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Ru-Ching Chen

POSC 160
An Eye for an Eye Makes the World Blind
In recent history, Africa has been ridden with conflict and instability. To better
understand the causes behind conflict in Africa, in When Things Fell Apart, by Robert
Bates, a fable is told about a community consisting of two groups of citizens and a
specialist in violence. Bates uses the fable to describe the relationships between
groups of people in Africa. Similarly, we will use the groups to argue that without the
large amount of natural resources in Africa, the temptation of the specialist to use
violence is greatly increased due to the higher rate of discount.
We will first discuss some of the reasons why people turn to violence. The
laborers can be mobilized to seize the income of others or to defend their incomes
from seizure. The specialist in violence may earn his living from the use of force.
There can exist political order if the specialist in violence uses his control of the
means of violence to protect rather than to despoil private property. In that case, the
citizens would have no need to defend their income and would have less incentive to
steal the income of others. Bates states that this outcome primarily occurs after players
interact over time. The push and pull of each group of people keeps them in line, with
the understanding that actions have consequences.
However, this utopian situation is not always possible. Bates lays out three
variables that determine the possibility of political order. The first factor is the level of
tax revenue. The second factor is the magnitudes of the rewards that predation might
yield. The third factor is the specialists rate of discount. We will go through these
variables and discuss why the elimination of natural resources make violence more

Ru-Ching Chen
POSC 160
Without large amounts of natural resources, the economies of Africa might not be
as strong as they are. Bates states that the economies of Africa are generally
dependent on precious minerals, gemstones, petroleum, and other precious
commodities. Without these resources, tax revenue may not be as high. Bates
discusses an analogous example, a recession, in more depth. During a recession,
resources are not worth as much, which is similar to not having the resources with
value. Consequences of a recession include a decline in taxes that the African
governments. Therefore, the specialist in violence would not be content with the taxes
that they are able to obtain.
During a recession, those who controlled the state sought to extract revenue
from the wealth of their citizen, which is the second variable that might determine
political order. However, again, without the benefit of resources, the wealth of citizens
may not be as high, making them an unenticing and unlikely target. Therefore, if there
was no oil as a resource, then the government would not be tempted by the oil wealth of
the citizens. In other words, the specialist does not see inherent value in the citizens
which it could extract wealth from. The citizens do not pose as wealthy targets that the
specialist can pressure into paying out.
That being said, though, because the opportunities of future payoffs are
diminished, due to no resources to gather, the third variable is of much interest. The
specialist, who is unsure about the opportunities that the citizens may have, will be
more likely to turn to violence to gain a temporary and immediate payoff. Bates states
that resource wealth appeals to shape the behavior of elites. In a situation without
resources, the elite might be tempted to obtain as much wealth as they can in the

Ru-Ching Chen
POSC 160
current situation. Similarly, Bates makes the claim that in the face of dwindling public
resources or insecure political futures, given the availability of wealth from appropriable
resources, they could greet with equanimity a future of political disorder. However, if
those resources are not available, political disorder may be eminent, due to the allure of
immediate wealth through violence.
When we eliminate the temptation of resources, we find that many of the causes
of violence are eliminated. What is left, however, is the use of violence to take what is
there before there is nothing left. While this is not a realistic situation, it is an interesting
situation to consider. It allows us to isolate other factors that contribute to violence.
Furthermore, we may be able to use this conclusion in analyses in other parts of the