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Where Rebels Dare to Tread: A Study of Conflict Geography and Co-option of Local Power in Sierra Leone


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


This analysis illustrates how violence patterns are shaped by local power concentrations. Disaggregated conflict analysis has led to major advances into understanding conflict trends, agents, and dynamics of violence but has not been matched by studies of disaggregated politics, in particular on the subnational level. This analysis details how conflict event location, frequency, and intensity is largely determined by levels of customary authority and development; while armed group bases and control networks are established in areas characterized by weak, co-opted local authorities, wealth generation possibilities, and proximity to other network nodes. This demonstrates that dominant opposition groups co-opt local elites and target those who cannot be easily co-opted or belong to alternative networks. Manifestations of conflict are therefore not well explained by the typically static resource, poverty, or state capacity measures. Local politics and customary authority determine where government, rebels, and militias dare to tread. Sierra Leone Local–Location Event Dataset—a new disaggregated data set on the Sierra Leone war and local source feature of Armed Conflict Location and Event Data—provides substantial evidence for our subnational conflict explanations.