Do Nightlights Emissions Enlighten? Exploring the effect of local economic conditions on violence against civilians during civil war

Principal Investigator

Dr Nils-Christian Bormann

Research Institution

University of Exeter

Project Summary

In this project, Dr Stacey Hynd (History), Dr Jonathan Cinnamon (Geography) and Dr Nils-Christian Bormann (Politics) investigate the effect of local economic conditions on violence against civilians in Uganda. To better understand the economic causes of civilian targeting such as abduction, displacement and death, we will approximate local economic conditions through satellite-based night lights imagery. This project will create the important precondition of valid and reliable data on local economic conditions to assess the economics-violence link. The innovative new data set will triangulate satellite-measured nightlights data as a time-varying proxy for economic development with both qualitative and quantitative information from Uganda. To do so the investigators combine the experience of a historian with crucial local knowledge on Uganda, a geographer who is an expert in Geographic Information Systems, and a political scientist intimately familiar with the theory and the empirical data on violence against civilians.


This project will achieve impact in two main areas. First, by better understanding the link between local economic conditions and violence against civilians, we will be able to identify high-risk zones. These results will be pertinent to development project, which aim to build resilience in local communities through economic development programs either before or in the aftermath of conflict. Second, night lights emissions could facilitate the tracking of public resource deployment and thereby enable researchers and citizens to hold politicians accountable.

To promote impact, the project will build capacity among researchers and students from GW4 universities in the UK and Makerere University in Uganda as well as development practitioners from UK governmental and non-governmental organisations to work with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The investigators will develop four audience-targeted training workshops to equip the aforementioned stakeholders with the ability to explore important development and security research problems on their own using geographic data.

Contact Information

For further information, please email Dr Nils-Christian at