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This causal pathway explains four of the seven cases of violent escalation (Jabal Sabr, Northern
Nigeria, Southern Oromiya, Turkana) and is absent in all thirteen conflicts not experiencing a
violent escalation. The violent escalation of land conflicts on Guadalcanal in 1998 might also be
considered as covered by this causal pathway, because although the Solomon Islands did not see
a major change of the political system or the land regime between 1993 and 1998, it experienced
four different governments, three governmental changes and tremendous political volatility in
this period (Moore 2004). Therefore, only the cases of Southern Pará (violent escalation despite
large power differences) and Tonle Sap (violent escalation despite large power differences and
low negative othering) are not covered by the most robust solution formula. One might explain
these outliers by the unique history of land conflict in northern Brazil (Simmons et al. 2007) and
the legacy of the brutal civil war in Cambodia (Degen et al. 2000; Kiernan 2002), but more
research on this issue is needed.
In theoretical terms, the robust solution term is in line with what we know from existing research
in peace and conflict studies and might serve as a basis for developing a general theory of
renewable resource scarcity and (violent) conflict. Strong power asymmetries are likely to
discourage the use of violence in conflicts about scarce renewable resources because the weaker
party will usually prefer a negotiated compromise over a physical or political defeat
(Bennett/Stam 2004). Perceiving the Other as an existential threat makes preliminary attacks to
capture resources or weaken the opponent more likely (Buzan et al. 1998; Scheffran et al. 2014),
while constructing out-groups as inferior lowers the inhibition threshold for using violence in
conflicts about renewable resources (Kaufman 2001; Martin 2005). But both conditions –
absence of power differences and negative Othering – are largely static and invariant over time.
They are important pre-conditions, but for conflicts about scarce renewable resources to turn
violent, a “precipitating event” is often necessary (Hislope 2007: 154). Political changes provide
opportunities (e.g. due to temporary state weakness) as well as incentives (e.g. resistance against
these changes) to use violence and thus can act as precipitating events for violence, but only in
the context of negative Othering and low power differences.
The example of Southern Oromiya from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s is illustrative in this
regard. This vast, semi-arid part of southern Ethiopia is inhabited by various pastoralist ethnic
groups (e.g. Borana, Digodi, Guji) which frequently engage in (sometimes violent) conflicts with
each other. As a consequence, relations between the various, equally powerful groups are tense
and characterized by mistrust, fear and depreciation. The conflicts between the various pastoralist
groups often concern water, land and cattle resources, which became increasingly scarce due to
severe droughts in the 1980s. As a result, conflicts intensified and escalated in the 1990s along the
lines of ethnic differences and historical grievances. But a major factor for the violent escalation