Department or Program

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Paul MacDonald

Additional Advisor(s)

Stacie Goddard

Additional Advisor

Akila Weerapana


How do natural resources affect political violence? Natural resources may increase the opportunity for rebels to profit from violence, or they may weaken state capacity, allowing rebels to fight more easily. Previous empirical analyses on this question have used broad variables to capture micro-level mechanisms linking resources to violence. I instead aggregate sub-national data on political violence, resource availability, and other covariates in Africa from 1997-2014 to explore the links between resources and conflict within countries rather than across countries. The results from a fixed effects specification suggest that lootable resources increase the probability and the intensity of rebel violence, while unlootable resources do not. I also find that districts with both lootable resources and excluded ethnic groups have a significantly higher probability of political violence than those with one of these factors or with neither. To further explore the complex interactions of resources, ethnicity, and state strength, I use a qualitative case study comparison between resource-rich regions in the Niger Delta and in western Gabon, which have seen repeated rebel violence and prolonged peace, respectively. Overall, these findings suggest that counterinsurgency tactics targeted at preventing resource looting, as well as policies that address long-term grievances such as ethnic exclusion, may be most effective in preventing rebel violence.