Roads to Rule, Roads to Rebel: Relational State Capacity and Conflict in Africa


Weak state capacity is one of the most important explanations of civil conflict. Yet, current conceptualizations of state capacity typically focus only on the state while ignoring the relational nature of armed conflict. We argue that opportunities for conflict arise where relational state capacity is low, that is, where the state has less control over its subjects than its potential challengers. This occurs in ethnic groups that are poorly accessible from the state capital, but are internally highly interconnected. To test this argument, we digitize detailed African road maps and convert them into a road atlas akin to Google Maps. We measure the accessibility and internal connectedness of groups via travel times obtained from this atlas and simulate road networks for an instrumental variable design. Our findings suggest that low relational state capacity increases the risk of armed conflict in Africa.

Journal of Conflict Resolution, Online First