Economic Inequality and Inter-group Conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990-2008

Conference Paper

Østby, Gudrun; & Østby, Gudrun 2011 Economic Inequality and Inter-group Conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990-2008, presented at Inequality, Grievances and Civil War, , 10 November.

Economic Inequality and Inter-group Conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990-2008

There is a rich literature investigating the impact of economic inequality on civil war. Whereas the relationship between interpersonal (vertical) inequality and conflict is weak or non-existent, both theory and recent empirical evidence strongly indicate that it is between-group, or horizontal inequality (HI) that is crucial for violent rebellion against the state. However the way inequality might precipitate organized violence between two groups of which none is the state, has been largely overlooked in the quantitative literature. The HI–conflict argument is not restricted to cases where the state is a participant in the violence. In fact, according to theories of relative deprivation, inequality could in principle be associated with armed conflict of any kind. In this paper we argue that one should actually expect lower organizational barrier for non-state violence than for mobilizing and sustaining and armed challenge against the state. Exploring this argument, we provide the first disaggregated study of economic inequality and the risk of nonstate violence across a large number of countries. Based on a set of national Demographic and Health Surveys we use GIS software to construct variables on welfare and socioeconomic inequalities across sub-national regions in Sub-Saharan Africa. We couple these measures with new, geo-referenced data on armed conflicts between non state groups from the Uppsala Conflict Data Project for the 1990–2008 period. We find that regions with strong economic inequalities and regions that are economically marginalized have a significantly higher risk of experiencing non-state conflict.