All countries possess innumerable and at times dramatic social, economic, and political fault lines. In Africa, the result of these divisions is all too often catastrophic failure: The Rwandan genocide and Nigerian civil war (which each cost several hundred thousand lives), the Sudanese civil war and Darfur conflict (at least another million), various Congolese conflicts (anywhere between 1 million and 5 million), the imbroglio in Ivory Coast, and so on.
Africa, however, is far from alone. From Yemen to India, Brazil to China, Sri Lanka to Guatemala, Israel and Palestine to Afghanistan and Iraq, fault lines exist. In many they produce conflict; in others, they are better managed. India, for example -- a state with 21 classical languages of many nations, categories, castes, classes, and religions -- has generally managed its fault lines well, as does Canada. With war between states now exceptionally rare, violence within countries is today the chief manner in which people kill each other in large numbers. But we don't very well understand why it happens in one place but not another or why it breaks out at certain times but not others.
While every country and societal division is unique, we have, working with a group of scholars on a larger project, identified three critical issues that determine the contours of fault lines and the prospects for mass violence: governance, democratization, and globalization.
The primary measure that national leaders and the international community can take to prevent fault-line violence is to prevent too powerful a "constituency of losers" from developing. That is, if the number of people who feel aggrieved because resource allocation is unfair, biased, and corrupt is relatively low, they will usually be unable to initiate violence that is self-sustaining. Within the context of developing countries, the exact level of wealth in the economy usually doesn't make a difference, and in fact, no other measure is nearly as powerful or consistent in preventing fault-line violence -- whether you're talking about divisions in Kenya or Pashtuns in southeastern Afghanistan.
Institutions and practices that ensure checks and balances, accountability, and transparency are essential so that no group thinks resorting to violence is the only alternative. There may be particular opportunities for countries facing fault lines to improve good governance -- including the creation of capable institutions encouraging transparency and accountability, security-sector reform, independent media, effective local policing -- given the spread of democracy worldwide. Creating a domestic tax system and base is critical in building state capacity and improving conditions of governance, and it simultaneously serves to strengthen the link of accountability between electorates and leadership. While good governance is now rightly accepted as a sine qua non for development, its role in preventing fault-line violence has not been nearly as well acknowledged.