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

    3 Citations (Scopus)
    77 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)900-914
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Peace Research
    Issue number5
    Early online date8 Feb 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 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


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