The central challenge for sub-Saharan Africa is to build accountable, capable governments that can deliver security and inclusive growth. Research into the drivers, trends and characteristics of violence in Africa may help achieve these goals. This paper firstly presents global and African trends in armed conflict since 1960, while looking at armed conflict within the broader context of political violence using recent event data. The fatality burden between key affected countries is also discussed. The paper then turns to an examination of the high levels of non-state conflict in the Middle East and Africa compared to the rest of the world and the systemic imbalances that drive instability. Finally, challenges in measuring the relative contribution of violent Islamist extremism to political violence are presented.