Author Archives: DT

About DT

Daniel Thompson is a geographer, researcher, teacher, and forever a student of international affairs, anthropology, geography, history, economics, and related subjects. He works mostly from Atlanta, Georgia, but also occasionally from Johannesburg, Juba, Kampala, Nairobi and elsewhere.

Free East Africa layer packages for ArcGIS (administrative data)

If you have ever used GIS data where the borders just don’t match up, I feel your pain. Of course, map accuracy varies greatly, even within a single map, because of distortions due to projection. However, there are options for increasing the accuracy, and especially for making sure that you don’t have gaps or overlaps between countries, states, or counties on your map. So I’ve pulled together some data and used topology rules to generate the most accurate (that I have seen so far online) free GIS data for all of East Africa, as well as for individual countries. These should come in very handy if you are working on maps of local areas along international borders or other projects of that type, as well as if you just need accurate maps for the area as a whole.

For those using ArcGIS who want accurate data for the Horn of Africa/East Africa region, check out our newly updated administrative layer packages:

East Africa layer package preview

East Africa layer package preview




MEA Book Summary and Review: The Tyranny of Experts by William Easterly

MEA book summary and review: The Tyranny of Experts (William Easterly – March 3, 2014)

SUMMARY (scroll down for critique)

Paul Farmer meets Imperial Nature, Freakonomics, and Niall Ferguson in Professor Easterly’s latest work, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Like Farmer, Easterly advocates for a rights-based approach to solving the problems of the poor, criticizing autocracy and top-down development models. He takes a more purely economic perspective and a deeper look into history than Goldman did in Imperial Nature, a work in which Goldman critiqued the World Bank’s approach to “green science” and “eco-governmentality” and the Bank’s infringements upon the rights of the poor. Like Freakonomics, Easterly uses statistics in a way that makes you rethink the data to get at the underlying phenomena, and like Ferguson, he tells a larger history through small, fascinating snippets of story woven into the larger narrative. The Tyranny of Experts pulls together story, data, and theory to question top-down models of economic development, arguing that recent success attributed to autocratic states (such as Singapore, Taiwan, and China) might be attributed to many other factors. Historically, economic growth has happened primarily when more individual freedom is granted; furthermore, since individual freedom is desirable in itself, we should never be willing to sacrifice rights for economic growth, as the development community has been wont to do over the past 60 years. Continue reading

Map created with data available for download.

Download GIS data: Sudan and South Sudan

To download Sudan GIS data or South Sudan GIS data (shapefiles), click “download” below or visit our Sudan or South Sudan pages. This package includes:

  • Sudan counties shapefile (with state attribute data to allow for clean visualization)
  • South Sudan counties shapefile (also with state attribute data)
  • Sudan and South Sudan roads shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan rivers shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan lakes shapefile
  • Sudan and South Sudan railroads shapefile

Boundaries do not imply endorsement by Map East Africa or any of its affiliates (click to download GIS data Sudan/South Sudan: 5 MB). 

Top: Mercator projection, preserving direction and exaggerating the area of regions farther from the equator.
Bottom: Mollweide Projection, preserving relative area of landforms while distorting shape.

A Critique of “Geopolitics and the New World Order” by Robert D. Kaplan (Time magazine)

Russia looms huge on the two-page map that serves as the title page for Robert D. Kaplan’s article “Geopolitics and the New World Order,” published in the March 31st issue of Time.  The Mercator projection, which significantly exaggerates northern landmasses, is the same map chosen by Cold War propagandists to emphasize the “red menace”; the center of the map is, of course, Ukraine – the focus of the article, which recalls a century-old argument set forth by Halford Mackinder’s famous “Geographical Pivot of History” (1904). Kaplan begins by asserting that “Geography increasingly fuels endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st Century.” Kaplan proceeds, as he has many times before, to show how “geography” explains conflicts across the world. While Kaplan makes a number of good points, his typically dire predictions for a future dominated by chaos in which the bonds of blood and territory are apparently stronger than human reason, cultural development, and consensus should make us pause and consider what is really being said. Does “geography” – defined simply as the areal differentiation of the earth’s surface in terms of physical features, ecosystems, and human population and culture – necessarily mean endless conflict? Or is there more to the story that does not necessarily fall within Kaplan’s conception of geography?

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Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Axmed, leader of ARS, joins TFG and becomes president of moderate Islamist coalition, gaining support in central and northern Somalia (probably not as much support as the map suggests, but these are general areas of support, broadly speaking).

Maps of Territorial Control in Somalia, 2007-2010

I just came across this series of maps of territorial control in Somalia in my map archive. Note that these maps are based largely on James Dahl’s map series on territorial control in Somalia and on UN maps of displacement, combined with my own research on conflict events. Forgive me if I mix my Somali and English while transliterating.

Clearly, any map purporting to show areas of control in Somalia is likely oversimplified; alliances are constantly shifting, and multiple insurgencies may exist within an area shown to be under control of a certain force. However, this represents an attempt to map the story of the aftermath of Ethiopia’s invasion in 2006, and show how foreign intervention may have affected the growth of extremist insurgency, specifically in southern Somalia. “Unaligned” territories reflect those areas where it was unclear who was supported or in control. This is a work in progress, so please provide feedback if there are inaccuracies or changes that need to be made.

2007-2009: The Aftermath of the Ethiopian Invasion

December 2008: Cabdullahi Yuusuf Axmed resigns as president of TFG.

2009-2010: The TFG strikes an alliance and begins an offensive

As the TFG in exile brokered a truce with ASWJ, ARS, and ICU elements, they began to gain support and nominal control over parts of the country. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Axmed, formerly of ARS, was elected TFG President. Along with AU forces, the TFG launched an offensive against the now divided Al Shabaab and Xisbul Islaam forces in southern Somalia.

Again, please let me know if there are corrections to be made. This is an ongoing initiative to map territorial control in Somalia, part of a more comprehensive effort at creating conflict maps of Somalia.

MEA Book Summary and Review: Economic and Political Reform in Africa: Anthropological Perspectives, by Peter D. Little (2013)

Economic and Political Reform in Africa – A re-examination of economic development, markets, food aid, and wildlife conservation based on analysis of local outcomes.

Note: This is an expansion of a review posted on the Amazon product page for Economic and Political Reform in Africa, and was written by the same author as the Amazon review.

Economic and Political Reform in Africa: Anthropological Perspectives (Indiana University Press, November 2013) represents anthropologist Peter Little’s work in numerous contexts from Accra to Nairobi to Maputo over the past two decades. Little uses data and ethnographic interviews in a series of case studies to show how market-oriented, “pro-poor,” and democratic reforms have actually worked in society and in local economies, as well as how locals targeted as beneficiaries of economic reform or foreign aid programs perceive themselves, the programs, and the outcomes. Based on seven case studies in Ghana, The Gambia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Kenya (including the Somali borderlands of Kenya), Little argues primarily that 1) despite the focus on “market liberalization” by development agencies such as the World Bank, the state has in many cases been an important actor during the period of neoliberal reform in Africa (sometimes as an active presence, sometimes more passively); 2) the extension of global markets into various African contexts has often disempowered smallholders and the poor; 3) democracy and “community empowerment” (including community conservation initiatives) have in some cases heightened communal/ethnic tensions; and 4) “pro-poor” development may serve as justification for African states to pursue political agendas targeting certain elements of their populations. Continue reading

Bullet holes in a shopkeeper's jacket, Thokoza, South Africa. Photo by author.

Anti-foreigner violence: At the Intersection of Identity and Economics

The conflation of foreign individuals in a country with their country’s political agenda or identity is often used as an explanation for anti-foreigner violence. In South Africa, foreigners – in particular, African immigrants from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Malawi, Somalia, and Ethiopia (although also many immigrants from Bangladesh) – have been targeted for years in bouts of xenophobic violence. South African voices sometimes cite these immigrants bringing their countries’ lawlessness or poverty with them into South Africa; yet more often, the targeting of foreigners has a strong economic component. Furthermore, it is not only locals who engage in anti-foreigner violence: rumors abound in the South African Somali refugee community about Somali shop owners fomenting violence against shops owned by other Somalis. Anti-foreigner violence takes place under a range of conditions, and itself has the potential to create a unique opportunity structure for foreigners.

To put anti-foreigner violence in context, we can look numerous other places, from attacks on Korean businesses during the 1992 L.A. race riots to attacks on foreigners in Germany in the early 1990s. Yet xenophobic violence in South Africa provides perhaps the clearest example of conditions conducive to violence against foreigners in the African context. Continue reading

Salva Kiir’s militia – the president’s “Private Army” in historical perspective (a short note)

Hopefully more details will emerge soon regarding President Kiir’s militia – the group Sudan Tribune called a “private army” (Sudan Tribune) that Kiir allegedly admitted to having organized. However, Salva Kiir would by no means be the first to organize such a private army, and while his admittance of the fact is striking, the fact itself is not so surprising. Taking a historical perspective it makes sense why President Kiir would not see this as a reasonable approach to state (and personal) security. This does not by any means justify President Kiir, but to indicate that the problem of personally loyal militias is not President Kiir’s problem that will be fixed by dismissing him as president, but a systemic problem that needs to be addressed seriously. The SPLM/A in fact started out as a loose coalition of private armies, most notably those of Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuan Bany. Continue reading

Cattle Raiding in Warrap and Unity, South Sudan

Cattle Raiding in South Sudan, particularly cattle raiding in Warrap and Unity, has long been associated with rebel movements; in fact, P.A. Nyaba asserts in his 1997 book The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan that historically, many soldiers who joined the military or rebel groups did so with the motivation of acquiring weapons which could be used for cattle raiding or to settle local disputes. Media sources recently reported the deaths of 42 people on Friday in what appeared to be a cattle raid in Warrap as well as an attack on civilians, and local sources attribute the raids to heavily armed militias, likely associated with Unity State rebels.

Conflict Dynamics along Warrap-Unity Border, January 2014

Map copyright 2014 Daniel Thompson, Map East Africa,

Map copyright 2014 Daniel Thompson, Map East Africa,

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