other. In 2020, the network that connects the organisations involved in conflictual events counted 562 nodes, more than four times the number of organisations involved in building alliances across the region.

Cooperation and opposition networks look alike

This report highlights surprising similarities between cooperation and opposition networks: both are rather decentralized and organized around a few key organisations. This “cosmopolitan” structure suggests that violent organisations tend to reproduce the same patterns irrespective of the nature of the ties that link them. In other words, rivalries and alliances should be conceived as two alternatives that can be mobilized as circumstances change.

An increasingly dense and polarized structure

The temporal study of conflicts shows that opposition networks tend to be denser and more centralized over time in North and West Africa. This evolution is alarming. It means that violent organisations tend to have an increasing number of enemies, a sure sign that conflicts are intensifying in the region and that each theatre of operation becomes increasingly focused on a limited number of key belligerents. This polarization of the conflict environment has devastating consequences for civilian populations.

Military interventions reshape conflicts

Our study finally suggests that the impact of military interventions on these conflict networks has been rather limited in duration. Partisan military interventions temporarily weakened their opponent without achieving stability. Worse, each intervention has encouraged jihadist and rebel organisations to respond to the initial shock of the military intervention in ways that may have made them more resilient.

Conflicts that cannot end?

The increasing number of belligerents, increasing density of conflictual relationships, and polarization among powerful organisations capable of conducting extensive military operations make a peaceful resolution of the North and West African conflicts more elusive than ever.

The report was coordinated by Dr. Marie Trémolières (OECD), Dr. Olivier Walther (UF), and Dr. Steven Radil (USAFA), in collaboration with Mr. David Russell, Mr. Matthew Pflaum, Dr. Alexander Thurston, and Ms. Natalie Mesplay. Funding came from the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC).

Published by Olivier J. Walther

Assistant Professor of Geography specializing in trade and political violence in West Africa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: