Urban Drivers of Political Violence

Antonio Sampaio
Content Type
Working Paper
International Institute for Strategic Studies
The demographic trend of urbanisation, while not a cause of conflict, exacerbates local tensions and weak governance. It also creates an urgent need to understand the policy challenges that exist in cities such as Mogadishu, Nairobi, Kabul and Karachi. The rate of growth of the urban population in the four countries covered by this study was above the global average for the 2015–20 period – and more than double the average in the cases of Kenya and Somalia. With the exception of Pakistan, these countries also registered higher urban population growth in 2018 than the average for fragile and conflict-affected countries, which was 3.2%. Typically built without formal land rights, lacking basic public services, and featuring low-quality housing in overcrowded conditions, slums are perhaps the most visible characteristic of cities undergoing rapid and unmanaged urbanisation. But they are not the only one. Cities located in or near areas where armed conflict is taking place also tend to be split by several dividing lines – between slums and the rest of the city, between ethnic groups, between licit and illicit (often criminal) economies, and between violent and safe areas. Whereas many of these divisions may be part of broader national problems, their geographical concentration in the limited confines of a city creates distinctly urban drivers of violence, and therefore requires tailored policies in response. These divisions, exacerbated by the rapid urbanisation process, have contributed to a decline in state authority – governmental capacity to enforce rules, monopoly over the use of force, taxation and other state prerogatives – at the municipal level. In cities, therefore, security and governance go hand in hand. The existence of organised armed groups able to replace key state functions makes the challenges in cities affected by armed conflict particularly urgent. This report sheds light on the ways in which cities contribute to the weakening of state authority, and aims to provide a basis for the formulation of better, more tailored policies.
Political Violence, Demographics, Urban, Housing, Public Service
Political Geography
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Africa, Middle East, Somalia, Nairobi, Karachi, Kabul, Mogadishu