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African Massacre
The Dark Side of Economic Development

Three mass graves, each containing 10 to 12 people, were recently found in Uganda. The identities of the bodies are unknown, but authorities believe they died in an ongoing conflict over the country’s oil. Uganda’s Lake Albertine Rift basin is full of oil, and the rights to the area’s land are hotly and violently contested among local groups. The WSJ has more:

Local residents alleged the victims were killed in reprisal attacks by rival tribes following July 5 tribal uprisings in the three districts, in which security forces killed nearly 100 people. […]

Hundreds of militias belonging to the Bakonzo tribe armed with spears, guns and machetes assaulted several villages as well as army and police installations in the region this month, but were swiftly repulsed, in what security officials said was an unsuccessful uprising over long-standing land rights. The attackers killed five soldiers and 12 police officers.

Americans like to think that economic development reduces ethnic and religious conflict, but the opposite is often true. Economic development creates inequality as some groups benefit more than others, even if in the long term the country as a whole grows richer and stronger. This, in turn, creates or deepens conflict between “winners” and “losers.” Even worse, developing countries often are controlled by corrupt, incompetent, and/or biased national and international institutions. As Africa continues to develop, one of the consequences will be heightened tension and rising conflict—there will be many more stories like this one in the years ahead.

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  • lukelea

    It is hard to imagine much economic development in the absence of a strong central stated that is committed to the development of the country as a whole and to all of the people. (Otherwise there can be no rule of law, no property rights, indeed no individual rights of any kind.)

    But of course a strong central state like this appears to be precisely what tribal, clan-based societies are incapable of. Are there any exceptions?

    • Andrew Allison

      Russia, Iraq under Saddam, Syria under Assad, Yugoslavia under Tito, the Ottoman Empire, etc. Depressing, isn’t it.

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