Recognising the centrality of violence in the development process (though not subscribing to the notion that conflict and violence are development in reverse), in 2012–14 a group of researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) engaged in depth with the complex and thorny questions of how ‘new’ forms of violence in the developing world – as opposed to ‘traditional’ civil or intra-state war – should be understood; and through which policies they could best be prevented and/or mitigated.
The result of this endeavour is a series of evidence-based reports that were produced in collaboration with Southern partners in a sample of four violence-affected countries in Africa: Nigeria (Niger Delta), Sierra Leone, Egypt and Kenya (Marsabit County). The evidence from the four case studies suggests that – contrary to the early post-Cold War accounts of ‘barbarism’ and ‘senseless bloodshed’ – the violence we observe in many countries and locales today is about something. Yet, the analyses also show that the triggers, manifestations and effects of this violence – characterised as diffuse, recursive and globalised – cannot be captured by using the analytical tools developed to explain armed conflict within states.
Strictly speaking, it would be misguided to label the violence in the Niger Delta, Marsabit County, Egypt and Sierra Leone as ‘civil war’, ‘internal armed conflict’ or ‘new war’. Instead, it is more accurate to speak of highly heterogeneous situations of violence or ‘fields of social violence’. At the same time, it is crucial not to dissociate these situations of violence from political processes by, for instance, reducing them to manifestations of criminality, such as homicide and illicit drug trafficking, or reflections of social problems like rampant youth unemployment, the use of prohibited psychoactive substances, and gang culture.