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Issue XII - Summer 2010

the MOTIVE TO REBEL By Timothy Alston



to their aims of overthrowing repressive governments. This article will argue that in conflicts where natural resources are involved, these claims are often false, while the real reasons for rebellion lie instead in the financial benefits arising from control of natural resources. With the use of Sierra Leone as an example, this article shall examine the reasons for civil war and how the presence of natural resources significantly increases its likelihood. That presence of natural resources, and the revenue generated for those controlling them, gives rebel groups incentive to rebel. Presence of diamonds and hydrocarbons has been shown to increase the likelihood of conflict by 40% and 50% respectively (Lujala, 2010, p.26 and p.24). This, combined with a study showing that the severity of repression prior to conflict has no effect on the conflict (Collier, Hoeffler, Söderbom, p.266), gives credibility to the conclusion that rebellion is financially motivated. This is further backed when it is noted that if the world prices of exports of a country experiencing civil war drop by 10%. the duration of the conflict reduces by 12% (Col-

lier, Hoeffler, Söderbom, p.266). This is because the resources become less valuable; and thus there is less incentive to continue fighting. Rebellions need financing, and gems and oil are easy methods of obtaining money. This is why the presence of these resources leads to increased chances of rebellion occurring, despite the claims like that of Foday Sankoh, spokesman for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, who announced that the movement had started a ‘people’s war’ in order to “liberate” the masses from “the corruption and oppression” of the government (Abraham, H., p.207). It may be argued that gem and hydrocarbon revenues rely on exports, which would be affected by civil wars within the country, thus reducing the financial incentive for rebellion due to the inability to extract these revenues during conflict. This problem has been previously recognised by rebel and government forces alike, who have overcome the problem by selling future rights to resources in return for funds to fight their current wars; a system given the name ‘Booty Future’ (Ross, p.3). Examples of Booty Futures made by both rebel and government powers within a war can be seen during the conflict in Sierra Leone. The rebel 13

VOX - The Student Journal of Politics, Economics and Philosophy

group RUF agreed to give Charles Taylor, the leader of Liberia, access to Sierra Leone’s diamonds in exchange for his support for the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone. In early 1995, the government of Sierra Leone offered future mining rights to the South African company ‘Branch Energy’ in return for help from the mercenary firm ‘Executive Outcomes’. By the end of 1995, Executive Outcomes had taken the Kono mining fields (Ross, p.15).This shows how both sides in the Sierra Leone conflict traded potential future access to diamonds in exchange for support of their cause, demonstrating people’s willingness to invest in rebel or government forces in exchange for a potential payback after the conflict. Sierra Leone is not the only example of this. The French oil company ElfAquitaine supported a private army belonging to Denis Sassou-Nguesso (the potential future president of Congo at the time) in exchange for future exploitation rights to Congo’s oil reserves (Ngolet, F, p.74).

The presence of natural resources, and the revenue they will bring to those in control of them, gives rebel groups incentive to cause rebellions and civil wars. Therefore, even when revenues are not immediately accessible, potential rights to the resource are sold to either 14

generate revenue to fight the war, or are exchanged for assistance in winning the conflict.Having already established that civil wars involving natural resources are mainly financially motivated, this article will now consider how the presence of natural resources affect the nature of civil wars. Where ‘lootable’ resources exist, the ability to fund an army is enhanced. The effect is that where gems are present, the duration of conflicts on average double (Lujala, 2009, p.57), as both rebel and government forces use the resource to sustain their fighting. The presence of hydrocarbons doubles a conflict’s duration (Lujala, 2010, p.22) and intensity, because mere control of hydrocarbon sources in times of conflict does not give rise to instant revenues; peace is needed for their extraction and subsequent sale. Therefore rebels will fight until either state collapse or secession of the government in order to control the resource to extract its revenue (Lujala, 2009, pp.67-68). The disruption of extraction during conflict gives rise to governments losing out on the hydrocarbon revenue they would otherwise be receiving, making governments and rebels equally willing to invest more in the fighting in order to secure this large potential revenue from the hydrocarbon extraction (Lujala, 2009, p.68). These conflicts require troops to fight them, which become a financial cost for both sides in the conflict. Cheaper recruitment of troops allows

Issue XII - Summer 2010

for wars to be sustained over longer periods of time (Collier, Hoeffler, Söderbom, p.255) and also makes them more profitable. The side effect of this is the recruitment of child soldiers. In Sierra Leone, children, often from the street, joined the conflict either in search of a surrogate family or seeking protection (Zack-Williams, p.125). Others are recruited through the threat of ‘tabay’ - having your elbows tied behind your back until your ribcage separates - whilst some were made to join in order to prevent the killing of innocent family members (Sesay & Ismail, p.146). Only the minority were paid to take part. In Liberia, the cost of a child soldier was a promise to pay $5, and a pair of blue Levi Jeans (Kelly, D., p.13). This led to approximately half of the soldiers in the Sierra Leone conflict being children between the ages of eight and fourteen (Sesay, A., p.13). Atrocities in which child soldiers were indoctrinated to take part included 3.2% of child soldiers in Liberia practicing cannibalism (Sesay & Ismail, p.146). This is just one example of the terrible costs associated with conflicts revolving around control for natural resources, where the parties involved will go to any length to cut down on their financial costs so that they can fight for a longer period in order to improve their chances of success. The implementation of trading bans (in the case where both sides are unable to sell future rights to the resources in question) affects both

parties, meaning that both the government and rebel troops are hindered. Although this may bring about an end to conflict sooner, as both groups run out of resources, it may not create the desired outcome in terms of who wins. This also gives rise to the question: should international actors make the decision as to which group is victorious? I believe that this would lead to international actors making decisions based around which outcome would best suit them financially; which I do not believe is the way a conflict should be settled. An example of this is seen with China supplying Sri Lanka with military and diplomatic aid to defeat the Tamil Tigers in return for building a Naval port in Sri Lanka to defend its supplies of oil (Timesonline, 2009). This article has shown why conflicts revolving around natural resources are often financially motivated, despite using ‘repression’ as a justification in the media’s eye. When hydrocarbons are present, conflict is more intense due to higher financial stakes; both sides are willing to invest more in order to gain the victory; the presence of lootable resources, like gems, only allows rebels to sustain themselves longer, prolonging conflict.


VOX - The Student Journal of Politics, Economics and Philosophy

The aim of financial success from rebellion has led to the atrocious outcome of children being exploited by both sides in many conflicts. This leaves the question: is there any way for international actors to prevent conflicts being fought for financial gain? I believe that this is not possible. When warring groups do not have current control over resources, they sell the future extraction rights. Therefore, even if trade bans are imposed on countries experiencing conflict, these countries can sell future rights to the resources in order to maintain their finances. The groups could alternatively make promises to their troops of payments once they are successful in their campaign and trading bans have been lifted, as was seen in the promise to pay child soldiers in Liberia. This article therefore concludes that there is no optimal outcome in conflict; if there is to be international intervention, it must be impartial, with the pure aim of preserving life, not ending the conflict in either side’s favour.

Bibliography available online at _____________________________

Timothy Alston is a second year undergraduate reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of York.


The Motive to Rebel-Issue XII