This article examines the role of economic inequality in influencing the risk of armed conflict between communal groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. We argue that socioeconomic inequality can generate intergroup grievances, which, due to the exclusionary legitimacy of the African state and elite incentives to engage in competitive mobilization of communal groups, precipitate violent communal conflict. To examine this argument, we rely on a series of household surveys to construct subnational inequality measures. For each region, we calculate measures of inequality in terms of household welfare and education between individuals (vertical inequality) and between ethnic groups (horizontal inequality). Combining the inequality data with new georeferenced data on communal conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa for the period 1990–2008, we find that regions with strong socioeconomic inequalities—both vertical and horizontal—are significantly more exposed to violent communal conflicts. More specifically, regions in which the largest ethnic group is severely disadvantaged compared to other groups are particularly prone to experience communal conflict.
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