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This article summarises the case for mediators giving greater consideration to the

economic dimensions of conflicts – particularly those concerning natural resources.

It also looks at some of the ways in which mediators might address this issue.

The recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) publication,

From Conflict to Peacebuilding – the Role of Natural Resources and the Environment

provides some arguments for giving this area greater attention. The UNEP

report finds that:

• 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts since 1960 have a link to natural


• less than a quarter of peace agreements for conflicts with links to natural

resources address the management and governance of natural resources

• intrastate conflicts linked to natural resources are twice as likely to relapse

within five years.

These findings provoke questions about the links between natural resources and

conflict, the apparent reluctance of mediators to engage with the issue and the

potential risks of ignoring it.

What is the connection

1 between natural resources

and intrastate conflicts?

In other words, what lies behind the figure of 40 per cent mentioned

above? Academics have developed a range of typologies of wars related

to natural resources. For the purposes of this snapshot overview, however

– and reflecting on the cases discussed during the African mediators’


Retreat 2009 – resource-conflict scenarios can be loosely grouped into two

1 This paper builds on discussions

at the African Mediation Retreat overlapping categories: those where contest for resources has a bearing on

2009, which was co-hosted the start of conflict, and those where ‘lootable’ resources are used during

by the Mwalimu Nyerere conflict by one or more warring parties as a source of financing.

Foundation and the Centre

for Humanitarian Dialogue in

Zanzibar, March 2009. i) Disputes over natural resources as a cause

of conflict

These scenarios can involve competition for scarce resources such as land,

with notable examples including Guatemala, Nepal and, more recently, Kenya.

Others disputes are influenced by control of so-called abundant natural

resources, such as oil, and distribution of the revenues and other benefits


derived from their exploitation. Disputes over division of natural gas

2 Research by Paul Collier and

Anke Hoeffler suggests that revenues fanned the separatist struggle in Aceh, and competition for oil

rebellions in oil-rich regions reserves contributed to the outbreak of the second civil war in Sudan. The

typically have a secessionist insurgency in Bougainville was triggered by a dispute concerning one of the

character. world’s biggest copper mines.

ii) Trading ‘lootable’ resources to finance


Since the end of the Cold War there has been a rise in the number of cases

of warring parties seizing and selling ‘lootable’ natural resources to fund their

military campaigns. The most well-known examples concern rebel groups’

trade in ‘conflict diamonds’ in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Democratic

Republic of Congo (DRC). It is not only diamonds that lend themselves to this

kind of misuse however, nor is this branch of war economics the sole preserve

of insurgents. Timber revenues have underwritten both rebel and government

armies in Cambodia, Burma and Liberia, while levies on cocoa sustained both

sides in the recent civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. Research by the UN Group

of Experts and Global Witness shows that the main armed groups currently

operating in eastern DRC – not to mention the army – all finance themselves

to a greater or lesser extent via extraction and trade of minerals and metals

including cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (which contains tantalum), wolframite (a

source of tungsten) and gold.

The use of resource-looting as financing can influence the nature, duration

and trajectory of a conflict in a number of ways that mediators need to

be aware of as they assess the agendas and the legitimacy of warring


• The ability to fund a war via natural-resource wealth, as opposed

to, say, voluntary contributions from the local population, presents

opportunities to armed groups that are otherwise weak and

command limited popular support. For example, it seems likely that

some of the main armed groups in eastern DRC, not least the Forces

Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), would struggle

to maintain their current operational capacity without the income

they derive from the mineral trade.

• The need to secure natural resources can come to shape the military

strategy of the warring parties, encouraging them to focus on capturing

resource-rich areas that otherwise have limited strategic value. One

example here is the battles fought between Khmer Rouge and

government troops in north-western Cambodia over stockpiles of


rosewood and (or Asian mahogany). Another is the persistent efforts

of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to gain and then maintain

control of the diamond fields in the Kono region of eastern Sierra Leone.

• Conflicts in which accumulation and trade of lootable resources has

become the imperative, for reasons of either strategy or personal gain

of the commanders involved, can result in collusion between supposed


battlefield enemies. Global Witness has uncovered substantial evidence

3 The question of whether

resource wars are driven in DRC of the government army and the FDLR collaborating in their

by ‘grievance’ or ‘greed’ has looting of North and South Kivu’s mineral wealth. In the latter stages of

been vigorously debated by Cambodia’s civil war, the illegal log exports that bankrolled the Khmer

academics and analysts. Rouge were facilitated by permits provided by the government in

Phnom Penh.

• Lootable resources are worth seizing only if there is a market for them.

Trading natural resources to make war inevitably increases the number

of stakeholders in a conflict – bringing in a range of international

companies that trade, transport, process and sell, plus end consumers in

the West and, increasingly, the East. Governments of countries that host

these activities may benefit from the continuation of the war.

These two broad categories of resource-related conflicts overlap to a

considerable degree. Popular discontent at the stripping of natural resources

by kleptocratic regimes was part of the backdrop to conflicts in Liberia, Sierra

Leone and DRC. These conflicts then saw the same resources being hijacked

by combatants seeking to fill their war chests.

Why aren’t natural

2 resources more prominent

in peace agreements?

The second statistic highlighted in the recent UNEP report – that only a

quarter of peace agreements for conflicts with links to natural resources

address natural-resource management and governance – suggests a reluctance

on the part of mediators to engage with these questions of economic agendas.

Why might this be?

Some of likely reasons are set out in Céline Yvon’s paper ‘Mediators and


Economics: Should they care?’ :

4 This paper was written for the

African Mediators’ Retreat 2009

and is downloadable on the Oslo • mediators’ understandable focus on political and security-related issues

forum webpage www.osloforum. • a perception that economic issues are in any case best addressed after

org. peace agreements

• the sensitivity of discussing the profit motives of parties directly and

indirectly involved in the conflict.

This last point could reflect the fact that warring parties may find it more

palatable to lay down their guns than to give up the means to buy new ones a

few weeks in future. In addition, resource-related financing may be important

to leaders not only for their pursuit of publicly declared political objectives,

but also for maintaining the loyalty of their supporters. As one participant at

the Retreat put it, this may add up to a sense on the part of mediators that

tackling this issue is ‘above their pay grade’.

Aside from the possible reluctance of mediators to raise a sensitive issue, they

may come to the negotiations with a predisposition – conditioned by their own

professional experience – to focus on political and security issues. Moreover,

given how the international community has approached peacebuilding since the

end of the Cold War, mediators may feel that they are expected to focus on what

are perceived as successful, tangible outcomes, such as timetables for the holding

of national elections. In addition, mediators may face some very practical

constraints in terms of their mandate, not least lack of time and support to probe

the economic agendas of the parties around the table.

What if natural resources

3 are inadequately addressed

in peace agreements?

UNEP’s claim that intrastate conflicts linked to natural resources are twice as

likely to relapse within five years raises the question of what risks there might

be in overlooking resource-related issues when framing peace agreements.

Here we look briefly at three sets of issues.

i) Opportunities for spoilers

Peace deals that do not effectively address the role of lootable natural resources

risk leaving warring parties with the economic means to resume fighting as

soon as they decide peace no longer suits them. Agreements such as the Lusaka

Protocol of 1994, which sought to end the Angolan civil war, and Cambodia’s

1991 Paris Peace Accords failed to dislodge fully the main insurgent groups

from the resource-rich areas they controlled. When these accords broke down,

UNITA was quick to harness diamonds to its war effort once more, and the

Khmer Rouge began tapping the reserves of timber, rubies and sapphires

under its control.

In the cases of both Angola and Cambodia it must be stressed that the political

context offered limited scope for negotiating the groups concerned into

surrendering all the resources under their control. This is a common problem.

The 2007 Ouagadougou Agreement aimed at ending Côte d’Ivoire’s resource-

fuelled war makes no reference to natural resources. Subsequently, there have

been few substantive steps taken to change the way in which natural resources

are controlled and exploited. While the agreement is widely regarded as a

success, it remains too early to say whether it provides the basis for a lasting

peace. One of the few certainties is that, should the Forces Nouvelles rebels go

back to war, they will once again finance themselves via the trade in natural

resources. This group retains control of the country’s diamond mines and, more

importantly, a share of the cocoa trade which, as Global Witness investigations

have demonstrated, has provided it with around US$30 million per year.

ii) Causes of conflict left unresolved

If competition for access to resources or resource revenues contributed

to the outbreak of conflict, the need to address the issue in the context of

building peace is self-evident. Even relatively successful examples of peace

agreements dealing with grievances related to natural resources – such

as Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – can leave a political

landscape littered with potential flashpoints. It is no coincidence that

the most serious recent clashes between the Sudan People’s Liberation

Movement and National Congress Party forces have taken place in the oil-

rich Abyei region, whose boundaries are still contested. The CPA’s silence

on the question of how oil revenues might be shared beyond the South’s

referendum on secession in 2011 will be one of a number of factors

increasing the tension between Khartoum and Juba over the course of the

next two years.

iii) Entrenching elite capture

Warring parties that have turned to resource looting as a means of

financing conflict are disinclined to end this practice when they stop

fighting. They frequently approach the negotiating table determined to

control as many resources as possible. A famous example of a rebel leader

using a peace deal to formalise his seizure of key public assets is that of

RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who emerged from the 1999 Lomé Agreement

as head of a Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources (that

is, diamonds).

As noted, popular resentment of elite capture of natural resources has been

a precursor to a range of recent intrastate conflicts. Peace agreements that

treat natural resources as spoils to be divided between competing elites may

inadvertently introduce, or reintroduce, a form of money politics based around

the capture of state assets. Such political systems are typically associated with

the collapse of those state institutions most critical to peacebuilding. As such,

they tend to undermine economic and democratic development and may also

sow the seeds of future instability.

In the short term, this approach of ‘rewarding the victors’ can encourage

transitional authorities to rush for personal gain, ahead of the country’s

population exercising its right to choose a government at the polls. Such was

the case in Liberia, after the 2003 Accra Peace Agreement created a National

Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), in which the Movement




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Dispensa al corso di Teorie e tecniche della trasformazione dei conflitti della Prof.ssa Maria Luisa Maniscalco. Trattasi del saggio di Mike Davis dal titolo "Why should mediators consider the economic dimensions of conflicts?" all'interno del quale si discute dell'importanza della distribuzione delle risorse economiche e naturali nelle situazioni di conflitto e nel possibile ruolo conciliatorio della re-distribuzione.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
A.A.: 2010-2011

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Teorie e tecniche della trasformazione dei conflitti e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Maniscalco Maria Luisa.

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