Ph.D. Dissertation

“A Climate of Exclusion? Environmental Migration, Political Marginalization and Violence”
University of Geneva, Thèse SdS no. 87 (Book project, under contract with Routledge).
Awarded the Prix Universal 2019, University of Geneva (ex aequo)
[Link]

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Despite alarmist claims in the public discourse about the consequences of environmentally-induced migration for security, little empirical research has attempted to evaluate the contention. This dissertation, therefore, sets out to examine the linkage between environmental change, rural-urban migration, and nativist violence. To do so, it presents new data on rural-urban migration for 17 Sub-Saharan African countries. The findings unambiguously indicate that climate change does affect rural-urban migration flows, but only to a limited extent. In turn, these migratory flows may cause a moderate increase in the probability of nativist violence, particularly when the native population is marginalized by the central government. The findings, thus, reject the alarmist predictions. Climate change is unlikely to cause mass migration and, as a consequence, to substantially destabilize states.

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Peer-reviewed articles

“Conflict versus Disaster-Induced Displacement: Similar or Distinct Implications for Security?”
Civil Wars, Forthcoming (with Heidrun Bohnet & Simon Hug).

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Recent research has found evidence for a linkage between conflict induced-displacement and violence. Yet, displacement is also caused by natural disasters, whose implications for security have until now not received much attention. Drawing on spatial data on flood-induced disasters and forced migration in Africa, we investigate the impact of migration caused by natural disasters on social conflict. We show that disaster-induced displacement differs from conflict-induced displacement and raises distinct security implications. We also consider if areas simultaneously affected by conflict and disaster-induced migration are particularly at risk of conflict. The results suggest that there is no such amplifying effect.

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“Violent conflict exacerbated drought-related food insecurity between 2009 and 2019 in sub-Saharan Africa”
Nature Food, 2021 2: 603-615 (With Weston Anderson, Charles Taylor, Sonali McDermid, Elisabeth Ilboudo Nébié, Richard Seager, Wolfram Schlenker, Alex de Sherbinin, Dara Mendeloff & Kelsey Markey).
[Link]

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Conflict, drought and locusts are leading concerns for African food security but the relative importance and spatiotemporal scale of crises resulting from each hazard is poorly characterized. Here we use continuous, subnational data to demonstrate that the rise of food insecurity across sub-Saharan Africa that began in 2014 is attributable to an increase in violent conflict, particularly in South Sudan and Nigeria. Although drought remains a leading trigger of food crises, the prevalence of drought-related crises did not increase from 2009 to 2018. When exposed to drought, pastoralists experienced more widespread, severe and long-lasting food crises than people living in agricultural zones. Food insecurity remained elevated in pastoral regions for 2 years following a drought, while agricultural regions returned to pre-drought food-security levels in ~12 months. The few confirmed famines during the 2009–2018 period coincided with both conflict and drought, while locusts had little effect on food security during this period.

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“Climate Change and Irregular Migration to the European Union.”
Global Environmental Change, 2021 69: 102275 (With Idean Salehyan).
[Link][Preprint][Replication files]

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The so-called `European Migrant Crisis’ has been blamed on armed conflict and economic misery, particularly in the Middle East and Sub- Saharan Africa. Some have suggested that this process has been exacerbated by climate change and weather events. In this paper, we evaluate these claims, focusing on the role of droughts in influencing irregular migration flows to Europe. Drawing on temporally disaggregated data on the detection of unauthorized migrants at EU border-crossing points, we empirically examine how the occurrence of weather shocks affects irregular migration. We show that weather events do indeed influence migration. Yet, in contradiction to the findings from recent research, we find no evidence that a drought in a sending country increases irregular migration to the EU. If anything, the incidence of drought seems rather to exert a negative, albeit moderate, impact on the size of irregular migration flows. This effect is observed in particular for sending countries dependent on agriculture for labor employment. Conversely, higher levels of rainfall increase migration, particularly for non-agrarian countries. We interpret this as evidence that international migration is cost-prohibitive, and that adverse weather shocks reinforce existing financial barriers to migration.

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“Conflict-induced IDPs and the Spread of Conflict.”
Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2018, 62 (4): 691–716 (With Heidrun Bohnet & Simon Hug).
[Link][G-IDP Dataset]

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Recent scholarship has found evidence that refugee flows may inadvertently contribute to the spread of conflict across borders. Little is known, however, about the spatial diffusion of conflict within a state’s borders and what role internal displacement plays in such a dynamic. This question is of relevance because of the particular marginalization of internally displaced persons, which make them at risk of predation and militarization by armed groups. Drawing on a novel global data set on internal displacement, we evaluate this question and find evidence for a similar mechanism leading to conflict spread operating at the domestic level.

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Chapter in edited volume

“Statistical Analyses Using IO Data.”
Introduction To International Organization Research Methods, ed. Badache, Fanny, Leah R. Kimber and Lucile Maertens, Forthcoming (under contract with Michigan University Press) (With Heidrun Bohnet & Simon Hug).

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Over the last two decades, international organizations (IOs) have become major data providers. This data is instrumental in supporting scientific research and shaping public policies. In this chapter, we discuss how statistical analyses of IO data can help answer important research questions, such as “what determines refugee flows?” We illustrate our argument by using data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Policy briefs and other contributions

“How Horizontal Inequalities Lead to conflict in Migration Countries.”
R4D Programme Policy Brief, 2019, no. 1 (With Roch Yao Gnabeli, Jean-Louis Lognon & Sarah Bütikofer).
[Link][French translation]

“Ethnic power relations in Zambia: A Critical Discussion.”
EPR Working Paper Series, 2016, No. 5 (With Owen Sichone).
[Link]

Working papers

“Migration Within and Out of West Africa: Recent Trends and Drivers”
(With Elisabeth Ilboudo Nébié, Chandler A. Morris, Richard Seager, Alex de Sherbinin, Wolfram Schlenker, Sonali S. McDermid, Michael J. Puma, Weston Anderson & Andrew R. Bell, under review).

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Mobility is one of the oldest adaptation strategies to challenging environmental, socioeconomic and political conditions. Across West Africa, people have long been involved in local, regional and more distant forms of migration. Regional migration is widespread and thought to be driven by a set of complex factors. Leveraging novel migration data, we conduct the first systematic study of the multiple drivers of regional migration within West Africa, focusing on social, economic and political variables. We use a mixed method design relying on both insights garnered from qualitative research as well as analyses of statistical associations between social, economic and political drivers and migration over the period 1990–2015

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“Re-framing the Frame: Cause and Effect in Climate-related Migration”
(with Marie-Laurence Flahaux, Jesse Ribot, Richard Seager & Godfreyb Ssekajja, under review).

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How do we analyze causality in what may be climate-related migration? How do we frame the analysis of causality in climate-related crises? Here we contrast two primary categories of analytical frames, which we label “Environmental-Drivers” and “Social-Causal” and draw attention to the implications of each frame with regards to causality. The first frame locates causality within climate shocks and variability. Under this frame, shocks are assumed to have independent causal power on migration. The second frame sees climate shocks as “trigger” and locates causality within the social, economic and political context, which shapes vulnerability. Distinct from the first frame, migration is viewed as an outcome of contextual social, political-economic and biophysical arrangements that enable a climate event to launch departures. This article then identifies areas of disagreement and commonality between these two frames and suggest pathways for future research.

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“Local Determinants of Nativist Violence in Côte d’Ivoire”
(With Jean-Louis Lognon).

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With this paper, we seek to contribute to the literature with a careful examination of micro-level determinants of migration-related violence in Côte d’Ivoire in the period immediately prior to the civil war. Côte d’Ivoire is a valuable case for the study of nativism, inasmuch as it has historically witnessed heavy migration both from within the country and the sub-region, facilitated by the state in view of supporting economic development. While previous research has widely documented how national-level factors contributed to the outbreak of violence during the 1990s, we still know little about the source of variations in nativist violence at the sub-national level. To do so, we leverage a novel dataset on nativist violence at the sub-prefecture level, supplemented with fine- grained population and settlement data. We carry the analysis over the period extending from the passage of the controversial 1998 land law, which ushered in a wave of nativist violence and expulsions, to the immediate eve of the civil war in September 2002. Such rich data enables us to examine how factors identified in the literature, including land scarcities, horizontal inequalities, competition over land, and the presence of security forces have influenced the risk of violence.

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“Rural-Urban Migration, Horizontal Inequalities and Violence.”

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Recent research has investigated whether internal migration might be associated with an increased risk of conflict. The literature has however found only limited evidence for a linkage. In this paper, I attempt to disentangle the mechanisms by focusing specifically on the conditions under which rural-urban migration may be linked to violence. While some researchers have claimed that internal migration may lead to violence, primarily because of competition over resources between migrants and local communities, others have contended it. Although these latter scholars do not deny that migration may locally lead to an increase in the frequency of conflict, they stress that the risk of conflict is compounded by governance failure, autocratic institutions and intergroup inequalities. Drawing on this strand of literature, I argue that conflict is likely to result from rural-urban migration when the indigenous ethnic group is victim of horizontal inequalities or the ethnic balance fragile. Using survey data about the direction and scale of urban migration for 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, I assess the linkage between rural-urban migration and violence using large-N analysis. Refining the analysis, I then explore whether this association is conditional on the marginalization of the local ethnic group. Results of the analyses provide evidence for a moderating effect associated with the presence of political inequalities suffered by the indigenous group.

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“Environmental Change and its Effect on Internal Migration.”

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Environmental change is projected to increase dramatically in the coming years. As a consequence, internal migration is expected to rise as well, as livelihoods will be adversely affected by droughts and changing precipitation patterns. This is in particular held to be true for developing countries where the lack of essential infrastructure is often compounded by governance failure. While previous research has found some evidence for a linkage between environmental change and internal migration, limited data on internal migration in developing countries has hampered systematic empirical research. Drawing on migration data drawn from large-scale public health surveys, I provide one of the first comparative assessments of the effects of environmental change on rural-urban migration for a sample of Sub- Saharan countries. The results show that environmental change does indeed affect the direction and level of rural-urban migration. Refining the analysis, I then attempt to disentangle the mechanisms linking environmental change to migration, focusing in particular on how political marginalization along ethnic lines and reliance on rainfed agriculture moderates this relation.

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“Perceptions of Economic and Political Inequalities among Young People in Africa.”
(With Simon Hug)

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Previous research has argued that a demographically large youth bulge influences the risk of violence, and in particular civil wars. Yet, results from empirical research have remained ambiguous. Specifically, the current debate focuses on whether the influence of a large youth bulge has a different effect on ethnic and non-ethnic civil wars. Based on recent empirical findings suggesting that ethnic civil wars result from perceived and objective inequalities across ethnic groups rather than as a function of the demographic structure of a given population, the present chapter examines whether the perceptions of inequalities between ethnic groups differs among youths in African countries. To do so, we rely on the Afro- barometers surveys. The results of the empirical investigations indicate that youths, defined as individuals in the 18–25 age range, do not generally hold systematically worse evaluation of the economic or political status of their ethnic group than the rest of the population. We interpret this findings as a potential explanation for why youth bulge do not appear to be associated with ethnic conflict.

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"”Electoral Information and Night Lights in Authoritarian Regimes.”
(With Aurélien Evequoz)

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Political elites are generally assumed to act strategically when redistributing public goods. In this paper, we investigate specifically how electoral in- formation affects nighttime lights changes in authoritarian regimes. Extant research emphasizes that authoritarian elites use elections to acquire information on the location of supporters and opponents. However, little is known on how information about electoral support impacts elites’ behavior toward their constituents, and ultimately the distribution of public goods. To fill this gap, we approach the provision of electricity as a club good that elites may use to reward supporters and punish unaligned constituencies. We expect authoritarian regimes to reward constituencies where support is strong, while constituencies displaying weaker support should experience a reduction in access to electricity. Using original data on nighttime lights imagery and district electoral results, our findings show that political considerations affect the timing and geographic location of electricity provision in authoritarian states.

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