Socioeconomic Inequality and Communal Conflict: A Disaggregated Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990–2008

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Fjelde, Hanne & Gudrun Østby (2014) Socioeconomic Inequality and Communal Conflict: A Disaggregated Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990–2008, International Interactions 40(5): 737–762.


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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Authors

Hanne Fjelde

Hanne Fjelde

Senior Researcher, PRIO; Assistant Professor, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University

Gudrun Østby

Gudrun Østby

Senior Researcher