Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

David C. Earnest

Committee Member

Jesse Richman

Committee Member

Michael Allen


In contrast to historical examples in which urban increase is accompanied by the pull factors of wealth and development, post-industrialized sub-Saharan African urbanization patterns are characterized by a lack of economic growth, confounding experts. Simultaneously, African conflict scholars have observed a major geographical shift in African conflict onset, moving out of rural regions and into urban centers. Recognizing the effects of increasing climate variability and threatened agricultural livelihoods, this study hypothesizes perceived economic advantage in cities induces human movement with potential for over-urbanization dynamics that exacerbate civil unrest.

To investigate, a Panarchy theoretical framework of nested adaptive cycles is used to construct a comprehensive multi-scalar model of environmental vulnerability, assessing topdown state-level factors as well as bottom-up sub-urban forces culminating at the municipal scale. A sixteen year time-series regression analysis (2000-2015) integrates these influences, confirming national composite measures of environmental vulnerability/adaptability and rural urban demographic transformation correlate strongly with a state’s likelihood of urban political violence. An out-of-sample validation comparing a geostatistical analysis of the model to observed georeferenced urban violence suggests the model is robust. The resulting state classifications of environmentally related urbanization and violence potential guide qualitative analysis.

On this basis, identified patterns in governance, resources and human agency are consolidated into a framework of urban environmental vulnerability, revealing regime duration/consolidation, specifically at a threshold of fifteen years, and democratic polity reduce the likelihood of urban violence. Importantly, the structures, processes and norms of governance define the distribution of resource-driven national capacity—sharing resiliency at all scales or conserving it for the sake of the state, with major implications for household capacity and the likelihood of adaptive mobility. Additionally, democracies inherently encourage competition and contestation processes critical to adaptation and reorganization without dismantling the entire system; however, in “younger” democracies these dynamics typically align with higher mobility and lower levels of urban violence reflecting “healthy” function. Autocracies, on the other hand, stifle these processes and risk becoming too rigid, achieving urban stability where governance is well-established, but limiting overall adaptability to environmental impact and increasing vulnerability to crisis as revealed in destabilized autocracies where urban violence is most extreme.


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