The Geography of Repression in Africa


I ask how the location of a protest affects how forcefully governments crack down. This geography of repression provides insight into a larger strategic problem: under what conditions do leaders meet protests with violence? I argue that protests in rural areas pose a smaller threat and, thus, prompt less frequent intervention. However, when governments decide to repress rural protests, they are less concerned that lethal repression might incite a backlash, as there are fewer bystanders in more rural areas that can join the fray. I uncover two patterns consistent with this theory: (1) repression is 30 percent more frequent in response to social conflicts in urban areas; but (2), if the state does employ repression, it is 75 percent more likely to kill dissidents in rural areas. The empirical relationships I report cannot be explained by reporting bias, international sanctioning, proximity to past armed conflicts, or the presence of natural resources.