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Renewable vs. Non-Renewable Resources as Causes
of Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, a Time-series
Samuel S. Stanton, Jr.
Grove City College
Joseph J. St. Marie
University of Southern Mississippi
Prepared for presentation at the American Political Science Association Annual
Meeting 2008, Boston, MA.
PLEASE DO NOT CITE WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE AUTHORS
Renewable vs. Non-Renewable Resources as Causes of Conflict in
Sub-Saharan Africa, a Time-series Analysis: 1970-2000
Truly the Heart of Darkness appears to remain a fire zone. Where
poets speak their heart then bleed for it.1 Over the past thirty-five years, non-
African developing countries experienced a decrease, while African countries
experienced an increase in the outbreak of civil war (Collier and Hoeffler, 2002).
While Africa and Asia are the primary locations of civil war today and were the
primary locations of civil war during the Cold War, this work focuses on Sub-
Saharan Africa. We choose Africa because of the growing publicity African
conflicts receive and because of the general focus on Africa and Asia that
emerges in the literature on civil war.
The current primary arguments about civil war consider the importance of
greed vs. grievance in explaining human behavior (Collier 1999, 2002, 2007,
Fearon and Laitin 2003, Oechslin 2006). Greed vs. grievance has been further
amended to consider feasibility (economic viability) and motivation (socio-
political inequality), with the caveat that greed promotes feasibility of civil war
and grievance is more motivational. This paper examines both economic
feasibility and socio-political inequality perspectives as greed vs. grievance in the
examination of civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa. Creating a nexus between the
literature on resource wars and renewable natural resource scarcities, this
research analyzes the affects certain resources (both renewable and non-
renewable) have on the occurrence, duration, and magnitude of civil wars in sub-
This paper examines oil, diamonds and forested land2 as non-renewable
resources that feed the greed and feasibility hypotheses. The paper examines
freshwater and arable land, as renewable natural resource causes of civil war.
Renewable natural resources are sources of inequality that lead to grievance and
motivation for conflict.
The importance of continued study of civil war falls into three areas. First,
while conflict appears to be subsiding in the world, civil wars do continue and
according to Bennett and Stam (1996) civil wars last about last about seven (7)
1 Borrowed from Robert Conrad and from the lyrics of One Tree Hill by U2.
2 We are well aware that trees are a renewable natural resource. However, the demand for forestry
products, particularly derived from old growth hardwoods, leads us to accept arguments that forestry
products are part of the resources governments and rebels covet control over for monetary reasons.
years, while international conflicts last only about eleven (11) months on average.
Secondly, civil wars are fought between parties that share and if both survive,
will continue to share the same territorial limitations (as created by international
borders) after the conflict concludes. Finally, civil war can be viewed as a
conflict where defeat can mean the end of the existence of one or more parties to
the war, making compromise in the settlement of the conflict difficult at best
The primary question we seek to answer in this paper is: whether greed or
grievance natural resources provide a better causal explanation for civil war in Sub-
Saharan Africa. We examine the years 1970 to 2000 utilizing data from the
Correlates of War, Civil War (Singer and Small 1994, updated by Collier, et al.
2007) using cross-sectional time-series models to test the impact of the greed vs.
grievance hypotheses on the occurrence, duration and magnitude of civil wars in
sub-Saharan Africa. Preliminary indications find a stronger case is made for
grievance and motivation hypotheses in the explanation of civil wars in Sub-
To answer this intriguing question we divide the paper into six sections.
The first and second examine civil war and its causes. The Greed versus
Grievance hypotheses are introduced and explained. The third section outlines
the hypotheses we use in testing our models. The fourth section introduces the
data and explains the variables used in the analysis. The fifth section presents
the results of the statistical analysis. Finally, we will offer some conclusions
about the greed vs. grievance arguments, the veracity and quality of our own
effort, and the direction for future research on civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Causes of Civil War
We must first establish the definitions of greed and grievance before
looking at what exact factors are considered in testing these general ideas as
causes of civil war. Greed quite simply is the desire to accumulate more of
something to yourself or to the group you represent. In most cases of greed the
desired object has monetary value. Accumulating a large amount of something
of monetary value is perceived and in many cases translated into political power.
Simply put, wealth begets wealth. Grievance refers to a person or group of
people who are socially or politically differentiated from others, perhaps another
ethnic or religious group. The reality or the perception on the part of the
aggrieved group is that this differentiation, be it artificial or real, is negative
toward them. This is akin to an in-group/out-group situation where benefits
flow to the in-group but not he out-group creating hostility. An example of
extreme grievance would be a constitutional provision that prohibited members
of a certain group within the population from all forms of political participation
in the state. This group would definitely be aggrieved.
The Greed Hypothesis
At the center of the greed v. grievance debate is the work of Paul Collier,
who along with Anke Hoeffler and others have authored several works in the
last decade arguing that greed is the primary cause of civil war based on study of
income growth, plunder of natural resources, financial ability to maintain
military activity.3 Greed by all apprearance allows rebel movements to maintain
viability (Collier 1999, 2007; Collier and Hoeffler 1999; Humphreys 2002).
The primary argument of the greed hypothesis is that groups challenge
the state for control of resources of monetary value. The resources primarily fall
into what would be considered non-renewable natural resources. Non-
renewable natural resources are those resources that take over one human
generation to replenish themselves. Most non-renewable natural resources
require hundreds of years to regenerate and require great human effort to
retrieve. Among the resources that are considered to be non-renewable would
be oil, natural gas, diamonds, gold and silver, gemstones, and minerals. One
renewable natural resource is usually accepted as a greed resourceforests.
Forests provide a readily accessible source of both income and cover. While our
paper is about renewable vs. non-renewable resources, we will allow forested
land to act as a greed resource rather than a grievance resource.
Most of the recent research has tested the greed hypothesis. Greed has
been tested primarily in terms of commodity exports and done in either 5 year
periods or country years (Collier and Hoeffler 2002, DeRouen and Sobek 2004,
Fearon 2005). It has also been tested using income and economic growth (Collier
and Hoeffler 2002, Fearon 2005). If studied in 5 year periods, exports and
economic growth show a statistically significant relationship with civil war onset
(Collier and Hoeffler 2002, Fearon 2005), but not when studied in country year
format (Fearon 2005). In DeRouen and Sobek (2004) exports showed statistical
significance in relation to multiple forms of civil war termination. Fearon (2004)
includes contraband (illegal drugs, illegal trade in precious gems and minerals)
in his study and finds that contraband was statistically significant in relation to
civil war duration. Hegre etal (2001) include a variable called development in
3 Normally this citation would be given in text, but length leads to this footnote. Collier (1999, 2000, 2001,
2007); Collier and Hoeffler (2002, 2004), Collier, Hoeffler and Sderbom (2006); Collier, Hoeffler and
Rohner (2007); Collier and Sambanis (2002).
their model, which measures per capita energy consumption (2001, 37) yet did
not find it to be related to outbreak of civil war. This is important to note for
greed arguments, as control of energy production resources is pootentially a
great source of wealth. Lujala et al (2005) finds the presence and production of
both primary and secondary diamonds are