Skip to main content Accessibility help

Regions at Risk: Predicting Conflict Zones in African Insurgencies*

  • Sebastian Schutte


A method for predicting conflict zones in civil wars based on point process models is presented in this paper. Instead of testing the validity of specific theoretical conjectures about the determinants of violence in a causal framework, this paper builds on classic literature and a wide body of recent studies to predict conflict zones based on a series of geographic conditions. Using an innovative cross-validation design, the study shows that the quantitative research program on the micro-foundations of violence in civil conflict has crafted generalizable insights permitting out-of-sample predictions of conflict zones. The study region is delimited to ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that experienced full-blown insurgencies in the post-Cold War era.



Hide All

Sebastian Schutte, Marie Curie Fellow, Department of Politics and Management, Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany ( The author would like to thank Rolf Turner for having saved the day twice when the author got lost in the intricacies of the spatstat package for the R programming language. Yuri Zhukov provided very helpful feedback as a discussant for this paper at the Peace Science Society Workshop “Disaggregation in Terrorism Studies,” Philadelphia, PA, October 9, 2014. Participants of the Workshop on “Early Warning and Conflict” hosted by the Peace Research Institute Oslo also provided great advice and helpful in April 2015. Finally, the author would also like to thank the EU FP7 Marie Curie Zukunftskolleg Incoming Fellowship Program (Grant No. 291784) for financial support. Replication data and code are available both on the PSRM dataverse and the author’s personal website at To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



Hide All
Baddeley, Adrian, and Turner, Rolf. 2000. ‘Practical Maximum Pseudoliklihood for Spatial Point Patterns’. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Statistics 42(3):283322.
Baddeley, Adrian, and Turner, Rolf. 2005. ‘Spatstat: An R Package for Analyzing Spatial Point Patterns’. Journal of Statistical Software 12(6):142.
Basedau, Matthias, and Pierskalla, Jan Henryk. 2014. ‘How Ethnicity Conditions the Effect of Oil and Gas on Civil Conflict: A Spatial Analysis of Africa from 1990 to 2010’. Political Geography 38:111.
Berman, Mark, and Rolf, Turner. 1992. ‘Approximating Point Process Likelihoods with Glim’. Applied Statistics 41:3138.
Bhavnani, Ravi, Miodownik, Dan, and Nart, Jonas. 2008. ‘REsCape: An Agent-Based Framework for Modeling Resources, Ethnicity, and Conflict’. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 11:27.
Bhavnani, Ravi, Donnay, Karsten, Miodownik, Dan, Mor, Maayan, and Helbing, Dirk. 2013. ‘Group Segregation and Urban Violence’. American Journal of Political Science 58(1):226245.
Braithwaite, Alex. 2010. Conflict Hotspots: Emergence, Causes, and Consequences . Surrey: Ashgate.
Braithwaite, Alex, and Johnson, Shane D.. 2012. ‘Space-Time Modeling of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq’. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 28(1):3148.
Broxton, P. D., Zeng, X., Scheftic, W., and Troch, P. A.. 2014. ‘A Modis-Based Global 1-km Maximum Green Vegetation Fraction Dataset’. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 53(8):1996–2004.
Buhaug, Halvard. 2010. ‘Dude, Where’s My Conflict? LSG, Relative Strength, and the Location of Civil War’. Conflict Management and Peace Science 27(2):107128.
Buhaug, Halvard, and Rød, Jan-Ketil. 2006. ‘Local Determinants of African Civil Wars, 1970–2001’. Political Geography 25:315335.
Buhaug, Halvard, Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, Holtermann, Helge, Østby, Gudrun, and Tollefsen, Andreas Forø. 2011. ‘It’s the Local Economy, Stupid! Geographic Wealth Dispersion and Conflict Outbreak Location’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 55(5):814840.
Buhaug, Halvard, and Gates, Scott. 2002. ‘The Geography of Civil War’. Journal of Peace Research 39:417433.
Buhaug, Halvard, Gates, Scott, and Lujala, Päivi. 2009. ‘Geography, Rebel Capacity, and the Duration of Civil Conflict’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4):544569.
Butcher, Charles. 2014. ‘‘Capital Punishment’: Bargaining and the Geography of Civil War’. Journal of Peace Research 52(2):171186.
CIA. 2009. ‘Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency’. Available at, accessed 17 November 2015.
CIESIN. 2005. Gridded Population of the World, version 3 (GPWv3). Columbia University; and Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT). 2005. Gridded Population of the World version 3 (GPWv3): Population Grids. Palisades, NY: Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), Columbia University. Available at
Crawford, Oliver. 1958. The Door Marked Malaya. London: Rupert Hart-Davis.
Cressie, Noel. 1993. Statistics for Spatial Data. Sussex: Wiley.
DeRouen, Karl, and Heo, Uk. 2007. Civil Wars of the World: Major Conflicts since World War II. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Diggle, Peter J. 1985. ‘A Kernel Method for Smoothing Point Process Data’. Applied Statistics 34:138147.
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 2003. ‘Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War’. American Political Science Review 97(1):7590.
Fjelde, Hanne, and Hultman, Lisa. 2013. ‘Weakening the Enemy: A Disaggregated Study of Violence Against Civilians in Africa’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 58(7):12301257.
Galula, David. 1964. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Santa Barbara: Praeger Security International.
Gilmore, E., Gleditsch, N. P., Lujala, P., and Rød, J. K.. 2005. ‘Conflict Diamonds: A New Dataset’. Conflict Management and Peace Science 22(3):257292.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Ward, Michael. 2012. ‘Forecasting is Difficult, Especially About the Future: Using Contentious Issues to Forecast Interstate Disputes’. Journal of Peace Research 50(1):1731.
Goldstone, J. A., Bates, R. H., Epstein, D. L., Gurr, T. R., Lustik, M. B., Marshall, M. G., Ulfelder, J., and Woodward, M.. 2010. ‘A Global Model for Forecasting Political Instability’. American Journal of Political Science 54(1):190208.
Guevara, Ernesto. 1961. Guerrilla Warfare Authorized ed. Melbourne: Ocean Press.
Hallberg, Johann Dittrich. 2012. ‘Prio Conflict Site 1989-2008: A Geo-Referenced Dataset on Armed Conflict’. Conflict Management and Peace Science 29(2):219232.
Hegre, Håvard, Østby, Gudrun, and Raleigh, Clionadh. 2009. ‘Poverty and Civil War Events: A Disaggregated Study of Liberia’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4):598623.
Herbst, Jeffrey. 2000. States and Power in Africa-Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Herbst, Jeffrey. 2004. ‘African Militaries and Rebellion: The Political Economy of Thread and Combat Effectiveness’. Journal of Peace Research 41(3):357369.
Kalyvas, Stathis. 2005. ‘Warfare in Civil Wars’. In Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jan Angstrom (eds), Rethinking the Nature of War, 88108. Frank Cass: Abingdon.
Kalyvas, Stathis. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kalyvas, Stathis, and Balcells, Laia. 2010. ‘International System and Technology of Rebellion: How the End of the Cold War Shaped Internal Conflict’. American Political Science Review 104(3):415429.
Kocher, Matthew A., Pepinsky, Thomas B., and Kalyvas, Stathis. 2011. ‘Aerial Bombing and Counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War’. American Journal of Political Science 55(2):201218.
Lyall, Jason. 2009. ‘Does Indiscriminate Violence Incite Insurgent Attacks? Evidence from Chechnya’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(3):331362.
Lyall, Jason, and Wilson, Isaiah. 2009. ‘Rage Against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars’. International Organization 63(1):67106.
Mao, Tse-tung. [1938] 1967. On Protracted War. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
McColl, Robert W. 1969. ‘The Insurgent State: Territorial Bases of Revolution’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 59(4):613631.
McGovern, Mike. 2011. Making War in Côte d’Ivoire. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Mitchell, Tom M. 1997. Machine Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill International Editions.
Nelson, Andrew. 2008. ‘Estimated Travel Time to the Nearest City of 50000 or More People in Year 2000’. Available at
Nordhaus, William D. 2006. ‘Geography and Macroeconomics: New Data and New Findings’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103(10):35103517.
O’Loughlin, John, and Witmer, Frank. 2010. ‘The Localized Geographies of Violence in the North Caucasus of Russia, 1999–2007’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100(3):23792396.
Pierskalla, Jan H., and Hollenbach, Florian M.. 2013. ‘Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa’. American Political Science Review 107(2):207224.
Prunier, Gerard. 2009. Africa’s World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raleigh, Clionadh, and Hegre, Håvard. 2005. Introducing ACLED: An Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset.
Raleigh, Clionadh, and Hegre, Håvard. 2009. ‘Population Size, Concentration, and Civil War. A Geographically Disaggregated Analysis’. Political Geography 28(4):224238.
Rustad, Siri Camilla Aas, Buhaug, Halvard, Falch, Ashild, and Gates, Scott. 2011. ‘All Conflict is Local: Modeling Sub-National Variation in Civil Conflict Risk’. Conflict Management and Peace Science 28(1):1540.
Salehyan, Idean. 2009. Rebels Without Borders. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Salehyan, I., and Gleditsch, K. S.. 2006. ‘Refugees and the Spread of Civil War’. International Organization 60(2):335366.
Schrodt, Philip A. 2014. ‘Seven Deadly Sins of Contemporary Quantitative Political Analysis’. Journal of Peace Research 51(2):287300.
Schutte, S., and Donnay, K.. 2014. ‘Matched Wake Analysis: Finding Causal Relationships in Spatiotemporal Event Data’. Political Geography 41:110.
Schutte, Sebastian, and Weidmann, Nils B.. 2011. ‘Diffusion Patterns of Violence in Civil War’. Political Geography 30(3):143152.
Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Sheehan, Neil. 1988. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and the USA in Vietnam. London: Jonathan Cape.
Sundberg, Ralph, Lindgren, Mathilda, and Padskocimaite, Ausra. 2011. UCDP GED Codebook version 1.5-2011. Available at
Toellefsen, Andreas, Strand, Håvard, and Buhaug, Halvard. 2012. ‘Prio-Grid: A Unified Spatial Data Structure’. Journal of Peace Research 49(2):363374.
Vorrath, Judith. 2010. ‘Democratization as Integration: Exile, Return and Changing Conflict Lines in Burundi’s Democratic Post-War Transition’. PhD Thesis, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Available at http://ecollection.
Ward, Michael D., Greenhill, Brian D., and Bakke, Kristin. 2010. ‘The Perils of Policy by p-Value: Predicting Civil Conflicts’. Journal of Peace Research 47(4):113.
Ward, Michael D., Metternich, Nils W., Dorff, Cassy L., Gallop, Max, Hollenbach, Florian M., Schultz, Anna, and Weschle, Simon. 2013. ‘Learning from the Past and Stepping into the Future: Toward a New Generation of Conflict Prediction’. International Studies Review 15(4):473490.
Weidmann, Nils B., Kuse, Doreen, and Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2010. ‘The Geography of the International System: The CShapes Dataset’. International Interactions 36(1):86106.
Weidmann, Nils B., and Salehyan, Idean. 2013. ‘Violence and Ethnic Segregation: A Computational Model Applied to Baghdad’. International Studies Quarterly 57(1):5264.
Weidmann, Nils B., and Ward, Michael. 2010. ‘Predicting Conflict in Space and Time’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 54(6):883901.
Zammit-Mangion, Andrew, Dewar, Michael, Kadirkamanathan, Visakan, and Sanguinetti, Guido. 2012. ‘Point Process Modelling of the Afghan War Diary’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(31):1241412419.
Zhukov, Yuri M. 2012. ‘Roads and the Diffusion of Insurgent Violence: The Logistics of Conflict in Russia’s North Caucasus’. Political Geography 31:144156.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Schutte supplementary material
Schutte supplementary material 1

 PDF (551 KB)
551 KB

Regions at Risk: Predicting Conflict Zones in African Insurgencies*

  • Sebastian Schutte


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.