Putting a Tape Measure Around Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Geoff HarrisEmail author
  • Mediel Hove


This chapter provides a broad picture of violence in sub-Saharan Africa, which has reached chronic proportions in much of the region and permeates the whole range of inter-personal relationships. Following a review of key peace concepts, the chapter reviews recent research on the nature of this violence, its extent, its causes and its consequences. An important finding is the wide variation in the levels of violence between and within countries, which shows that violence is not inevitable and that choices can be made to deal with conflicts non-violently. The effectiveness of current efforts to address this violence – via law, religion and education – is discussed. The chapter concludes by emphasising that understanding violence will do little to change it; effective nonviolent interventions over decades will be required.


Conflict Violence Sub-Saharan Africa Nonviolence 


  1. Adams, T. 2011. Chronic violence: the new norm in Latin America. Available: (Accessed 10 August 2017).
  2. Adjei, S. B. 2016. Masculinity and spousal violence: discursive accounts of husbands who abuse their wives in Ghana. Journal of Family Violence, 31: 411–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Akinwale, A. 2010. Integrating the traditional and the modern conflict management strategies in Nigeria. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 10(3): 123–146.Google Scholar
  4. Alexander, P. 2013. Marikana, turning point in South African history. Review of African Political Economy, 40 (138): 605–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Amstutz, L. and Mullet, J. 2005. The little book of restorative discipline for schools. Intercourse, city, PA: Good Books.Google Scholar
  6. Annan, N. 2014. Violent conflicts and civil strife in West Africa: Causes, Challenges and Prospects. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 3 (1): 1–16.Google Scholar
  7. Barker, G. and Ricardo, C. 2005. Young men and the Construction of Masculinity in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for HIV/AIDS, Conflict and Violence. Social Development Papers: Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Paper no. 26. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  8. Bellis, M. A., Jones, L., Hughes, K. and Hughes, S. 2010. Preventing and Reducing Armed Violence. What Works? New York: United Nations Development Programme.Google Scholar
  9. Bukari, K. N. 2013. Exploring indigenous approaches to conflict resolution: the case of the Bawku Conflict in Ghana. Journal of Sociological Research, 4(2): 86–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burton, P. and Leoschut, L. 2013. Results of the 2012 National School Violence Study. Cape Town: Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.Google Scholar
  11. Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). 2008. Streets of pain, streets of sorrow. The circumstances of the occurrence of murder in six areas with high murder rates. Available:–the-circumstances-of-the-occurrence-of-murder-in-six-areas-with-high-rates-of-murder. (Accessed 18 October 2016).
  12. Chigwata, T., O’Donovan, M. and Powell, M. 2017. Civic protests and local government in South Africa. Working Paper Series No. 2. The civic protests barometer 2007–2016. Cape Town: ACSL, Dullah Omar Institute.Google Scholar
  13. Chikwiri, E. and Lemmer, E. M. 2014. Gender-based violence in primary schools in Harare and Marondera districts of Zimbabwe. Journal of Sociology & Social Anthropology, 5(1): 95–107.Google Scholar
  14. Cocodia, J. 2008. Exhuming trends in Ethnic Conflict and Cooperation in Africa: Some Selected States. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 8(3): 9–26.Google Scholar
  15. Colak, A. and Pearce, J. 2009. ‘Security from lelow’ in contexts of chronic violence. IDS Bulletin, 40(2): 11–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A. 2002. On the Incidence of Civil War in Africa. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46(1): 13–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cools, S. and Kotsdam, A. 2017. Resources and intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. World Development, 95(3): 211–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Waal, A. 2014a. When Kleptocracy Becomes Insolvent: Brute Causes of the Civil War in South Sudan. African Affairs, 113(452): 347–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Waal, A. 2014b. Identity, rentierism, secession and conflict: analysis and implications of the civil war in South Sudan. Oslo Forum, 36–44.Google Scholar
  20. Diphoorn, T. and Kyed, H. M. 2016. Entanglements of private security and community policing in South Africa and Swaziland. African Affairs, 115(461): 710–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Doughty, K. C. 2016. Remediation in Rwanda: grassroots legal forums. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  22. Eagle, G. 2015. Crime, fear and continuous traumatic stress in South Africa: What place for social cohesion? Psychology in Society, 49: 83–98.Google Scholar
  23. Fjelde, H. and Ostby, G. 2014. Socioeconomic inequality and communal conflict: a disaggregated analysis of sub-Saharan Africa. International Interactions, 40(5):737–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. 2012. Regional disparities and marginalisation in Kenya. Nairobi: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.Google Scholar
  25. Galtung, J. 1990. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3): 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gender Links and the Medical Research Council of South Africa. 2010. The war @ home: preliminary findings of the Gauteng gender violence prevalence study, Pretoria, 2010. Available: (Accessed 18 November 2013).
  27. Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development. 2010. More violence, Less Development: Examining the relationship between armed violence and MDG achievement. Available: (Accessed 12 June 2017).
  28. Govender, D. 2016. A conceptual analysis of strategies to reduce violent crimes in a democracy: A South African Perspective. Journal of Sociology and Social Anthropology, 7(4): 289–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Harris, G. and Vermaak, C. 2015. Economic inequality as a source of interpersonal violence: evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa. South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences, 18(1): 45–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Helliwell, J., Layard, R. and Sachs, J. (2017). World Happiness Report 2017, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Available: (Accessed 8 August 2017).Google Scholar
  31. Hove, M. and Chenzi, V. 2017. ‘Prophets of doom’: The Zimbabwean Christian community and contemporary politics. Insight on Africa, 9(2): 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Human Security Report Project. 2013. Human Security Report 2013: the decline in global violence: evidence, explanation, and contestation. Vancouver: Human Security Press.Google Scholar
  33. Institute for Economics and Peace. 2016. The economic value of peace 2016: measuring the global economic impact of violence and conflict. Available: (Accessed 8 August 2017).
  34. Institute for Economics and Peace. 2017. Global Peace Index 2017. Available: (Accessed 8 August 2017).
  35. Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. 2015. SA Reconciliation Barometer 2015. Briefing Paper 1. National reconciliation, race relations and social inclusion. Available: (Accessed 8 August 2016).
  36. Jewkes, R., Sikweyiya, Y. Morrell, R. and Dunkle, K. 2009. Understanding men’s health and use of violence: interface of rape and HIV in South Africa. Medical Research Council, South Africa. Available: (Accessed 25 April 2019).
  37. John, V. 2013. Transforming power and transformative learning in peace educator development. Journal of Social Sciences, 37(1): 81–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. John, V. 2015. Working locally, connecting globally: the case of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 10(2): 81–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Justino, P. 2010. How does violent conflict impact on individual educational outcomes? The evidence so far. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education. Available: (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  40. King, M. 1999. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The power of non-violent action. New Delhi: UNESCO/The Indian Council for Cultural Relations.Google Scholar
  41. Kiyala, J. 2016. Utilising a traditional approach to restorative justice in the reintegration of former child soldiers in the North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa Insight, 46(3): 33–50.Google Scholar
  42. Kiyala, J. 2017. Reintegrating former child soldiers: an action research project in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, In Kaye, S. and Harris, G. eds. 2017. Building peace via action research. African case studies. Addis Ababa: University for Peace, 223–238.Google Scholar
  43. Langa, M. and Kiguwa, P. 2013. Violent masculinities and service delivery protests in post-apartheid South Africa: a case study of two communities in Mpumalanga. Agenda 95/27: 20–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Le Roux, C. and Mokhele, P. 2011. The persistence of violence in South Africa’s schools: In search of Solutions. Africa Education Review, 8(2): 126–143.Google Scholar
  45. Leach, F., Fiscian, V., Kadazamira, E., Lemani, E. and Machakanja, P. 2003. An investigative study of the abuse girls in African Schools. Sevenoaks: DFID Education Publications.Google Scholar
  46. Lederach, J. 1997. Building peace: sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.Google Scholar
  47. Mafini, C. and Meyer, D. 2016. Societal Factors and Life Satisfaction: Evidence from Low Income Urban Societies in a Developing Country. Journal of Economics and Behavioural Studies, 8(3): 87–100.Google Scholar
  48. Melvin J. 2015. Reconciling Rwanda: Unity, Nationality and State Control. London: Institute of Commonwealth Studies.Google Scholar
  49. Mncube, V. and Harber, C. 2013. Dynamics of violence in South African schools, Pretoria: UNISA. Available: (Accessed 25 April 2019).
  50. Moller, V., Roberts, B. J., Tilliouine, H. and Loschky, J. 2017. Waiting for happiness in Africa. In Helliwell, J., Layard, R. and Sachs, J. eds., World Happiness Report 2017. Available: (Accessed 25 April 2019).
  51. Mulumeoderhwa, M. and Harris, G. 2014. Forced sex, rape and sexual exploitation: the attitudes and experiences of high school students in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 17(3):284–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Muzondidya, J. and Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. 2007. ‘Echoing Silences’: Ethnicity in post-colonial Zimbabwe, 1989–2007. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 7(2): 275–297.Google Scholar
  53. Ngwenya, D. and Harris, G. T. 2015a. Healing from violence: an action research project among survivors of Gukurahundi, Zimbabwe, Peace & Security Review, 8(2): 1–14.Google Scholar
  54. Ngwenya, D. and Harris, G. T. 2015b. The consequences of not healing: evidence from the Gukurahundi violence in Zimbabawe. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 15(2): 23–34.Google Scholar
  55. Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). 2017. Trends in armed conflict, 1946–2016. Conflict Trends 02, 2017. Available: (Accessed 17 August 2017).
  56. Pearce, J. 2007. Violence, Power and Participation: Building Citizenship in Contexts of Chronic Violence. London: Institute of Development Studies.Google Scholar
  57. Pierotti, R. 2013. Increasing rejection of intimate partner violence: evidence of global cultural diffusion. American Sociological Review, 78(2): 240–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Raleigh, C. 2015. Urban violence patterns across African states. International Studies Review, 17(1): 90–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rogers, E. 2003. Diffusion of innovations. 5th edn. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  60. Sellman, E., Cremin, H. and McCluskey, G. Eds. 2013. Restorative approaches to conflict in schools: interdisciplinary perspectives on whole school approaches to managing relationships. Milton Park, Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  61. Smith, A. 2010. The influence of education on conflict and peace building. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education. Available: (Accessed 27 June 2017).
  62. Statistics South Africa. 2017. Poverty trends in South Africa: an examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015. Available: (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  63. Stewart, F. 2003. Horizontal inequalities: a neglected dimension of development (working paper 1). Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford: Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, CRISE.Google Scholar
  64. Stewart, F. 2008. Horizontal inequalities and conflict: understanding group violence in multiethnic societies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  65. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2016. SIPRI Yearbook 2016: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Summary. Available: (Accessed 5 July 2017).
  66. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2017. Military expenditure database. Available: (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  67. Swan, B. 2000. Peace in perspective. Available: (Accessed 10 August 2017).
  68. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 2014. From Research to Action: Advancing Prevention and Response to Violence Against Children. Report on the Global Violence against Children Meeting, Ezulwin, Swaziland, May 28–30. Available: (Accessed 25 April 2019).
  69. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2017. School Violence and Bullying: Global Status Report. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  70. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2014. Global Study on Homicide 2013: trends, contexts, data. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  71. Voices4change. 2015. Being a man in Nigeria: perceptions and realities. Available at (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  72. Wilkinson, R. 2004. Why is violence more common where inequality is greater? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1036:1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. World Bank. 2011. World Development Report 2011. Conflict, Security and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank. Available at (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  74. World Health Organisation (WHO). 2013. Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-partner Sexual Violence. Geneva: World Health Organisation. Available at (Accessed 3 July 2017).
  75. Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency and ICF International. 2016. Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey 2015. Final report. Rockville, MD: Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) and ICF International. Available at (Accessed 14 August 2017).

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Durban University of TechnologyDurbanSouth Africa
  2. 2.University of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe

Personalised recommendations