University of Sussex
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The emergence of violent Islamist groups: branding, scale and the conflict marketplace in sub-Saharan Africa

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posted on 2023-06-09, 03:46 authored by Caitriona Dowd
This research project addresses the question of how violent groups emerge and act under specific identity mantles in complex local, national and transnational conflict environments. It takes as a case study the example of violent Islamist groups in sub-Saharan Africa, and seeks to understand what influences the emergence and dynamics of violence under this specific ‘brand.’ It explains Islamist violence as a strategic tool in contexts of political and socio-economic marginalisation, deliberately mobilised under an Islamist brand in order to leverage a powerful and cross-ethnic identity among otherwise disempowered communities. The project explains variation in the intensification of conflict, use of anti-civilian strategies, and groups’ relationships with transnational actors, as strategic choices, shaped by features of the wider conflict marketplace, including the presence, relative strength and transnational linkages of conflict actors. Using quantitative conflict event data, supplemented by qualitative fieldwork, the findings of this research project are four-fold: first, it demonstrates that Islamist violence should not be conceived of as unique from other non-state violence. Rather, Islamist violence can be studied in comparative context, and through some of the same explanatory frameworks that have effectively traced the origins, drivers and dynamics of other forms of non-state armed violence. Second, it finds that Islamist violence is a strategic response to local political environments, shaping the emergence and dynamics of violence under different brands. Third, it presents evidence that in spite of a dominant narrative of a single, homogeneous, global threat of Islamist violence, local conditions shape this phenomenon, and undermine the assumption of a highly transnational, mobile and rootless network of homogenous militant groups. Finally, it shows that the contours of those local environments – reflected in the number, strength and relative activity of other non-state armed groups – shape the intensity and targeting of Islamist violence in important ways.


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