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Informal Institutions and Patterns of Local Violence in African Rentier States: Evidence from the Niger Delta

Mark Mattner
McGill University
Mark Mattner
McGill University
Open Panel

Abstract

The severe violence often associated with oil exploration in Africa is well documented. However, in the Niger Delta, Africa’s most significant and most violent oil region, some communities have experienced persistent violence while others have remained relatively peaceful. Such variations are inadequately explained in the current literature literature because studies focus mostly on comparing data aggregated at the national level or on thick description of trajectories of violence in single-case studies. Why do levels of violence differ between oil bearing communities? The paper proposes the following hypothesis: Variations in local violence can be explained by the content of the oil production agreements which determine oil revenue allocation between oil companies, the state and local communities. These agreements vary from community to community across the Niger Delta and typically include detailed rules of negotiation and dispute settlement. The proposed causal mechanism centers on the informal institutions created through such arrangements: Where production arrangements include participatory approaches for revenue management, informal institutions are created which allow for peaceful negotiation and settlement of broader distributional conflicts. This leads to lower levels of violence. Where production arrangements are top-down, distributional conflicts are more likely to turn violent because there is no framework to address such conflicts peacefully. The proposed paper will test this theoretical framework through case studies of four communities in two Federal States in the Niger Delta.