Insurgency and Ivory: The Territorial Origins of Illicit Resource Extraction in Civil Conflicts


The presence of natural resources makes civil conflicts more likely to erupt, last longer, and more difficult to end. Yet rebels do not always exploit resources wherever they are present. Why? I argue that rebels extract more resources when they compete with governments over territorial authority. Territorial competition facilitates black market access, generates financial pressure, and produces governance incentives for rebels to extract natural resources. I test this proposition in a two-tiered research design. First, I show globally that moderate territorial control predicts more resource extraction by rebels. Subsequently, I focus on the example of ivory poaching which offers a rare glimpse into the usually hidden resource extraction process. I match spatially disaggregated conflict event data to subnational poaching data in conflict-affected African countries. Results show that rebels seeking territorial control substantially increase poaching rates. These findings highlight the strategic conditions under which territorial competition shapes rebel criminal behavior.

Comparative Political Studies. 54(8): 1327–1361.
Felix Haass
Post-Doctoral Researcher