The Root Causes of Conflict: Some Conclusions

Date: Jun, 1998
ODID Working Paper No. 16
Author(s): Frances Stewart (ODID)

This paper analyses the 'root' causes of complex humanitarian emergencies (CHEs) on the basis of studies conducted in a UNU/WIDER project on social and economic causes of CHEs; and identifies policies that appear relevant to the prevention of conflict. The paper regards horizontal inequality (ie inequality among groups, in contrast to vertical inequality which measures inequality among individuals) as the fundamental source of organised conflict.

Such horizontal inequality may have political, economic or social dimensions. The case studies indicate that CHEs occur where group identity coincides with horizontal inequality that is consistent, and often widening, over a number of dimensions.

Preventative policies need to be addressed towards correcting horizontal inequality along the relevant dimensions. Where conflicts are already underway, it is also necessary to introduce policies to change the private incentives of those who carry it out towards alternative peaceful occupations. Preventative policies thus require inclusive government, politically, economically and socially. Such policies do not form part of the current political or economic conditionality exercised by the international community, and may sometimes contradict this conditionality.

ODID Author(s)