Escaping the Resource Curse: Ethnic Inclusion in Resource-Rich States in West Africa
The notion of a ‘resource curse’ has become widely accepted in both the academic and the political world. Resource wealth seems to be robustly related to undemocratic regimes, high corruption, and slow economic growth (see e.g. Gylfason 2001; Mehlum, Moene, and Torvik 2006; Ross 2001; Sachs and Warner 2001). It has also been argued that the negative effect of natural resources particularly affects ethnically fractionalized countries (Hodler 2006). Specifically in regard to the African continent, Jensen and Wantchekon (2004) suggest that the outcome of the ‘third wave’ of democratizations in Africa in the 1990s was strongly influenced by states’ resource profiles: Higher dependence on natural resource exports tended to correlate with a decline in the level of democracy in the mid-1990s.
A number of recent studies have also suggested a causal link between natural resources and the occurrence of civil violence (see e.g. Collier and Hoeffler 2004; Fearon and Laitin 2003; Ross 2004, 2006). However, most of these studies have not paid sufficient attention to the political management of resource wealth.
Focusing specifically on ethnic conflict onset, this paper suggests that such conflicts should be seen as the result of a struggle between different ethnic groups over access to the state and its material benefits. Natural resources, such as oil, precious metals etc., are key resources of the state to which the ethno-political competitors try to gain access. Therefore, the paper argues that the risk of ethnic conflict onset in resource-rich countries should decrease if all relevant ethnic groups in a country are included into government. For under this condition of broad ethnic inclusion – what I will call ‘ethnic power sharing’ in the remainder of the text –, all groups are able to benefit from the resource revenues.
Moreover, where all relevant ethnic groups have access to the benefits of resource production, the latter’s conflict-fueling effect that has been asserted in the literature should disappear. This means that besides its direct stabilizing effect, ethnic power sharing should also have a mediating effect on the relationship between natural resources and political stability.
As politically relevant ethnic groups can be considered all those ethnic groups which have made explicit political claims qua ethnic groups towards the state.1 Ethnic conflicts are defined here as conflicts in which a) the recruitment of fighters occurred along ethnic lines, and b) explicit ethnic claims were made on the part of the insurgents.2
Drawing on a new dataset on natural resource production in the region, based on information from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the study tests this argument in a quantitative analysis of ethnic conflict onsets in West Africa from 1961 to 2009. West Africa constitutes one of the world regions most often associated with resource-driven conflicts and, thus, serves as a paradigmatic test for the theoretical argument.
After revisiting the literature on natural resources and civil violence, the theoretical argument of the paper and its hypotheses are developed in section 2. Section 3 discusses the data used to test them, followed by the empirical analysis in section 4. Section 5 concludes by highlighting the importance of ethnic power sharing as a means to avoid violent ethnic conflict in resource-rich, multiethnic countries.
1 See section 3 for the precise operational definition of politically relevant ethnic groups in this paper.
2 Cp. Sambanis (2001), and Cederman, Wimmer, and Min (2010). Ethnic claims may refer to, for example, selfdetermination, a larger share of power for one’s group, the end of ethnic discrimination etc.