Violence is predominantly rural in North and West Africa


21/03/2023 - Despite rapid urbanisation, violence has become more rural, particularly in West Africa according to a new report Urbanisation and Conflicts in North and West Africa published today by the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD).  More than 40% of all violent events and fatalities recorded since 2000 occurred in areas with fewer than 300 people per square kilometre. When violence does occur in urban areas, it is more frequent in small urban agglomerations of less than 100 000 inhabitants.

Based on disaggregated conflict data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the report shows how violent actors exploit the advantages of cities and their hinterlands to spread conflict in the region.

The current ruralisation of violence observed in the region and in the Sahel in particular does not mean that urban areas do not play a central role as there is a clear relationship between distance to cities and the decrease in violence.

The report also highlights the need to better understand the geographical dimension of conflicts and for policies to consider the local, national, cross-border and regional dimensions of conflict.

Key messages:

Conflicts are becoming more rural

Despite rapid urbanisation, less than 20% of battles, violence against civilians and remote attacks recorded in 2022 in West Africa are in urban areas, compared to 70% a decade ago. A similar trend can be observed in North Africa, where urban violence has been cut by half since the early 2000s.

Violence clusters near urban areas

While most violence occurs in areas of lower density, political violence is nevertheless spatially associated with urban areas. The study confirms that violent events occur most frequently near cities and urbanised places. In the last 22 years, 68% of all violent events occurred within just 40 kilometres of an urban area.

Urban violence predominantly affects small cities

Urban violence primarily affects urban agglomerations with fewer than 100 000 inhabitants. In 2015, nearly 40% of violent events and 64% of fatalities occurred in small urban areas. Political violence accounts for only 3% of violent events and 1% of fatalities in large cities.

Violence in rural areas isolates major cities

Violence in rural areas tends to isolate major cities from their hinterlands. Since the mid-2010s, major urban centres such as Niamey, Ouagadougou or Bamako have been surrounded by ever-expanding areas of conflict. Movement and communication between secure areas around these centres has become increasingly difficult as adjacent rural areas have become zones of profound insecurity.

Rural violence is driven by Jihadist insurgencies

While most violent events tend to occur in close proximity to urban areas at the regional level, some states, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger—which are currently confronted with major interconnected jihadist insurgencies—seem to involve more rural conflict than others.

Read or download the book for free

Download the brochure

Visit the Mapping Territorial Transformations in Africa (MAPTA) platform:

Visit the SWAC website:

For more information, please contact Lia Beyeler (+33 1 45 24 89 54,

The Sahel and West Africa Club is an independent international platform hosted at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


Related Documents