The Point of Attack: Where and Why Does Oil Cause Armed Conflict in Africa?


Prominent theories of conflict argue that belligerents fight to capture valuable rents (``prizes’’) such as oil and other resources. Yet, we show that armed groups rarely attack sites with the most oil above or below ground, oil terminals and wells; only pipelines lead to conflict. To explain this finding, we integrate crisis bargaining and Blotto games. In our model, armed groups attack to steal oil and signal strength; anticipating the government’s defenses, these groups rarely target the biggest prizes, which are more fortified. Consistent with our model, we show that armed groups strategically randomize where they attack pipelines and that local and export prices for fuel have different effects on violence, because only export prices affect the government’s willingness to buy off would-be attackers. We revamp the prize logic for conflict to generate more accurate predictions and, in so doing, provide a rare real-world validation of a Blotto model.

Working Paper
Darin Christensen
Darin Christensen
Associate Professor of Public Policy & Political Science

Political scientist interested in conflict and development.