Mapping Africa Transformations


Instability is on the rise in the Sahel and West Africa. Violent events and civilian casualties are increasing. Our tools help policy makers to better understand the geography of violence which leads to better designed, place-based and contextualised policies.

In North and West Africa, many actors are involved in conflict, including state forces, rebel groups and extremist organisations. Their relationships are complex and volatile. Organisations that were allies one day can fight each other the next and co-operate later. To understand the changing nature of these relationships, this platform uses sociograms to visualise how violent actors are connected through alliances and rivalrous ties across the region.
Leveraging a dataset of 3,800 actors and 60,000 violent events from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the analysis highlights that the number of actors involved in violence has increased consistently since the late 2000s. The region’s conflicts are dominated by rivalrous relationships, while alliances are comparatively scare. This has catastrophic consequences for the stability of the region and the security of civilian populations.


Rivalry network

The rivalry network is remarkably compact considering the size of the region, the number of countries involved, and the various actors implicated in acts of violence. This confirms that the region has become one large theatre of military conflict, in which violent activities are no longer isolated but part of a wider conflict environment.
Nigerian civilians occupy the centre of the rivalry network, because they are targeted by both governmental forces, extremist violent organisations, and other armed groups. In the Central Sahel, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslim (JNIM) is not only the largest coalition of Jihadist organisations of the region but also the one with the largest number of enemies.


Alliances network

This network shows actors that voluntarily engage in alliances. It is much smaller than the rivalry network. Each actor has on average just over two allies. This network is dominated by alliances between governmental forces and their allied militias.
The network brings together the Nigerian military and police forces and the Civilian Joints Task Force, a federation of militias created to fight Boko Haram. In the Central Sahel, the most active alliances are those between the military forces of Mali and the Wagner Group, and between the military forces of Burkina Faso and auxiliary forces.



Over the last 23 years, North and West Africa has been dominated by conflict rather than co-operation. The density of rivalrous relationships has remained consistently higher than the density of co-operative relationships.
The slight overall trend toward increased co-operation is mainly driven by the formation of a Government of National Unity in Libya, and secondarily by new partnerships between African governments, local militias and mercenaries, and by the consolidation of Jihadist groups.

Network density in North and West Africa, 2000-2023


Over the last two decades, the conflict environment has become increasingly centered around a few exceptionally violent actors. This indicates that powerful state and non-state actors fight each other regularly, while being surrounded by actors marginally involved in acts of violence. This is a consequence of the consolidation of power observed in Libya and in the Central Sahel. In contrast, only a handful of state actors have managed to create a large coalition around them.


Network centrality in North and West Africa


  1. The growing number of violent actors, increasing density of rivalrous relationships, and growing centralisation of the conflict network are extremely worrying for the future of the region. They make peaceful efforts more difficult than ever in the region. They also contribute to increase the number of potential victims among the civilian population.

  3. A network approach to conflicts provides a more comprehensive understanding of the conflict environment and policy outcomes. The introduction of new actors in a conflict network, for example, can have unexpected consequences that can only be understood if the entire network is mapped. By considering international interventions, state forces, rebels, and militias as part of a single conflict system, the network approach can better detail threats to civilians and stability.


The fragmentation of conflict networks in North and West Africa

African armed conflicts involve a myriad of state forces, rebel groups and extremist organisations bound by rapidly changing alliances and rivalries

Conflict in North and West Africa is centralised around a few powerful actors

Organisations can be allies one day, fight each other the next and co-operate later again

Identifying local conflict trends in North and West Africa

North and West Africa have experienced several waves of violence in previous decades