Role do greed and grievance play

The role that greed and grievance play in civil war is its emergence. Their role is a crucial and controversial one in the creation of civil wars. There have been various arguments concerning their role in its emergence, with most for greed as the key factor as the backbone of all conflict including civil war while a few others also consider grieve’s role. However, it is my opinion that both work hand in hand to create the violence that is civil war. Some could even see how one begets the other, legitimizing the creation of one through the existence of the other. Either way the role both greed and grieve play is one of an instigator. This paper will illustrates how both factors have intertwining roles in the occurrence of civil war; the aim is to show how one factor’s role influences the other and how one factors role can overlap and blur the other out. This will be done by looking at various explanations for civil war attributed to greed and grieve individually. To discuss these terms and their role in the emergence of civil war it is crucial to understand what they mean and why they are considered active role players in the creation of civil war.

Civil War is conflict that arises when militant groups of people attack a government and or civilians persistently (Collier, 2003:54).What exactly is greed and how does it come into play in the occurrence of civil war? Greed according to the English dictionary ( is ‘excessive or rapacious desire especially for wealth or possessions’. It is the need to acquire more than you need taking or having more of what you already have. So who is the greedy in civil war? Based on the definition, do the greedy exist in the sense of the word? If they do, then it is crucial to ‘investigate how the greed generates grievance and rebellion, legitimizing further greed’ (Keen,2000:32) as part of its role in the occurrence of civil war through, the actions of the greedy.

Various economic and political factors contribute to the emergence and creation of civil war starting from inequality in terms of resource allocation to participation in the decision making process. There have been various arguments as to what really causes civil war; the prominent answer is economic inequality. The general idea is that people want more access to resources and because they cannot get it, they take it by force. In this sense, then yes the greedy exist and play a major role in the occurrence of civil war. On the other hand, those who do not have access to recourses at all and just want to enjoy the benefits and access to it in the first place (not more access) are not greedy but needy. The actual participants(people doing the actual fighting, and protesting) of civil war are not acting according to greed, for greed as earlier defined is wanting more of what you already have. They on the other hand just want access to resources denied of them, denoting previous lack.

It is easy to link economic need and lack of resources to greed even more so as the focus is often on how the elite manipulate the situations to create civil unrest and strife, and how they and a few others benefit from it. The error is in considering these groups of people to be the only actors of civil war. The aim here is not to diminish the role of greed, for it plays just as important a role as grieve does as will be later discussed. The aim is to point out that it is important to consider those acting from greed and those from grieve, and the role of grievance in causing civil war before giving all the credit to greed’s role as the dominant player in the creation of civil conflict. It is impossible for one factor (grieve or greed) to stir up conflict without the presence of the other factor.

The greedy, often times are some entrepreneurs, rebel lords and their gangs, and a few elites (including some governments) that have something to gain from civil unrest are motivated by their greed, their desire to hoard more resources, their access to it, and the benefits gained from said resources (in form of employment, education, wealth etc). Their interest is vested in the continuation of war and so they manipulate the grieve that exists in the society which more often than not is a result of their greed. These are the few Collier talks about when he says, ‘civil war creates economic opportunities for a minority of actors even as they destroy it for the majority’ (Collier, 2000:91). This brings me to the point that the greedy are few but their impact and influence on the occurrence of civil war is big. Greed plays a minor yet visible role in civil war. The greedy few use the genuine grieve of the majority to advance their own economic agenda. According to Collier (2000), grieve is used to recruit actors in civil war.

To understand the role of grieve; it is important to define it and consider what constitutes the sentiment. Grieve refers to pain over injustice or unfortunate circumstances as used in the English dictionary ‘grieve is to feel great sorrow, be mentally distressed or oppressed and wronged’ ( This attribute is evident when considering factors that contribute to civil war. Looking at the case of Rwanda (Caplan, 2007) where the Tutsi had previously oppressed the Hutus during colonialism. The Hutu ethnic group embarked on an ethnic cleansing mission of the Tutsi ethnic group when they gained political power. This example illustrates how grieve came into play for Rwanda’s civil war. Ethnic differences, which resulted in oppression of one group by the other, created tension and grieve that erupted into violence.

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The role of Grieve and greed as creators of civil war is evident in that they are the foundations for each explanatory factor given for the occurrence of civil war. They are the driving forces behind factors contributing to civil war like ethnic differences, manipulative leaders and so forth. For each factor attributed to greed, there is grieve working with it making it possible for greed to be pursued, and for each grieve backed reason for civil war, greed is presently active. Both factors work together, greed creates grieve and it is also possible for greed to emerge from that grieve (Cramer, 2002) without one, the other really does not exist in civil war. Thus far, the contribution and role of greed and grieve as individual factors in the occurrence of civil war in a country has been show, now focus is directed to illustrate how their individual roles intertwine and work hand in hand. This aspect of the essay is going to examine the roles both grieve and greed play in different greed or grieve specific explanations offered for the cause of civil war.

The most prominent explanation or contributing factor to civil war in literature and media seems to be economic agenda (Collier 2003) (greed explanation) and inequality (grieve explanation) between groups and people in the society as previously noted. The idea behind this is that people engage in conflict in order to advance their own economic agenda, be it access to previously denied resources or to gain more access to said resources. Collier (2000:93-95) uses a number of proxies to explain how greed motivates conflict. For instance, the availability of primary loot-able resources(also discussed in Collier, 2008) in a country creates an avenue for conflict to develop out of greed because of what is to be gained from looting (be it profit from actual sale of good or use of it). Another proxy used was the number of young men without job prospects whose income earning potentials and educational levels are low (Collier, 2000:95).

According to this analogy jobless young men with no prospects living in a country with an abundance or somewhat large number of “primary resources” is a recipe for conflict in said society because of idleness and availability of loot-able resources and of course greed. These young jobless men without prospects do not have jobs or proper paying jobs because they have been denied access to proper and good or any form of education(also a factor that contributes to grieve). They may even have one but cannot get any or good employment because of inequality in the society. A country with large “commodity exports” obviously has the resources to make things better for these people or at least the means (sale of said commodity resources) to make things better. The availability of young men and primary export commodities shows how greed’s role as a generator of civil war works. The explanation also illustrates how grieve (also an instigator of civil war) plays its role in this dominantly greed backed explanation. Grieve experienced over the unfavorable conditions and employment status or lack thereof of these “young men” led them to resort to conflict to acquire some of the economic resources not made accessible to them. Collier’s argument is that countries with “large primary resources” are prone to more civil war. The logic of his argument is that ‘resource-rich countries have a higher probability for conflict than resource-poor ones’ (Soya, 2000:120). Well certainly, there is some credit to this logic because resource poor countries have little or no resources.

The difference between these two types of countries is that resource rich countries have resources. The scarcity of said resources within the country where the benefits of such resources are not visible or made equally available to its citizens are bound to experience rebellion from the majority of the population considering how only a minority benefits. The sense of injustice and feeling of unfairness likely to arise from the knowledge that certain resources are available but to only a few elite is enough to bring about grieve. This is also likely to motivate rebels and cause an uprising, and not only the idea that there is excess to acquire and more to be made from black market so let us loot and make our own profits like Collier and Soya would have us believe. The greed proxies (available young men, primary resource and education level) and explanations show greed’s role at work, and shows that of grieve in civil war, illustrating how one cannot work without the other.

The grievance factors of civil war and some of the grieve backed explanations for civil war like differences and animosity existing between groups in the society, and how they contribute to the emergence of civil war also illustrate the role of greed. The first of many is ‘raw ethnic or religious hatred’ (Collier, 2000:95). The logic behind this is that people are afraid of what they do not know or understand. Therefore, a society that is deeply separated based on different ethnicities and religious views will experience civil unrest at some point or the other because the society is invested in the differences that exist. Take for instance the Biafra war of Nigeria. The Biafra civil war broke out because of the three major ethnic groups (Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo) in the country, out of which the Igbo were not represented in government. They no longer were actively included in politics after years of being at the forefront of Nigerian politics, and running the country with the last president (removed through a coup d’état) being from the Igbo ethnic group (Ralph, 2004). Their lack of representation meant their access to certain resources were limited. The ethnic groups in power based on solidarity-favored members of their own ethnic group, their regions had better systems of education, and employment opportunity was regularly based on whom you knew and what ethnic group you belonged to. They only cared about and helped “their own people” while members of other ethnic groups were being slaughtered and maltreated. This goes to show how deeply rooted the society was in ethnic identities and differences. So much so, that the Igbo felt oppressed and resentment grew. The situation escalated because of problems surrounding the presence of crude oil in the region of the country occupied by the Igbo. The profits made from the resources found in their regions or “their lands” was not distributed equally around the regions of the nation and especially not in the regions, they were found in. In addition, the Igbo leaders decided to keep the profits to themselves to improve the standard of living of maltreated ethnic group members (Global Out of grieve over the extent of inequality in the nation the Igbo felt the need to secede.

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The Nigeria Biafra war illustration of ethnic identities and differences creating civil strife supports the idea that ‘societies that are highly fractionalized by both ethnicity and religion’ (Collier, 2000:95) will have more incidence of civil war. Furthermore, the illustration not only shows grieve playing its role as a creator of civil war by supporting the grieve backed explanation for causes of civil, in this case ethnic differences and inequality, it also shows greed’s role in the occurrence of the Nigerian Biafra civil war. The Igbo were oppressed, agreed but they did not threaten to secede up until they lost their position of power in government (an Igbo was in the presidential office) and found an excuse (Using the proceeds to help the oppressed) to keep the benefits and profits from the valuable natural resource found in the southeast region of Nigeria, where the Igbo reside to themselves. The presence of such a valuable resource like crude oil turned the Igbo greedy and their state of oppression created an avenue for that greed to show. They wanted to keep the benefits from crude oil to themselves and break from the country. With the already existing situation of the ruling ethnic groups (Hausa and Yoruba), isolating resources based on ethnicity, and their greed in taking and keeping the benefits of the resources without any of it trickling down to the Igbo added to the existing rage and grieve over inequalities that abound in the society and oppression. More importantly, it legitimized the greed of the Igbo group; if it was all right for the ruling groups to hoard resources, it was all right for them to take their resource and keep it for themselves. The ruling groups out of greed kept resources for themselves, this resulted in the neglected groups (Igbo) grieve. Because of their greed, the ruling ethnic groups (Hausa and Yoruba) desired to keep the resource within their grasps and power so they can benefit more from it. This greed possibly led them to resist the secession of the Igbo group away from the nation. The Igbo on the other hand out of grieve over limited access to resources grew greedy and wanted to break from the country at the discovery of a valuable resource (crude oil) they wanted to keep to for themselves. This just goes to show how greed causes grieve and how both factors work together to manipulate situations in a way that results into violence.

Another grieve backed factor for civil war that shows the role of both grieve and greed as creators of civil war is the idea of economic inequality again. This factor shows the perfect relationship between the roles of greed and grieve. The latter stemming from the unavailability of certain things like land for instance which Collier (2000) uses as proxy for inequality to others because the elite of the society have access to it. The greed of some in accumulation of resources for themselves and in the process causing grieve for those who do not have access to or are unable enjoy certain benefits derived from it. Ultimately greed from one side coupled with grieve from another equals civil war or at least leads to some form of conflict and even more so in a country with weak governance.

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A weak government implies ‘government economic incompetence’ (Collier, 2000:96) and an inability to control or prevent an outbreak of conflict in case one arises from said incompetence. Where there is an incompetent government, greed and grieve have an avenue to breed and reinforce each other in the creation of civil war. An incompetent government is to some extent responsible for economic inequality. The government is tasked with the duty of making resources available to its citizens equally or at the very least provides social safety nets when and where needed. If the government fails to provide these resources in an equal manner and create an equal atmosphere, inequalities are bound to be more apparent in the society and grieve from such inequalities as explained earlier may erupt into civil war. In addition, having a government that supports greed and is itself greedy and corrupt is another aspect in which a weak governance can and often adds to the incidence of civil war and reinforce the role of greed and grieve as its creators. Through its greedy activities like accepting bribes from elites to maybe get more electricity in certain parts of the country or a government that fails to maintain public amenities such as the public school system because funds for such maintenance out of greed are diverted into their personal accounts creates grieve. Those that cannot afford private school for their kids or those that cannot afford to bribe them are ultimately denied the use of and access to basic resources. This type of behavior creates the foundation for inequality starting from basic education, which would later reflect in other areas of life like employment and income amongst other things. Government incompetence enhances the role of grieve and greed and creates a breeding ground for them to fester. A government with no desire to end conflict because of how they benefit from it be it through bribes from those that want to keep the situation the way it is or based on their own interest legitimizes greed which goes on to create grieve which may or may not turn into greed and the cycle continues.

Ultimately the role of greed and grieve in civil war is the creation of civil war. Factors that explain why civil wars occur are based on greed or grieve and are generally categorized as grieve based or greed based showing how important their role is in civil war. Without the presence of these factors (Greed and Grieve) civil war does not exist, it does not escalate and it does not continue. They are the fuel to the fire that is civil war. In conclusion, greed and grieve as creators of civil war reinforce each. One does not exist without the other and so to ignore the role of one in causing civil war is to leave the glass half-empty. To understand how various explanations of civil war factors work, it is important to recognize that both grieve and greed work together to effectively create the situation. For without greed, grieve cannot effectively play its role and create civil war, and neither can greed without grieve.


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