Political Territorial Control and Conflict-Related Violence in Postwar Abidjan


What explains spatial patterns of conflict-related violence in contested postwar cities? Existing studies of postwar violence tend to study the structural determinants of violence, but we still lack knowledge of the processes whereby political territorial control shapes and is shaped by violence. We argue that conflict-related violence in postwar cities is best viewed as part of a process of political territorialization whereby the postwar government seeks to undermine the opposition’s pockets of political territorial control. Opposition territoriality in cities constitutes a threat to the postwar regime, as such areas can function as a springboard for urban insurgency or political opposition. Both the government and the opposition therefore have stronger incentives to employ violence in opposition strongholds: the government to undermine the opposition’s territorial control, and the opposition to fortify its turf. We explore our argument on postwar Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, drawing on an original georeferenced dataset of conflict-related violence events and in-depth case studies of three urban districts. Patterns of conflict-related violence in postwar violence conform to our theoretical expectations, meaning that violence was more severe in opposition strongholds and of a character consistent with a process of political territorialization. Taken together, the study contributes new knowledge on how processes of political territorialization play out in postwar cities and shape the spatiality of conflict-related postwar violence.

Working paper
Sebastian van Baalen
Sebastian van Baalen
Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Research

My research interests include the dynamics of violence and civil war.