Civilian targeting in African conflicts - a poor actor's game that spreads through space

Piotr Lis, Michael Spagat, Uih Ran Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Downloads (Pure)


Armed conflict actors frequently target civilian populations. Thus, an improved understanding of such behaviour could pave the way to reducing it. We use the Civilian Targeting Index (CTI) and a broad array of geo-referenced data to investigate the spatio-temporal and economic dynamics of civilian targeting by conflict actors in Africa. Two main insights are generated. First, the civilian targeting behaviour of African non-state conflict actors is strongly influenced by the behaviour of other proximate actors. In particular, non-state actors tend to increase their civilian targeting after nearby non-state actors have done so. Possible mechanisms to explain such spatial spillovers include emulation and retaliation. Second, a negative relationship between economic activity and civilian targeting exists and applies to both state and non-state actors. In addition, CTIs of non-state actors tend to increase with population density, the geographical spread of their conflict activity and conflict duration. State actors have higher average CTI's than non-state actors do but the gap between the two actor types tends to close during long-duration conflicts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Early online date8 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (


  • African conflicts
  • civilian targeting
  • one-sided violence
  • spatial diffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Civilian targeting in African conflicts - a poor actor's game that spreads through space'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this