Development - Civil Wars in Africa

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Why Are There So Many Civil Wars in Africa?
Understanding and Preventing Violent Conflict
Ibrahim Elbadawi
Nicholas Sambanis
Forthcoming in the
Journal of African Economies
(December 2000)
Contrary to popular belief, Africa's civil wars are not due to its ethnic and
religious diversity. Using recently developed models of the overall prevalence of
civil wars in 161 countries between 1960-1999, we draw lessons with special
reference to Africa, showing that the relatively higher prevalence of war in Africa
is not due to the ethno-linguistic fragmentation of its countries, but rather to high
levels of poverty, failed political institutions, and economic dependence on natural
resources. We argue that the best and fastest strategy to reduce the prevalence of
civil war in Africa and prevent future civil wars is to institute democratic reforms
that effectively manage the challenges facing Africa's diverse societies. To
promote inter-group cooperation in Africa, specially tailored political governance
and economic management institutions are needed and we advance some
hypotheses on the nature of such institutions. We suggest that Africa's ethnic
diversity in fact helps --it does not impede-- the emergence of stable development
as it necessitates inter-group bargaining processes. These processes can be
peaceful if ethnic groups feel adequately represented by their national political
institutions and if the economy provides opportunity for productive activity.
World Bank, DECRG, 1818 H Street, NW., Washington DC 20433. The authors can be contacted at:
[email protected] and [email protected] The opinions expressed in this paper are the
authors' and do not necessarily represent the World Bank or its Executive Directors.

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Over the last 40 years nearly 20 African countries (or about 40 percent of Africa
south of the Sahara (SSA)) have experienced at least one period of civil war. It is
estimated that 20% of SSA's population now lives in countries which are formally at war
and low-intensity conflict has become endemic to many other African states. This state
of affairs has created stereotypes of Africa as a doomed continent with inescapable ethnic
cleavages and violent tribal conflict.…read more

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Africa and because it is often difficult to separate closely
spaced war initiations in the same country. Based on the evidence we observe and
analyze, we propose a broad strategy of war prevention.
Our empirical analysis is based on estimating an empirical model of the
probability of observing an incident of civil war in any one of 161 countries between
1960-1999.…read more

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Africa and other regions. We use our Elbadawi and Sambanis (ES) model
(2000a) to explain the high prevalence of civil wars in Africa as compared to other
regions. In section 3, we explore if and by how much improvements in political rights,
standards of living and economic diversification influence the risk of civil war. The
evidence from this exercise provides a basis for developing a strategy to war
prevention. In the concluding section, we use our empirical analysis to make some
policy recommendations.…read more

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GDP or educational attainment). Up to a
certain range, natural resources are associated with higher risk of war, though for a
substantial natural resource base the relationship is expected to turn negative. Natural
resources provide easily "lootable" assets for "loot-seeking" rebel movements or
convenient sources for sustaining "justice-seeking" movements (Collier and Hoeffler
2000). However, extremely plentiful resources may also provide sufficient revenues that
the government can use to fund its army and "buy" popular support.…read more

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The Characteristics of Africa's Civil Wars
Let us start by defining the concept of civil war.…read more

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We then estimate the prevalence of civil war as a function of political, economic,
and social variables (regressors). Our dependent variable --AT_WAR-- is coded 1 for all
observations during which war was ongoing and 0 otherwise. We select a set of proxies
as explanatory variables, which broadly speaking measure levels of economic and
political grievance and opportunity for war, as well as the ease of coordinating a rebel
movement. We proxy the opportunity cost of rebel labor by the per capita real income
level (RGDP).…read more

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GDP (PRIMX);9 and
control for the size of the country's population in log form (LOGPOP).
Before explaining the causes of Africa's wars based on this statistical model, we
present below some of the main characteristics of these wars and summarize the politico-
economic fundamentals of African countries more generally, comparing these to other
regions of the world.…read more

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Column 4 in panels 1 and 2 of Figure 1 also reveals a huge discrepancy in the
democracy levels in Sub-Saharan and North Africa as compared to most other regions
(Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia). Finally, column 5
panels 1 and 2 of Figure 1 reveal that Africa (especially Sub-Saharan Africa) includes the
most ethnically diverse countries than any other region in the world.…read more

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Table 1 and we then break down the countries into five regions, Europe/North America,
Asia, Middle east and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan
Africa. We then use the values for the median country in each of these regions to
estimate the probability of an incident of civil war in each region using the coefficients
from the global model. These median country values are reported for each region along
with estimated probabilities in Table 1.…read more


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