Crisis Mapping Africa’s Crossborder Conflicts

My colleague Dennis King just sent me update on the Humanitarian Information Unit’s (HIU) project, “Africa: Conflicts Without Borders 2007-2008.”

Instead of the usual depiction of conflicts as countrywide and defined by national boundaries, this map displays distinct conflict-affected areas in Africa as sub-national and transnational pockets of insecurity, violence, and armed aggression.  Areas of conflict were drawn around locations of reported conflict incidents in 2007 and 2008, as well as concentrations of internally displaced persons and cross-border rebel bases and refugee camps in neighboring countries.

This depiction of areas of conflict more accurately displays where conflict has been occurring in Africa and the sub-national and transnational nature of these conflicts.  In a follow-on project, this new visualization will be used to analyze the relationship between conflict and geo-spatial factors that are also not related to national boundaries, such as topography, natural resources, demographic distributions, and climatic hazards.

A PDF of the map below is available here.


The map categorizes conflict-affected areas into three types of conflict:

Armed Conflict, Inter-communal Strife, and Political Violence.  In many cases, armed conflicts and political violence are based on inter-communal strife.  The locations of violent food riots, pirate attacks (as of October 2008) and targeted attacks associated with terrorism during 2007-2008 have also been plotted on this map.  Disputed border conflicts are also identified on this map.

HIU zoom

As I have suggested in earlier blogs, I continue to be surprised that crisis maps are still shared as PDFs or JPGs. The above data should be made available in KML with a simple interface that enables users to query the data they are visualizing. At the very minimum, we should be able to visualize the data over time. I find static data less and less compelling in the context of crisis mapping.

For a Google Earth Layer of the above map, please see my follow up blog post.

Patrick Philippe Meier

13 responses to “Crisis Mapping Africa’s Crossborder Conflicts

  1. I don’t think most people are ready for dynamic crisis maps. PDFs and JPEGs are easy for most users to understand… just download it and its on your desktop… no further need for an internet connection.

    Although I don’t consider myself a ‘tech guy’ I am a reasonably advanced user and I still find the huge variety of mapping options bewildering. KML, GPS traces, Google maps, Google Earth, shape files etc. Until there are one or two straight forward consistent standards/interfaces that are easy to use your average aid worker will be more comfortable with PDF maps.

  2. Many thanks for your comments, Kevin.

    I’m not suggesting an either/or scenario, but rather a both/and approach. Static maps and dynamic maps taken together provide far richer situational awareness than static maps alone. My concern is that the rich data depicted on PDF maps is “locked in” and not transferable to other file formats. I think that’s a shame. If we have the data, we should make it available to multiple platforms.

    On the tech side, I share your concern which is precisely why I wrote that a “simple interface” is needed. This is the motivation behind the “Humanitarian Sensor Web” platform.

  3. Here is a link to the latest update to this product…

    You will notice that the chart/table on the poster summarizes the relative severity of the conflicts as well as mentioning peacekeeping missions.

    Also,I have included the criteria, defintions and sources, timeframes that I have used.

    I am trying to promote a different way of visualizing and analyzing conflict, one not based on the nation-state paradigm.

    Dennis King
    Humanitarian Information Unit
    US Department of State
    washington DC

  4. Thank you for this info. I am engaged in a semi debate on a related topic and this will help us all with our ideas on conflict on the continent.

  5. Dear Patrick,
    Your comments on crisis mapping are interesting, and for advocacy work are especially relevant for giving a better picture of the evolving crisis. Of course like you have said in your blogs yourself, who benefits from a crisis map? Not the people in the actual conflict I presume.
    I wonder if you participated in this conference by Global Transparency ( They had a lecture coordinated by Transparency International on ‘Accountability 2.0: Using social media in the fight against corruption’ (Session 4), which is highly relevant to the iRevolution concept.
    I have been trying to think about how the concepts brought up in this blog can be used for my own area of study in improving democratic governance. I think Accountability 2.0 may be a step in the right direction. What are your thoughts?

  6. Many thanks for your comments, Ben.

    I had not come across and accountability 2.0, thanks for the reference. Will definitely look into it!

  7. Hello Patrick,

    First — thanks for the good work of this blog. Since the mid ’90s, I’ve been a “ guy living in a world” and it’s really refreshing to see more and more people coming online with this approach.

    Second — Please take a look at this blog post I wrote for one of my client companies (AWhere): It describes the work we are doing with the UN Foundation on creating a dynamic web-based mapping project for the malaria (and ultimately global health) community. We’re pushing out the boundaries on this beyond what is commonly understood, and I think the results could be extraordinary.

    Third, for Kevin’s comment (above) — I think there is a both/and. When we educate people about the ability to interact and “ask questions” of a map, more than half of them “light up” and see the future. At the same time, being able to publish simple “views” of information for wider consumption also has value and relevance.

    Finally, Dennis, it’s encouraging that people like yourself at the State Department are thinking this way.

    Great site, I’m staying tuned.

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  11. this is good and important but need the participation of all

  12. Pingback: Africa’s Crossborder Conflicts on Google Earth « iRevolution

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