Global Policy Forum

World Bank Blames Diamonds and Drugs


By Joseph Kahn

New York Times
June 16, 2000

Rebels fighting civil conflicts around the world are more often motivated by greedy pursuit of lucrative commodities, like diamonds and drugs, than by political, ethnic or religious goals, a World Bank study issued today concluded.

The bank, which studied 47 civil wars that took place from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe between 1960 and 1999, found that the single biggest risk factor for the outbreak of war was a nation's economic dependence on commodities. Eagerness to profit from coffee, narcotics, diamonds and other gemstones both prompts outbreaks of violence and determines their strength over time, says the study.

"Diamonds are the guerrilla's best friend," said Paul Collier, the author of the study and director of research at the Washington-based World Bank's economics department. "Civil wars are far more likely to be caused by economic opportunities than by grievance."

The report points to numerous specific examples. Sierra Leone's civil war is primarily about the control of diamond mines in that nation, the report says. In Nigeria, the Biafran secession movement involved a struggle for control of an oil producing region. Mr. Collier likened the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group to a sizable narcotics corporation, with 12,000 paid fighters and $700 million in annual revenues from drug trafficking.

The study's conclusions are sweeping. Rebels typically claim that they are fighting their governments to right religious, ethnic and political wrongs, it says, but it suggests that those are often either coincidental or ex post facto justifications for war. The study suggests that many rebel groups are no more moved by ideological aims than the Mafia.

By analyzing a database of civil conflicts, the study finds that the degree of social inequality, the openness of the political system and even the extent of ethnic diversity are poor predictors of civil war. Not all commodity-rich nations are embattled -- geography, education levels and per capita income matter greatly -- but the availability of commodities to plunder is their single biggest common problem, the study says.

The study makes valid points that could be useful in preventing or resolving civil conflicts, said Edward N. Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Western nations could crack down on the illicit sale of these commodities to limit rebellions, he said.

But Mr. Luttwak argued that some of the study's broad conclusions go too far. Many conflicts involve genuine political and social agendas, even when control of commodities is also an issue. He pointed to Sudan and Myanmar, formerly Burma, where some rebels have sustained rebellions against the government but have not prospered greatly from commodities. And it would be hard to make the case that the Yugoslav civil war was primarily about commodities, he said.

Mr. Collier said that his study did not make a distinction between bandits who launch a rebellion solely for financial gain and self-described freedom fighters who decide to challenge the government because they have been persecuted unjustly. But he said his data strongly suggest that whatever the original motivations, violent civil conflicts tend to be sustained by the pursuit of wealth.

The study recommends that the best way to prevent conflict and restore peace is to effectively control commodity production and to wean a nation away from a heavy dependence on cash crops and natural resources.

Rebels should be barred from selling ill-gotten commodities on the international market. And governments should use profits from commodity sales to provide social services, which would undercut popular support for rebellions, the study suggests.

More Articles on Diamonds in Conflict


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.