Financing rebellion

AuthorUrsula Daxecker,Brandon C Prins
Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Financing rebellion: Using piracy to
explain and predict conflict intensity
in Africa and Southeast Asia
Ursula Daxecker
Department of Political Science & Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam
Brandon C Prins
Department of Political Science & Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee-Knoxville
A prominent explanation of the resource–conflict relationship suggests that natural resources finance rebellion by
permitting rebel leaders the opportunity to purchase weapons, fighters, and local support. The bunkering of oil in the
Niger Delta by quasi-criminal syndicates is an example of how the black-market selling of stolen oil may help finance
anti-state groups. More systematic assessments have also shown that the risk and duration of conflict increases in the
proximity of oil and diamond deposits. Yet despite the emphasis on rebel resource extraction in these arguments,
empirical assessments rely almost exclusively on latent resource availability rather than actual resource extraction.
Focusing on maritime piracy, this article argues that piracy is a funding strategy neglected in current research.
Anecdotal evidence connects piracy in the Greater Gulf of Aden to arms trafficking, the drug trade, and human
slavery. The revenue from attacks may find its way to Al-Shabaab. In Nigeria, increasing attacks against oil transports
may signal an effort by insurgents to use the profits from piracy as an additional revenue stream to fund their
campaign against the Nigerian government. The article hypothesizes that piracy incidents, that is, actual acts of
looting, increase the intensity of civil conflict. Using inferential statistics and predictive assessments, our evidence
from conflicts in coastal African and Southeast Asian states from 1993 to 2010 shows that maritime piracy increases
conflict intensity, and that the inclusion of dynamic factors helps improve the predictive performance of empirical
models of conflict events in in-sample and out-of-sample forecasts.
civil wars, crime, forecasting, in-sample prediction, maritime piracy, natural resources, out-of-sample prediction
Rebellion is costly. Grievances may motivate insurgents,
but rebel leaders require resources to purchase weapons,
pay fighters, and guarantee local support. Indeed, prying
a local resident off the proverbial fence is made easier
when accompanied by financial remuneration. Drugs,
gemstones, and oil provide the lootable resources to fund
insurgency. Further, such resource wealth increases the
value of regional control of territory and pushes rebel
leaders into separatist conflicts (Fearon, 2004; Ross,
2006). If resource control supports rebellion, maritime
piracy as a form of illicit resource appropriation may
provide rebel groups with critical funds for the financing
of armed conflict.
The bunkering of oil and kidnapping
for ransom by quasi-criminal syndicates in the Greater
Gulf of Guinea may represent one such focused funding
Anyu & Moki (2009) suggest that piracy could help finance
terrorist groups and their operations.
Corresponding author:
Journal of Peace Research
2017, Vol. 54(2) 215–230
ªThe Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0022343316683436
strategy for anti-state groups.
Experts agree that many
pirates are current or former Niger Delta militants that
have extensive experience targeting oil pipelines and plat-
forms (Pe
´rouse de Montclos, 2012; Ikelegbe, 2006).
Additionally, in Southeast Asia, Islamist groups have
allegedly turned to piracy and other crime when
resources run low (Liss, 2014; Hastings, 2012). In the
Philippines, for example, Abu Sayyaf remains active in
the Southern Sulu archipelago where piracy flourishes.
Research indicates that resource rebellions are partic-
ularly difficult to resolve when profiting from the sale of
contraband incentivizes continued fighting (Fearon,
2004). Further, the number of intrastate conflicts funded
through drugs and or minerals appears to have increased
after the collapse of the Soviet Union becausecompetitive
Cold War fundinglevels plummeted (Ross, 2006). Rebels
sought alternative funding streams that could be devel-
oped locally and are not dependent on outside actors.
Maritime piracy re-emerged around the same time. The
InternationalMaritime Bureau (IMB) recorded107 pirate
attacks in 1991, which increased by 300% over the next
ten years. Maritime piracy and the exploitation of other
available resources may thus have jointly emerged as a
means of revenue generation for rebels.
A cursory look suggests that piracy thrives in countries
where insurgency also prospers. Figure 1 maps geoloca-
tions of pirate attacks and armed insurgencies in Africa
and Southeast Asia. The figure suggests a correlation
between piracy incidence and conflict events, showing
that some of the most conflictual countries in Africa and
Southeast Asia also experience significant maritime
piracy. The five most piracy-prone countries since
1993 – Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, India, and
Somalia – have all experienced, or continue to experi-
ence, significant political violence.
Conditions that facilitate the emergence of violent
non-state groups may also facilitate piracy. It may thus
be that piracy and insurgency develop from similar envir-
onments, such as economic and ethnic inequality,
poverty, and state weakness (Hastings, 2009; Murphy,
2009; Marchione & Johnson, 2013). Yet piracy, similar
to the use of contraband or oil, may also result from
strategic decisions made by insurgent leaders looking for
resources to fund rebel activities. Groups such as Abu
Sayyaf and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb use kidnap-
ping for ransom as a fund-raising tactic. Transnational
criminal organizations (TCOs) also gravitate towards
weak and corrupt governments exploiting political
instability and subsequently prolonging armed conflict.
Figure 1. Heat map of piracy incidents (MPELD), and state conflict events (UCDP GED) in Africa and Southeast Asia, 1993–
Since 2010 nearly $100 million has been stolen from ships
transiting the Gulf of Guinea (s ee http://www.riskintelli
In testimony to the United States Congress in 2012, Director of
National Intelligence James Clapper identified TCOs as the most
216 journal of PEACE RESEARCH 54(2)

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