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‘Monitoring the Frog’ in Africa: Conflict Early Warning with Structural Data

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There is in both the theory and practice of early warning a clear preference for tracking and analysing proximate or immediate causes of conflict, sometimes referred to as ‘triggers’ or ‘accelerators’, over factors that might generate earlier warnings, such as shifts in deep-rooted, structural determinants of conflict. This preference reflects common assumptions made about the nature of structural factors (viz. that they are static and/or too indirectly linked to outcomes) and the relative ease with which less deeply rooted factors may be monitored. I suggest that structural factors are indeed variables, the value of which can be indirectly assessed with proxy indicators. Adopting a method from conservation biology, the monitoring of a ‘species’ of conflict (low intensity herder-farmer conflict), allows one to assess how well society is bearing political, economic, environmental and cultural stress. Normally considered too difficult to track in their own right for use as data in early warning systems, monitoring patterns in herder-farmer relations allows the observer to tap into otherwise inaccessible structural data that can be useful in anticipating the onset of wider-scale conflict.

Affiliations: 1: DePauw University, Email:, URL:


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