The Urban Dilemma: Urbanisation and ethnocommunal conflict


Project Period

2019 – 2023

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 Ababa, 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, 2023. Urban growth, resilience, and violence. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 64 (2023)
  • Pellerin, Camille & Emma Elfversson, 2023. (Re)claiming Finfinne? Violent protest and the right to Addis Ababa. In Rebellious Riots: Entangled geographies of contention in Africa, eds: Karen Büscher & Sam Kniknie, Brill, ISBN: 978-90-04-54239-6
  • Elfversson, Emma, Kristine Höglund, Angela Muvumba Sellström & Camille Pellerin, 2023. Contesting the growing city? Forms of urban growth and consequences for communal violence. Political Geography, Volume 100, 102810. DOI:
  • Pellerin Camille & Dalaya Ashenafi, 2022. Unpacking the Addis Ababan exceptionalism: Living and making sense of violent protests in Ethiopia’s capital. Urban Forum
  • Ahmed, Amina, Emma Elfversson & Kristine Höglund, 2022. “Martha Karua is taking centre stage in Kenya’s elections: what it means for women in politics.” The Conversation Africa, 2022-08-05. (link)
  • Ahmed, Amina, Emma Elfversson & Kristine Höglund, 2022. “The struggle for gender-equal representation: The 2022 election in Kenya”. Blogal Studies (Gothenburg University School of Global Studies Blog), 2022-12-20. (link)
  • Elfversson, Emma, 2022. “Drivers of electoral violence in Kenya: Red flags to watch out for.The Conversation Africa, 2022-05-01. (link)
  • Willis, Justin & Emma Elfversson, 2022. “Kenya declares William Ruto as its new president in an election drama that’s far from over.” The Conversation Africa, 2022-08-15. (link)
  • Elfversson, Emma & Kristine Höglund, 2021. Are armed conflicts becoming more urban? Cities, 119: 1-10, DOI:
  • Elfversson, Emma & Kristine Höglund, 2021. “Have cities become the main battlegrounds in armed conflicts?” Word on the Street, 2021-10-27. (link)
  • 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: 2023-09-05