Did you know that lesser rain might lead to conflict?

A cross-country comparison: Central African Republic and Chad


Imagine yourself walking down the street on your way to university, to your workplace or to the grocery shop. It starts raining, mostly likely, the first thing you think of is to get somewhere where covering yourself from the pouring rain. It stops there. In other parts of the world, however, the absence or overload of rain might have far more reaching consequences than you getting wet. It is true – climate change is impacting the course of mankind as a whole. After all, by the very nature of the term, there is one humanity only. However, there are countries where the effects of climate change are more manifest and disruptive. In other words, in such countries, climate change is not something that you read about on the newspapers, it is something that impacts your life on a daily basis. Among many cases in Sub-Saharan African, there is one country whose development path, ultimately whose destiny, is being shaped by a constant and relentless decrease of rainfall rate – the Central African Republic (herein after, CAR). To make you understand the dramatic effects that rainfall decrease has, a cross-country comparison between CAR and Chad is proposed. The latter, in fact, has experienced a slight rainfall rate increase, which might help explaining its economic growth vis-à-vis the failure thereof of CAR.

In a 2007 report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) refers to the Central African Republic (CAR) as “phantom state”, owing to the country’s gradual descent into chaos ever since the fall of Emperor Bokassa in 1979. Quite different is the case of Chad. A 2006 ICG report, titled Chad: back towards war?, describes a state that ‘has known relative peace’, but nonetheless, characterised by continued episodes of violence. This notwithstanding, the overall situation in Chad is indeed less dire, at least for the time being. Geographically, as neighbours they are both situated in central Africa, but more significantly, both countries are landlocked. Economically, in spite of the difference in volume, Chad and CAR shared a similar trend in terms of GDP until the mid-1990s, to then dramatically diverge from 2000 onwards, as shown by graph 1. Against this background, this article aims at explaining those factors which contributed to the divergence of their development paths, especially from the mid-1990s onwards. To do so, I will firstly survey the (I) the similarities that emerge by the cross-country comparison; then I will focus on both (II) endogenous and (III) exogenous factors that might account for their development path divergence. The former refer to those elements that are grown from within the state-system, such as corruption, or civil conflict. By exogenous factors, I am referring to all those elements which are not grown from within, but are rather originated externally, such as rainfall and temperature.

Graph 1

Indeed, until the early 1990s, Chad and CAR had a similar development path. As further evidence, in 1990 the Chadian GDP per capita (PPP) was $1110, while CAR’s was around $940. Following a structural divergence in the 2000s, whilst the 2015 figure for Chad rose to $2040, in the same year CAR’s GDP per capita plunged to $580. In spite of this divergence, a cross-country comparison provides significant similarities. Demographically, CAR has a much lower population size with five million people, whilst Chad’s population is three times as big World Bank Data 2015: Chad population is of 14,037,472; CAR population is of 4,900,274. To be sure, CAR’s surface is almost half the size of Chad’s territory, which is of 1,284,000 sq. Km. Yet, as much as 90% of Chadian population is concentrated in an area covering a tenth of the national territory and, situated in the south below the capital N’Djamena. In terms of natural resources, CAR has vast reserves of gold and diamonds. Chad relies on two major export commodities, those being cotton and rice, yet 60% circa of export revenues is provided by oil. Both countries largely rely on agriculture. Due to their landlocked locations, both countries suffer from high transportation costs, especially CAR, which is characterised by extremely poor infrastructure.

In order to investigate the nature of this divergence and, the resulting consequences for the development paths of Chad and CAR, I am relying on the extensive quantitative research which studies the correlation between economic growth and civil conflict, pioneered by World Bank economist Paul Collier and Oxford researcher Anke Hoeffler in 1998. Through the lens of such academic works, the discourse to follow will thus analyse the endogenous elements that might account for the structural path divergence of CAR and Chad, respectively.

Since its independence from France in 1960, CAR has been plagued by continued violence. Yet, more significantly the country has been trapped into a “militarisation of politics”. Suffice it to say that after the death of first democratically-elected prime minister Barthélémy Boganda, the then Interior Minister, David Dacko, surrounded the parliament with an armed band and forced deputies to elect him as the president of newly-independent CAR. Authoritarian in nature, his regime was fundamentally underpinned by patronage politics – or to say it à la Weber, neopatrimonialism. Whether military or seemingly democratic, every subsequent regime in CAR would live up on the same premises. As explained by Paul Collier, patronage politics is often “grown” in countries richly endowed with natural resources. Abundance of the latter reduces the need for taxation, with all its consequences in terms of citizens’ scrutiny over public funds management; indirectly, it also allows democratic competition to turn into something that Collier names the “survival of the fattest”. Now, CAR is the only country that does not produce oil in the region. However, it has vast reserves of diamonds, which represented a significant revenue for CAR, as the country’s dominant export commodity; at least until 2013, when diamond exports from CAR have been banned under provisions of the Kimberley process. All in all, as a development scholar argues, ‘the “mineral” basis of CAR’s neopatrimonialism was very deficient if compared with other African regimes, which helps explaining its high instability’. Moreover, widespread corruption during Dacko’s ruling added its burden to the shaky premises of the government’s capacity to transform state-money into public services. Sadly enough, Central African history tells that every subsequent government was not any better. The symptoms of the “poor governance trap” were manifest ab initio; and as Collier concludes, ‘it is possible to be in more than one trap at once’[xxiv]. Since the 1979 ousting of Bokassa – whose strong-hand helped maintaining a modicum of order for more than ten years –, the country gradually descended into chaos. After two tumultuous decades of misrule by military regimes, with the establishment of a democratically-elected civilian government in 1993, CAR seemed to finally get its chance to break free of the traps. However, as Collier and Hoeffle explain, once a country has had a coup – several in the case of CAR –, it is much more likely to experience further coups. In 2003, President Patassé was in fact ousted by a coup. Against this background, as Collier claims, there is no “Africa effect”; low income and slow growth make countries more prone to coups and civil conflict. Simply put, recruitment into armed violence is made easier when thousands of young males are stuck in hopeless poverty and chronic unemployment. And when it comes to coups, natural resources do not appear to matter, but aid does. Indeed, whilst not being a top ODA recipients, CAR’s net receipts have never been meagre in comparison to other African states, and until the end of the Cold War, France has always provided CAR with quite substantial aid funding. In a vicious circle of extreme poverty, “militarised politics”, corruption and violence, CAR is today considered a failing state. As will be later explained, geographic disadvantages – that is, exogenous factors – ought to be taken into account as well.

Certainly, prior to the 1990s, the situation in Chad was not rosy either. Since independence from France in 1960, Chad’s transfer of power from one government to the other has always taken place in the context of violence and armed factionalism. In 1965, Chadian Muslims began a civil war against the one-party government of François Tombalbaye, overthrown and killed in 1975. Soon enough, it became clear that the central authority was unable to cope with concurrent rebellious acts taking place all around the country: widespread armed insurgency in the North, the presence of two hostile armed factions contending for power in the capital, and Southern Chad ‘gravitating between secession and federation, and dominated by commandos who committed all kinds of lawless acts’. Continued insurgency, and chronic instability of the central government characterised Chad until the late 1980s. However, since Idriss Déby, former head of rebellion and now incumbent president, marched on N’Djamena in 1990, the country gradually re-gained its territorial integrity. Despite repeated coups against Déby and continued unrest in Eastern and Northern Chad, the country has experienced relative stability even throughout the 2000s when the Darfur conflict intensified, thereby leading to escalation of the situation in both Chad and CAR – the latter together with Sudan form the “Tormented Triangle”. Yet, the picture that comes out of this brief historical survey is clear. Persistent violence has been a feature of Chad’s state-system until the early 1990s, and despite the Darfur crisis and the recent 2005-2010 civil war, it seems that the strong-hand of President Déby does a great deal to maintain the semblance of peace. Moreover, concurrently to the completion of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and Chad’s signing of deals with the China National Petroleum Corporation, national GDP as well as GDP per capita (PPP) have risen significantly. It is true, bad governance and high levels of corruption often cause this wealth to be diverted from reaching the population and, instead, being spent on military purchases. That is despicable. Yet, from a macroeconomic standpoint, the circumstances in Chad are, in relative terms, not as dire as in CAR, in spite of their similar situation in the mid-1990s. As for CAR, the analysis to follow studies the effects of exogenous factors on Chad’s economic growth.

The following analysis examines the impact of an exogenous factor, rainfall, which is affected by neither economic growth nor civil conflict but does affect the level of economic growth; the latter, in turn, is known to be strongly correlated with the likelihood of coups and civil war. Yet, this analysis does not only look at civil war occurrence, but it looks also at socio-political violence, broadly conceived. The reason for this should be clear. Low income is associated not only with full-blown civil war, but also with continued and chronic socio-political disorder whose cumulative effect, in yet another vicious circle, results to be disruptive to economic performance. In doing so, this treatment looks at rainfall variability in Sub-Saharan Africa as the exogenous factor that might explain CAR’s gradual failure, and Chad’s relative growth, respectively; thereby seeking to account for the sources of the two countries’ path divergence from the mid-1990s onwards.

To begin with, both economies largely rely on agriculture (see graph 2). Whilst data on employment in agriculture in these two specific countries are unavailable in the World Bank Database, Collier and Conway argue that agriculture accounts for around 60% of employment in Sub-Saharan Africa [xliii]; thus, there are good reasons to infer that large segments of Chad and CAR’s labour force are employed in such sector.

Graph 2

In both countries, agriculture is almost exclusively rain-fed, as their irrigation systems are quite underdeveloped, and close to non-existent in CAR. This means that in both countries agriculture is highly dependant on rainfall variability, and broadly speaking, on temperature. Both economies are hence vulnerable to climate change, and even more so given their low capacity ‘to adapt to new circumstances or adopt new technologies’. Now, over the last sixty years, two geographic macro-trends can be recognised in the region. First, whilst global warming is no news, both Chad and CAR are similarly experiencing a dramatic rise in the average temperature, especially from the 1970s onwards (see graph 3); as Collier and Conway argue, there is evidence that the African continent is warming faster. Second, both countries are experiencing a general decrease in rainfall. Based on the data available, graph 4 shows a substantial fall in the average precipitation in both countries, for the period 1960-1989. This trend is relatively more pronounced in the case of CAR.

Graph 3

Graph 4

Yet, by looking closely to the period 1990-2012, the two countries present different micro-trends. With respect to Chad, the average rainfall in the period 1990-2012 is slightly higher if compared to 1960-1989 mean average, as shown by graph 5. This result is further confirmed by a 2012 US Geological Survey report, ‘rainfall in Chad declined rapidly between 1950 and the mid-1980s, […] and recovered in the 1990s’. In CAR, instead, the average rainfall seems to continue decreasing at the same pace as the pre-1990 trend. In the OECD African Economic Outlook 2016, CAR’s government is said to be particularly concerned by climate change owing to the ‘élévations récurrentes de la température, associées à une dégradation des paramètres pluviométriques’.

Graph 5

Given the purpose of this brief analysis on the impact of climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa, a cross-country empirical analysis is far beyond the scope of this article. However, a study made by Edward Miguel et al. used rainfall as an instrumental variable to escape endogeneity problems in the analysis of the correlation between civil conflict and economic growth, based on a sample of 41 Sub-Saharan countries including both Chad and CAR. They found the relation between rainfall growth and income growth to be strongly positive and statistically significant. Inter alia, they also concluded that ‘higher levels of rainfall are empirically associated with significantly less conflict’, of course through the impact of rainfall on growth. The results of Miguel et al. are consistent with similar studies, which include Chad and CAR in their samples, and reaching the same conclusions. Now, these results cannot be generalised a priori as applicable to every country included in these studies’ samples; however, on these premises and, by looking at rainfall variability, economic growth and incidence of violence in CAR and Chad, specifically from the 1990s onwards – that is, when their development paths began to diverge –, some temptative arguments can be inferred. As previously shown, the general pattern of average precipitation has been similar for both countries throughout much of the second half of 20th century. However, in the last twenty years, Chad’s rainfall has slightly recovered, whilst CAR’s kept decreasing at the same pace as the pre-1990 trend. Accordingly, their GDP as well as GDP per capita income (PPP) experienced a similar trend until the mid-1990s to then substantially diverge. In terms of socio-political violence, both countries have been unstable ever since their independence from France. This notwithstanding, since mid-1990s, Chad has seen relative peace, while CAR’s situation got worsening up to the point of being considered a state on the verge of failure. Now, beyond conventional analyses of civil conflict, a new database – the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) – provides data on socio-political violent events including ‘events that occur within civil wars and periods of instability’, in Africa since 1997. Data for Chad and CAR are visualised in graph 6. Indeed, compared to Chad, CAR appears to be plagued by a substantial rise of socio-political disorder from the mid-1990s onwards.

Graph 6


Against this background, it is precipitous to assume that the sole cause of divergence between CAR and Chad’s development paths is due to rainfall variability. Yet, the arguments hitherto made would preliminarily point to out at such explanation, which is also coherent with previous research, as mentioned earlier. Furthermore, with regards to CAR, the recognition of rainfall decrease as a crucial determinant for CAR’s worsening situation is substantiated by a recent report by the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR),

while rainfall decreased on average by about 1.9cm per year from 1978 to 2009 […], CAR’s agriculture sector is still artisanal […] so it is really vulnerable because it is dependent on the rainy season’, the report continues, ‘a major barrier to responding to climate change in CAR is the ongoing conflict and insecurity which hampers any poverty reduction or development efforts, including efforts to adapt to climate change.

Per contra, it can be inferred that an actual rise in rainfall as well as oil production and a series of socio-political factors, such as higher repressive capabilities of the central government, resulted in Chad’s relative improvement in terms of economic indicators.