Resource discovery and conflict in Africa: what do the data show?

Rabah Arezki, Sambit Bhattacharyya & Nemera Mamo


Africa is often viewed as the prime location for natural resource driven conflict. The volume of research on this topic is sizeable. Yet establishing causality remains a challenge. This paper uses geocoded data on oil and mineral discoveries to study the effect of natural resources on conflict at the local level (1946-2008). It seeks to fill the gap on research which has used grid level data to analyse conflict in the region. It finds that oil and mineral discoveries significantly reduce the likelihood of conflict onset up to ten years post resource discovery.

This research draws on a geocoded dataset of resource discovery at a grid level (approx. 55 x 55 kilometers) to distinguish between 11 different minerals and oil discoveries. Discovery dates are independently verified, whilst the use of grid level data ensures geographic demarcations are independent of political, geographic and demographic characteristics that may influence effects of discovery on conflict.

The paper discusses the empirical strategy and data, presents evidence on the effects of resource discovery on conflict (including onset, incidence and intensity). It also reports on any potential variations in the relationship across resource types (oil and minerals), pre- and post-cold war conclusion, size of discovery (giant and major), and quality of political institutions.


The continental map of mining and conflict locations reveal very little correlation between locations of resource discovery and armed conflict onset. Instead, it finds that oil and mineral discoveries significantly reduce the likelihood of conflict onset up to ten years post resource discovery:

  • Resource discovery appears to influence conflict indirectly via improved local living standards, and directly via improved expectations of high future income.
  • The theory that the relationship between natural resources and conflict is national rather than local is not substantiated by the evidence here.
  • There is little or no diversity in the relationship across resource types (minerals or oil), size of discovery (giant or major), pre- and post- end of the cold war, or effectiveness of national political institutions.
  • The varied effects of discovery and production appear to be consistent with previous observations that the prospect of future production affects conflict onset and incidence less than actual previous production.
  • The evidence appears to favour the theory that natural resource-induced higher income at the local and national levels could improve state counter-insurgency capacity and reduce individual incentives to fight.
  • Resource discovery improves luminosity at the grid level which in turn reduces conflict onset and incidence.


Conflict is often localised and cross-national studies, by design, fail to capture local effects. Further disaggregated local level studies of natural resources and conflict are required.

The paper concludes with a suggestion that the following two factors could significantly contribute towards the eradication of civil conflict on the African continent:

  1. the expected steady depletion of untapped natural resources in the next few decades;
  2. the favourable global commodity prices which offers the opportunity to harness wealth to use on improving state capacity and living standards.


Arezki, R.; Bhattacharyya, S. & Mamo, N. (2015). Resource discovery and conflict in Africa: What do the data show? CSAE Working Paper WPS/2015-14.