The Dynamics of State Failure and Violence

The Dynamics of State Failure and Violence
Led by Øystein H. Rolandsen
Feb 2012 - Dec 2016



The Dynamic of  State Failure and Violence (DSFV) is a Research Council of Norway-funded four-year multi-disciplinary comparative research project to study the nexus of state-society-violence in the contemporary history of north east Africa. A few large-scale conflicts in this volatile region have overshadowed a myriad of smaller cases of state violence, local insurgencies and everyday insecurity. The DSFV-project collects original data to test new approaches to clarify and explain the dynamic impact of this broader violence on governance and politics in this region. As Africa’s youngest state with a particularly bloody and largely unrecorded history, the project devotes particular attention to the analysis of the contemporary history of South Sudan.

The project explores four interlinked themes:

  • Political culture and “State failure”: The DSFV-project critically examines policy driven research on political culture and state failure/collapse in Africa. Adopting an empirical and “down-to-earth”-approach it focuses on the everyday interaction between manifestations of governance, societal groups and individuals. A key element of the analyses is the notion of an implicit social contract and states’ failure to deliver on expectations of fundamental services such as the rule of law and protection of its citizens. The analyses of countries and local cases include both colonial legacies and comparing the dynamics patterns of governance and resistance over time.
  • Modes and types of “Irregular warfare”: instead of drawing a clear distinction between war and peace and between insurgency, civil war and inter-state war, the DSFV-project focuses on modalities of collective violence. Irregular warfare is defined as organised violence that does not conform to conventional warfare and is asymmetrical and often protracted. It may occur along the whole continuum of violence from “peace time” to total war.
  • The Cost of Conflict: Studies up to now have mainly focused on possible economic gains of warfare in Africa. Less attention has been given to the cost of organised violence and its economic and political impact. The DSFV-project employ the notion of “conflict capital”, which encompasses the input factors (e.g. weapons, money, food and legitimacy), needed to engage in organized violence. The cost of conflict analysis also include the ways in which recurrent violence impact and transform state-society relations in this region.
  • Regional and global factors politics: Under the cover of superpower contestation, African states developed their own regional policies and strategies. Now broader political currents acting at the national, international and now also transnational level increasingly affect African politicians and rebels. At the grassroots level, cross-border migration (both forced and voluntary) and borderland communities impact politics locally and at national centres. Moreover, engagement by international bodies and non-African states has been a constantly shifting factor demanding adroitness and adaptability from African players at different levels.


The DSFV-project is aimed at helping the international community and especially Norwegian actors (politicians, aid agencies, diplomats and global media) to obtain a more accurate perspective of the political, social, gender, and environmental situation north east Africa and Third World countries as such. The project eventually aim for making international and local actions in this region and especially in South Sudan more effective and appropriate to the needs on the ground.


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Durham University Conference 8-11 May
8-11 May the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in collaboration with the Department of History and the Global Security Institute of the Durham University organised a successful conference in Durham. More than 30 scholars gathered with the aim of exploring how, and to what degree, political violence shaped emerging independent states in northeast Africa in the 'formative' period between the 1950s and 1980.

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​Jo​​​urnal of Eastern African Studies, Special Issue: Politics and violence in eastern Africa: the struggles of emerging states, c.1940-1990​
New special issue co-edited by Øys​tein H. Rolandsen, featuring 11 articles on violence and​ ​​​politics in eastern Africa from 1940-1990. For abstracts and links to the complete issue, click the link below.  ​​​​​​

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The DSFV project will produce a broad range of deliverables – from non-academic seminars to academic monographs. Since early 2012, Dynamic of Violence and State Failure project forums have included:

This project consists of an international multi-disciplinary network of researchers managed by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

Core members of the network:

Project participants:


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

De Witte, Ludo (2017) The suppression of the Congo rebellions and the rise of Mobutu, 1963–5, The International History Review 39(1): 107–125.
Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora (2015) African Drone Stories, BEHEMOTH a Journal on Civilisation 8(2): 73–96.
Anderson, David M. & Jacob McKnight (2015) Kenya at war: Al-Shabaab and its enemies in Eastern Africa, African Affairs 114(454): 1–27.
Fisher, Jonathan & David M. Anderson (2015) Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa, International Affairs 91(1): 131–151.
Reno, William (2015) Lost in Transitions: Civil War Termination in Sub-Saharan Africa, The American Historical Review 120(5): 1798–1810.
Anderson, David M. & Jacob McKnight (2015) Understanding al-Shabaab: Clan, Islam and Insurgency in Kenya, Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(3): 536–557.
Rolandsen, Øystein H.; Helene Molteberg Glomnes; Sebabatso Manoeli & Fanny Nicolaisen (2015) A year of South Sudan’s third civil war, International Area Studies Review 18(1): 87–104.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & David M. Anderson (2015) Violence in the Contemporary Political History of Eastern Africa, International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 1–12.
Feyissa, Dereje (2015) Power and Its Discontents: Anywaa's Reactions to the Expansion of the Ethiopian State, 1950–1991, The International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 31–49.
Peterson, Derek R. (2015) Violence and Political Advocacy in the Lost Counties, Western Uganda, 1930–64, International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 51–72.
Russell, Aidan (2015) Rebel and Rule in Burundi, 1972, The International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 73–97.
Wiebel, Jacob (2015) "Let the Red Terror intensify”: political violence, governance and society in urban Ethiopia, 1976–78, International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 13–30.
Willis, Justin (2015) ‘Peace and Order Are in the Interest of Every Citizen’: Elections, Violence and State Legitimacy in Kenya, 1957–74, International Journal of African Historical Studies 48(1): 99–116.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. (2015) Another civil war in South Sudan: the failure of Guerrilla Government?, Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(1): 163–174.
Anderson, David M. & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2014) Violence as Politics in Eastern Africa, 1940–1990: Legacy, Agency, Contingency, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 539–557.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Cherry Leonardi (2014) Discourses of violence in the transition from colonialism to independence in southern Sudan, 1955–1960, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 609–625.
Anderson, David M. (2014) Remembering Wagalla: State Violence in Northern Kenya, 1962–1991, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 658–676.
Branch, Daniel (2014) Violence, Decolonisation and the Cold War in Kenya’s North-Eastern Province, 1963–1978, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 642–657.
Hagmann, Tobias (2014) Punishing the Periphery: Legacies of State Repression in the Ethiopian Ogaden, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 725–739.
Menkhaus, Ken (2014) Calm between the storms? Patterns of political violence in Somalia, 1950–1980, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 558–572.
Biong Deng Kuol, Luka (2014) Political Violence and the Emergence of the Dispute over Abyei, Sudan, 1950–1983, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 573–589.
Roberts , George (2014) The Uganda–Tanzania War, the Fall of Idi Amin, and the Failure of African Diplomacy, 1978–1979, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 692–709.
Yihun, Belete Belachew (2014) Ethiopian Foreign Policy and the Ogaden War: The Shift from ‘Containment’ to ‘Destabilization,’ 1977–1991, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 677–691.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Ingrid Marie Breidlid (2012) A Critical Analysis of Cultural Explanations for the Violence in Jonglei State, South Sudan, Conflict Trends(1): 49–56.


Rolandsen, Øystein H. & M. W. Daly (2016) A History of South Sudan: From Slavery to Independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Book Chapter

Rolandsen, Øystein H. (2016) Sudan: Fredens Pris [Sudan: The Price of Peace], in Mona Fixdal, ed., Fredsmegling i teori og praksis. Oslo: Cappelen Damm (209–239).

Edited Volume

Anderson, David M.; & Øystein H. Rolandsen, eds, (2015) Politics and Violence in Eastern Africa: The Struggles of Emerging States. London & New York: Routledge.

Non-refereed Journal Article

Kindersley, Nicki & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2016) Prospects for Peace and the UN Regional Protection Force in South Sudan, African Affairs (Virtual Issue: Making Sense of South Sudan) 120(480): 479–490.

Popular Article

Rolandsen, Øystein H.; Ingrid Marie Breidlid & Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (2012) Sudan and South Sudan: negotiating amidst brinkmanship and armed rebellions, Open Democracy, 17 September.
Rolandsen, Øystein H.; Ingrid Marie Breidlid & Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert (2012) Tiden renner ut [Time is Running Out], Dagsavisen, 6 August.

Conference Paper

Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Nicki Kindersley (2016) They are not forbidden from using violence: State Responses to the Anyanya Insurgency in Torit, 1955–1972, presented at 35th Sudan Studies Association Conference , Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York, 28 May 2016.


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