The Economic Origins of Conflict in Africa
We study the impact of plausibly exogenous global food price shocks on local violence across the African continent. In food-producing areas, higher food prices reduce conflict over the control of territory (what we call "factor conflict") and increase conflict over the appropriation of surplus ("output conflict"). We argue that this difference arises because higher prices raise the opportunity cost of soldiering for producers, while simultaneously inducing net consumers to appropriate increasingly valuable surplus as their real wages fall. In regions without crop agriculture, higher food prices increase both factor conflict and output conflict. We validate local-level findings on output conflict using geocoded survey data on interpersonal theft and violence against commercial farmers and traders. Ignoring the distinction between producer and consumer effects leads to attenuated estimates. Our findings help reconcile a growing but ambiguous literature on the economic roots of conflict.
We thank five anonymous referees for thoughtful comments that improved this article. We are especially grateful to our editor, Jesse Shapiro, for his exemplary guidance and patience. We also thank many people for helpful conversations, including Pierre Bachas, Bob Bates, Samuel Bazzi, Dan Bjorkegren, Pedro Dal Bo, Alex Eble, Fred Finan, Andrew Foster, John Friedman, Nate Hilger, Rick Locke, Ted Miguel, Nick Miller, Emily Oster, Dan Posner, Jesse Shapiro, Stephen Smith, Bryce Millett Steinberg, Chris Udry, Pedro Vicente and Owen Zidar, as well as seminar/conference participants at UC Berkeley (Economics and ARE), the World Bank (Development Research Group), PacDev (UC San Diego), the World Bank ABCA (UC Berkeley), the Watson Institute (Brown University), Yale University, Trinity College Dublin, and NEUDC (Brown University). All errors are ours. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Eoin McGuirk & Marshall Burke, 2020. "The Economic Origins of Conflict in Africa," Journal of Political Economy, vol 128(10), pages 3940-3997.