That poorer countries face higher risk of civil war is among the most robust findings in the literature on internal conflicts. However, we lack knowledge about whether a similar correlation exists on a more local level.
Research into the local poverty–conflict nexus has largely relied on objective proxies of poverty that are only loosely related to the rationale for conflict. The results have been mixed, thus highlighting the need for more effective juxtaposition of theory and data. Using a subjective measure of poverty that determines whether individuals’ basic needs are being met, this article presents new empirical evidence for existing propositions linking local poverty and conflict-based violence. The study analyzes georeferenced survey data from the pan-African Afrobarometer survey for 4008 subnational districts across 35 African states, producing results that show how areas with high levels of poverty are indeed more likely to experience conflict. However, the correlation is likely to be indirect. Interaction models demonstrate that poverty is more likely to exacerbate violence if an area’s local institutions are weak or when impoverishment overlaps with group grievances against the government. Robustness tests, using coarsened exact matching and region-level fixed effects, provide considerable empirical support for a strong relationship between poverty and conflict at the local level.