West Africa's dominant sources of security threats have shifted in the past 20 years from large-scale civil wars to low-intensity conflicts previously unaccentuated. This dissertation takes on three of these new security threats; a) crop farmer (farmer) and animal herder (herder) tensions, b) small arms proliferation, and c) corruption and security. The clashes between farmers and herders have assumed significant security dimensions in the past decade, yet, we have a limited understanding of the conflict processes. I examined farmer-herder contestations in chapter two from climate-change conflict nexus and common-pool resource (CPR) governance perspectives. First, I argue that the recent farmer-herder skirmishes are evidence of climate volatility, positing that extreme climatic factors have contributed to these clashes' frequency and severity. Second, I assess how local CPR regimes in the conflict hotspots exacerbate the tension by considering these resources' social embeddedness and the implications of different user stratifications. The analysis draws on detailed interview data gathered in the conflict hotspots in the Kwahu enclave in the Eastern Region of Ghana in 2020 to explain the mechanisms. The climate-conflict literature has developed an affinity for large-N approaches, with few studies emphasizing qualitative methods. Qualitative approaches can emphasize location-specific conditions of the conflict dynamics to illustrate variations at the micro-level. For which no quantitative data exist, for instance, power relations between groups or CPR design principles to cope with the exigencies of climate extremes and intergroup tensions, fieldworks or interview approaches can provide better contextualization. They can pinpoint the broader causal dynamics critical for understanding climate–conflict links but are easily ignored by methods focusing on the narrow relationships between mainly two variables. The study reveals that a) seasonal variability affects farmer-herder conflicts, with the intensity (frequency and fatality) peaking during the heart of the drought period and b) ambiguous CPR governance regimes and weak land rights also feature prominently as the conflict driver. The third chapter investigates how state legitimacy influences the demand for small arms and light weapons (SALW) and how this, in effect, provokes conflicts in the West African subregion. Specifically, I evaluate the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) nonproliferation regime on small arms. I argue that the state's legitimacy is the mechanism that determines if it will import arms outside the legal routes and if conflict will follow. The analysis uses qualitative evidence of SALW proliferation data with a state legitimacy index to explain the tendency to comply with the collective security agreement. The second part uses case studies about Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire (CD1), and Nigeria to draw further inferences on how state legitimacy crises induce small arms demands and undermine compliance with the nonproliferation agreement. The findings reveal that state legitimacy bodes well for not acquiring arms outside the legal channels. The evidence also suggests that state capacity, an essential mechanism in treaty compliance, has little impact on states' ability to implement the regime. State capacity plays a marginal role because countries with domestic legitimacy problems acquired arms with little adherence to the security regime because of 'insecurity and the constant need to be on high alert. This makes state capacity a secondary factor as countries decide not to enforce the regime rules because of domestic legitimacy problems. In Ghana, state legitimacy pointed in the direction of compliance, while in CDI and Nigeria, diminished state legitimacy led to conflict, reducing the ability to implement the regime. Chapter four explores links between political corruption, and national security, using Boko Haram in Nigeria as a case study. I argue that corruption is a security problem because it diverts resources away from national security issues, predisposes resource distribution to patronage networks that co-opt state institutions, and distorts counterinsurgency success. The empirical analysis, drawn from micro-qualitative evidence from financial statements, military records, and terrorism data, finds that corruption enervated military capacity while strengthening insurgency effectiveness. This study makes links between corruption and insurgency in a novel way and expands our grasp of what makes counterinsurgency successful. Chapter five summarizes the general findings and reveals how the project contributes to our understanding of security dynamics in the West African subregion. Overall, the evidence illustrates that it is difficult to provide security without some fundamental government legitimacy, governance effectiveness, and more importantly, without considering how ecological scarcity, which has become more pronounced recently, threatens security nationally and at the micro-levels.


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Graduation Date





Powell, Jonathan


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences


School of Politics, Security and International Affairs

Degree Program

Security Studies









Release Date

August 2026

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)