Instability has been growing in the Sahel and West Africa as transnational violent extremist organisations have proliferated. As a result, violent events have become more frequent and civilian casualties have increased. Our tools help policy makers to better understand the spatial dynamics of violence which leads to better designed, place-based and contextualised policies.
Borderlands are strongly associated with conflict. In 2023, 23% victims of violent events in North Africa were located within 100 km of a border. This percentage increases to 65% for West Africa. The growing number of transnational conflicts and groups underscores the need for a better understanding of how borders shape patterns of political violence.
Since 1997, violence has been more likely to occur in borderlands than elsewhere. From 1997-2023, nearly 49% of all violent events and 50% of fatalities took place within 100 kilometres of a border. The closer one gets to a border in the region, the more violence occurs. The highest percentage of events and fatalities can be found within the 0-10 km zone accounting for 10% of events and 11% of fatalities. Yet the population living in these borderlands represents less than 6% of the total regional population. The border population therefore experiences 67% more violence than the non-border population.
Borderlands were much more violent in the 1990s compared to today. During the civil wars in the Gulf of Guinea, half of the violence took place within 20 km of a borderland. Over the last decade, the proportion of violent events in borderlands has surged again with the development of several insurgencies in the Sahel since 2011. Interestingly, most of the regions that were in conflict 15 years ago are peaceful today, and much of the violence observed today is taking place in regions that were peaceful 15 years ago.
The major border conflict epicentres are the Lake Chad and the Burkina Faso/Mali/Niger tri-border area. In 2023, in the tri-border area, 40% of violent events and 43% of fatalities in the three countries are within just 50 km of the tri-border. A conflict belt 1 200 km long and 200 km wide stretches from Central Mali to the Tillaberi region in Niger. This shows how entrenched violence has become. Not only is this a disastrous situation for the people that live within these borderlands, but it also speaks to the need for co-ordinated cross-border solutions.