IFIT Transitions Map

There are many possible ways to categorise major changes in a country’s history. At IFIT, we sort through the lens of post-conflict and post-authoritarian transitions.

While there are many competing definitions of “transition”, our own is as follows:

“Transitions are critical historical junctures when a country is emerging out of war or repression and is unusually open to system-level political, economic and social changes. They can be triggered by many types of events – a public uprising, an external intervention, the death of a ruler, the negotiated end of an armed conflict, or the creation of a new state, to name the most prevalent possibilities. The end point of a transition is less evident. Often the question is best answered by the people of the particular country.” (IFIT Inclusive Transitions Framework)

Using a scaled-down version of this definition, we have created an interactive map to provide a snapshot of the transitions that have occurred in independent states across the globe since September 1945. We chose 1945 as a starting point because it coincides with the formation of the United Nations system and the rules of statehood and conflict resolution that largely remain in place today. Our research revealed that out of the 193 UN member states, 69.4% have been through one or more transitions out of internal armed conflict, authoritarian rule, or both since the end of the Second World War. 

In developing our transitions map, we encountered five intrinsic challenges that required difficult decisions of classification:

  1. Whereas international humanitarian law long ago created categories of armed conflict, and whereas political scientists have constructed a sophisticated typology of different regime types, the taxonomy of “transitions” is less settled. As such, we developed our own methodology – combining the need for consistency in the treatment of similar types of events across countries, with the need for country-specific nuance. Balancing these twin imperatives was a recurrent challenge.
  2. Another difficulty we faced stemmed from our own definition of transition. IFIT generally uses a “thick” definition of the term, such that only countries which become “unusually open to system-level change” as a result of the end of war or repression are treated as transitions. For this exercise, however, we applied a “thinner” definition of transition, thus allowing us to include “fractional” transitions such as:
    • Post-conflict transitions in which one side brings about an end to fighting by brutally repressing the other side, leading to the end of an armed conflict, but producing a political closing rather than opening (think Iraq 1959 and 1991 and Syria 1982); and 
    • Post-authoritarian transitions in which the end of a longstanding regime appears to open a democratic window of opportunity, but in fact offers very modest room for system-level change (think Gabon 2009) or triggers new conflict (think Tajikistan 1991, Burundi 1993 and Libya 2011).
  3. Although we believe that identifying the end-points of transitions is a near-impossible task, in creating our map we came to a greater appreciation of the corollary challenge of defining start-points. Not all transitions arise with a big bang, like the Arab Spring or the fall of the Berlin Wall. To the contrary, a great many are comprised of multiple, incremental moments that do not, in and of themselves, trigger a palpable sense of transition. In the case of post-authoritarian transitions, such moments may include a first-time multiparty general election (Turkey 1950); the initial steps in a process of gradual reform (Benin 1990 and Jordan 1989); or the adoption of a new constitution (Burkina Faso 1970). For post-conflict transitions, they may include a ceasefire that allows a violent period of a conflict to wind down (Georgia 1994 and 2008); the withdrawal of rebels to another country (Uganda 2006); or the introduction of UN peacekeeping forces (Cyprus 1974).
  4. We chose not to build a map involving subtle or blatant judgments about the quality of a country’s democracy, security, rule of law, or economic development. Instead, the map is limited to showing, country by country, the presence or absence of a history of transitions, defined in the terms above.  
  5. We recognise that the moment in which a new country is established is, ipso facto, a transition – whether arising through secession, armed struggle, referendum, or other means. However, our map focuses by design on transitions that occurred in a country after, but not prior to, its coming into existence.   

With these considerations in mind, please feel free to alert us to any issues you see in our transitions map: [email protected] We will be updating it on an annual basis.

View the Transition Map