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Crisis Prevention: Tackling Horizontal Inequalities


  • Frances Stewart


Civil wars not only cause huge amounts of human distress, but are also a major cause of low-incomes. Hence their prevention should be a central aspect of poverty reduction strategies. Since about half low-income countries have been affected by wars, and a much higher proportion of the very worst off economies, policies to prevent conflict should form a central part of policies towards low-income countries. The paper draws conclusions from a research programme undertaken by WIDER and Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford which included a large number of case studies of countries that have suffered conflict in recent years. Civil wars occur when groups mobilise against each other; their leaders use ethnicity or some other characteristic like religion, to unite and mobilise the group. Such mobilisation is effective where there are substantial horizontal inequalities, i.e. inequalities among groups, which cause resentment. Such inequalities have political, economic and social dimensions. Other factors, e.g. growth failures and a weak state, are also often present in countries in which violent conflict occurs on a substantial scale. However, strong states also frequently initiate conflict, by attacking groups which they believe might threaten the ruling power. Policies to prevent conflict need to be directed at reducing horizontal inequalities in conflict-prone countries in all dimensions - political, economic and social. A major problem, however, is that domestic governments may not wish to pursue such policies, as they want to continue the dominance of their own group. International donors can contribute through their own expenditures, and also through policy conditionality. In practice, current conditionalities do not contribute to a reduction in horizontal inequality except accidentally. Current political conditionality is concerned with establishing democracy, not inclusive government, while current economic and social conditionality is directed towards promoting growth and efficiency and poverty reduction but not reducing horizontal inequality. Yet, the prevailing conditionalities will not succeed in realising their objectives of economic growth and democracy if civil war occurs. Hence they need to be changed for conflict-prone countries to place the reduction of horizontal inequality as a central objective. Countries which are conflict-prone include countries that have had serious conflict over the previous twenty years, low-income countries and countries with sharp horizontal inequalities. For all such countries, the measurement of horizontal inequalities and the introduction of policies to offset them when they are excessive should complement general development policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Frances Stewart, "undated". "Crisis Prevention: Tackling Horizontal Inequalities," QEH Working Papers qehwps33, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:qeh:qehwps:qehwps33

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Turton, 1997. "War and ethnicity: Global connections and local violence in North East Africa and former Yugoslavia," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(1), pages 77-94.
    2. Andre, Catherine & Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 1998. "Land relations under unbearable stress: Rwanda caught in the Malthusian trap," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 1-47, January.
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