Greed and grievance in civil war



While economic agendas have been shown to be an important factor in shaping civil wars, there are several problems with prominent explanations centring on rebel ‘greed’, notably those put forward by Paul Collier. Among these are: the way proxies for ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’ have been used; the lack of attention to links between ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’; and the lack of attention to ‘greed’ among elements associated with counter-insurgencies. Why has Collier's analysis proven so popular, despite its flaws? I suggest that it represents an attractive over-simplification with a scientific aura. It achieves a degree of simplicity by excluding many of the most important features of civil wars, even to the extent of asserting that there is no point in asking rebels about their motivations. Furthermore, it is often politically convenient in that it tends to exclude a number of western governments—and (sometimes favoured) governments in poorer countries—from serious scrutiny. By contrast, the emphasis placed by Frances Stewart and her associates on the role of economic and political inequalities between groups offers a more nuanced understanding of how civil wars are caused and shaped, an understanding that is better able to take account of the nature of grievances and of the role of abusive government-affiliated actors in generating grievances.