A Dangerous Liaison? Ethnicity, Natural Resources and Civil Conflict Onset

Prof. Dr. Matthias Basedau
2012 - 2016
German Research Foundation (DFG)

Dr. Anke Hoeffler, Oxford University, Department of Economics, United Kingdom

Dr. Philippe Le Billon, University of British Columbia, Department of Geography and the Liu Institute for Global Issues, Canada

Dr. Hanne Fjelde, University of Uppsala, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Sweden

Sira Aas Rustad, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway



Research Questions
The research project focuses on two core questions:

  • Do ethnicity and natural resources jointly increase the risk of conflict onset?
  • Which ethnicity-related, resource-related, and other conditions have an impact on conflict?

Contribution to International Research
According to the literature on conflict, ethnicity and natural resources can, under certain conditions, increase the risk of intrastate conflict. Theoretically, the combination of ethnic diversity and resources should be particularly dangerous, as both together may generate strong motives for resistance and increase an ethnic group’s capacity for insurgency by providing financial means and recruitment pools. In sum, ethnicity and resource-specific conditions can assist in overcoming the collective-action problems that rebellion (and hence civil war) entails.

However, studies on ethnicity and conflict on the one hand (e.g. Gurr, Cederman, Wimmer, Horowitz) and resources and conflict on the other (e.g. Collier/Hoeffler, Le Billon, Ross) have operated independently of each other thus far. Moreover, previous research has investigated causal mechanisms only at a rather aggregate level. This project unifies both strands of the literature and investigates the precise mechanisms that may lead to violence in the presence of both resources and ethnic diversity.

Research Design and Methods
Methodologically, the project engages in georeferencing below the national level and combines macro-, meso-and microperspectives in a three-level analysis. At the macro level, a global database that identifies the overlapping locations of resources, relevant and deprived ethnic groups, and conflict is being created in order to uncover general patterns. For this purpose, existing data on resources (PETRODATA, GEMDATA, DIADATA, US Geological Survey) and ethnicity (Ethnic Power Relations Dataset and its georeferenced variant GEO-EPR) is being used. At the meso level, the project is engagingin a within-country comparison of two pertinent country cases (Bolivia and Nigeria) where the presence of resources and relevant ethnic groups, as well as the level of violence, varies across subnational units. While Nigeria has experienced high-intensity violence, Bolivia is well suited for a study of lower levels of violence. At the micro level, extensive fieldwork in two carefully selected local sites per country aims to uncover the exact mechanisms through which the combination of ethnicity and resourcesleads (or does not lead) to violence.

Preliminary Results
Preliminary results suggest that ethnicity indeed conditions the impact of natural resources. In a spatial analysis of grid cells in Africa from 1990 to 2010, both ethnic exclusion and the presence of oil increases the risk of conflict events. However, when groups with (monopoly) access to power settle in oil-rich areas, the conflict-increasing effect is reversed. Apparently, these groups can use revenues to buy off peace. Subnational studies for the cases of Bolivia and Nigeria, including collection of novel data, seem to confirm these results.