The Urban Dilemma: Urbanisation and ethnocommunal conflict


Project Period

2019 – 2022

Project leader

Other project members


The world is rapidly urbanising, and countries in the global South are home to the most rapid urbanisation processes. Urbanisation simultaneously holds a strong potential for progress and democracy-enhancement, and for destructive and violence-inducing dynamics, a fact encapsulated in the notion of an “urban dilemma”. This project seeks to advance knowledge on why urbanisation brings with it intensified ethnic grievances and increasing levels of inter-group violence in the cities in some cases, but not in others, and asks: In the context of rapidly growing cities, under what circumstances do violent ethnocommunal conflicts arise?

By systematically analysing rural-urban patterns of ethnic conflict, the project seeks to identify conditions under which in-migration, urbanrural straddling, and urban politics aggravate or mitigate ethnocommunal conflict in the city. The project employs a mixed-methods design, utilising geographically disaggregated time-varying data on inter-group violence in rural and urban areas, in-depth field research in three African cities (Kampala, Uganda; Addis Abeba, Ethiopia; and Nairobi, Kenya) and a survey among migrants in order to more closely understand the conditions under which urbanisation leads to ethnocommunal conflict in the city. The project will generate a better understanding of dynamics that are at the center of current debates around urbanisation and sustainable development.



  • Elfversson, Emma & Kristine Höglund, 2021. Are armed conflicts becoming more urban? Cities, 119: 1-10, DOI:
  • Pellerin, Camille & Emma Elfversson, forthcoming. “(Re)claiming Finfinne? The Oromo struggle and the right to Addis Ababa.” In Urban Protest in an African Context of War, eds: Karen Büscher & Sam Kniknie, Brill, forthcoming.
  • Elfversson, Emma and Kristine Höglund (2020). Den våldsamma staden. In RJ:s årsbok 2020: Staden, edited by J. Björkman and P. Hadenius. Stockholm, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond/Makadam förlag.


Last modified: 2021-10-19