Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 103, 3 June 2020

Urbanization is a key driver of conflict in Kabul, Karachi, Nairobi and Mogadishu: IISS Report
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) brought out a research paper titled "Urban drivers of political violence" by Antônio Sampaio. This IISS study is a field-based research that identifies urban drivers of political violence in four cities located in the fragile states of Mogadishu, Nairobi, Kabul, and Karachi and highlights the specific policy challenges in these cities, which require personalized measures to tackle the rapid urban population growth.

Issues at large 

First, unplanned urbanization feeds local tensions. The demographic trend of urbanization in these cities although not a direct cause has increased local tensions and weakened the already weak government. The rate of growth of the urban population in the four countries are above the global average for the 2015–2020 period. This rapid and unmanaged urbanization process aggravates local tensions and state weakness. Further, this demographic trend has profound implications for state stability and security.

Second, nonstate actors as parallel seat of state power. The presence of militias, gangs, and non-state actors has delegitimized state authority. The unequal distribution of public services has created an entry point for armed groups who look to acquire political influence and economic benefits in sections of the urban territory. These groups include private militias linked to former warlords in Kabul, gangs linked to political figures in Nairobi, and wealthy entrepreneurs who use corrupt police officers to grab land in these cities. Further, violence from external actors and terrorism. Violence from external factors such as the Taliban and al-Shabaab have undermined the State's authorities by exposing the defects within its institutional framework. 

Third, weak and corrupt rule of law. Although the above two issues have further contributed to the drivers of violence and the diminishment of state authority, these cities have a weak mechanism to tackle political violence for authorities are unable or unwilling to meet the population's basic expectations such as the provision of physical security, necessary services, and legitimate political institutions. Further, weak and corrupt security forces have also been a contributing factor.

These issues have given rise to political challenges for the policymakers who will find it increasingly difficult to achieve key goals in fragile countries without addressing the specific sources of political violence and instability in the world's rapidly expanding cities.

In perspective 

First, this study has brought out an inward-looking aspect of political violence and the importance of looking at internal and the urban factors that drive political violence. Further, the study also highlights the direct influence of states themselves who give rise to political challenges. These aspects will help in comprehending and addressing issues more effectively thus allowing state authorities to formulate better policies. 

Second, the study sheds light on the complexities of that exist in urban settings where density, vulnerability, and unpredictability of these areas demand new paradigms of intervention.


Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru

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