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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…

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1. Introduction

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…

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overall prevalence rather than on war starts so that we can address the question of the

overall amount of civil war in 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…

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variables in 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…

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economic development, such as per capita 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


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2.1 The Characteristics of Africa's Civil Wars

Let us start by defining the concept of civil war. A civil war is an armed conflict

that has (1) caused more than one thousand deaths; (2) challenged the sovereignty of an

internationally recognized state; (3) occurred within the recognized boundaries of that…

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disjoint probabilities, the probability that civil war is initiated at time t and the probability

that a civil war is ongoing at time t+1, having been initiated at time t.

We then estimate the prevalence of civil war as a function of political, economic,

and social variables (regressors). Our dependent…

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natural resource-dependence by the share of primary exports in 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…

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the last 40 years and this estimate need not include all civilian war-related deaths that

were due to starvation, illness, and other disruptions caused indirectly by war in Africa.

Column 4 in panels 1 and 2 of Figure 1 also reveals a huge discrepancy in the

democracy levels in Sub-Saharan…

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point estimates of the variables in our model for the global sample (161 countries) in

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…


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