There has been significant debate on whether it is greed or grievance that serve as triggers for civil wars and intrastate violence. Grievances are subjective in nature while greed is objective in nature, and is much easier to measure and analyze.

Civil wars are considered to be violent conflicts that occur between a state and one or numerous non-state groups or actors within the territory of that state. They are intrastate conflicts by nature and are not interstate conflicts (Gleditsch, 2017).

There is compelling research-based evidence for greed as the more likely reason behind the eruption of civil wars in states. Collier and Hoeffler’s article on the topic has provided some strong support for this notion. They have formed the operational definition of civil was as internal conflicts with at least 1000 combat-related deaths per year, wherein both the government and the identifiable groups/s suffer at least 5% of these casualties (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004).

They have separated two indicators from the two sides, one being opportunity for rebel groups, and the other being objective indicators of grievance.

Indicators of opportunities for rebel groups involve opportunities for financing rebel groups, weak military capabilities of the government, and social cohesion.

Opportunities for financing rebel groups can have three sources. The first is from the extortion of natural resources. Diamonds in West Africa, timber in Cambodia, and cocaine in Colombia provide good examples of natural resource pools for rebel groups residing there to take advantage of to finance their operations and costs(Klare, 2001). The second source is from diasporas, which are not responsible for financing significant conflict during civil wars. The third is from hostile governments, which support rebellions in other countries by financing rebel groups there. There are also indirect financial benefits arising out of low costs from mean per capita income, secondary schooling of males (particularly young males), and the rate of growth of the state’s economy. Weak military capabilities of the government can be characterized as control over different terrains, and a significant number of conflict situations have been observed in mountainous terrains than forests or plain terrain. It can also be characterized by low populations densities and low levels of urbanization. Social cohesion can be characterized by ethnic and religious diversity within the various organizations in the state. A newly formed rebel group will need more social cohesion and focus on smaller numbers of groups, if diversity is high, for example. Thus, societies that are more diverse will reduce opportunities for rebel groups to recruit members for their cause.

Four indicators have been selected by Collier and Hoeffler for objective measures of grievance, which are ethnic or religious hatred, political repression, political exclusion, and economic inequality. Ethnic and religious hatred stems from polarization instead of diversity, as has been argued, but the results from their research do to indicate that this is a relevant trigger for civil wars. For political repression, it has been found that unless there are severe levels of political repression, increased repression means chances for increased conflicts. Minorities groups can have fear of being excluded, and the incentives of their exploitation by the majority increases the larger the minority groups are. This is especially true when there is ethnic dominance, as in the largest ethnic groups are a small majority (i.e., not significantly larger than the next largest minority group). However, this does not result in significant correlations in chances for civil wars to erupt (Collier & Hoeffler, 2004).

This work shows that greed is a far clearer indicator for causing civil wars to erupt, instead of grievance, but there are some glaring criticisms. Collier and Hoeffler have gathered evidence that civil wars are more likely to happen in some developing countries, and have not provided corresponding explanations on why that is the case. Moreover, some crucial variables have not been considered for their measurements and analyses. These include governance, management mechanisms for natural resources, and the influence of charismatic leaders on rebel groups. Simply omitting variables that are difficult to measure because of their subjectivity has given the results bias. They have also considered humans to always make rational decisions during civil wars and have measures and analyzed their date with this in mind. In civil wars, not all significant actors might make rational decisions, and this has not been considered in the data analysis (Bensted, 2011).

Regardless of flaws, Collier and Hoeffler’s work continues to be a significant and influential work in this field.


Bensted, R. (2011, September 19). A Critique of Paul Collier’s ‘Greed and Grievance’ Thesis of Civil War. African Security Review, 20(3), 84-90. doi:10.1080/10246029.2011.614065

Collier, P., & Hoeffler, A. (2004, October). Greed and Grievance in Civil War. Oxford Economic Papers, 563-595. Retrieved October 2020, from .

Gleditsch, K. S. (2017, September 11). Civil war. Retrieved October 2020, from Encyclopædia Britannica:

Klare, M. T. (2001). Natural Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. New York: Metropolitan Books.