“I am not an Arab or African, I am a Darfuri and my tribe now is called Refugee. We are all refugees” -Mohamed Hassan Yagoub
Countries are comprised of layers of systems. These network of systems promotes efficiency by reducing the cost to connect with other nodes in a system. Systems of roads reduce the cost to travel from your town (a node) to another town (a node). Systems of justice reduce cost by allowing individuals resolve their grievances through an established and open (e.g. laws are public) framework.
Now, let us look at a more complicated example: social relationships. Systems of relationships reduce the cost of social interaction. Meeting someone for the first time is costly. Utility is spent determining whether they are friend or enemy. Luckily, networks of social relationships reduce this cost by (amongst other things) signaling an individual’s status. For example, you are more wary of a friend of an enemy than a friend of a friend. These social cues are valuable for everyone in the network. Armed conflict can have a dramatic and perilous effect on networks of social relations.
Imagine a state, Timberlandia. Within Timberlandia exists a number of groups (red circles) connected via a network of relationships (red lines). Before the conflict these relationships are used for social support, sharing information, and trade. Families use the network to find cheap lodging in while traveling. Friends use the network to find information on jobs. Businesspeople use the network to find customers.
During civil war some groups are forced to uproot and find safety in a neighboring states. The fighting disrupts the network by breaking up social relationships or eliminating nodes entirely. Disruption of nodes and relationships (fewer lines) reduces the efficiency-enhancing capacity of the social network. Friends have fewer people to call for work and businesspeople have a harder time finding customers.
Networks are organic. When disrupted, they rebuild connections. Separated by a border, the displaced nodes develop new social relationships with each other. That is, they build a new, diaspora social network (shown in blue). The nodes remaining in Timberlandia are busy too. The loss of nodes in their network has forced the establishment of new relationships to replace those lost. In the sense, the diaspora and remaining networks self-heal by building new relationships.
Problems can arise when the diaspora nodes (and their social network) return home. Before the civil war there was one social network, however, now there are two networks of relationships. Unless properly addressed, these networks can compete and conflict for jobs, resources, and power.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.