Natural Resources and Political Stability

There is increasing interest in how natural resources influence political stability. Under a dictatorial regime, political stability is determined by the ability of a ruling group to stay in power. If political power is the route to personal riches by the appropriation of natural resource income, remaining in power is that much more attractive. As well as facilitating personal enrichment, a dictator can use part of the income from natural resources to suppress opposition through various mechanisms. These include direct repression and undermining the formation of rival groups (“divide and rule”). In democracies, incumbent politicians can use natural resources to finance popular projects in order to increase their chances of remaining in power via reelection.

On the other hand, natural resources can also be a source of political instability. They create an incentive for the opposition to take over power, yielding access to natural resource rents.  Another possibility is for the opposition to seize a natural resource and use it to fund rebel activity. In both cases the survival of the political incumbent is less likely in the presence of natural resources. These sources of instability tend to be pervasive in non-democratic regimes.

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