Human Nature

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 33–58 | Cite as

Risk, Uncertainty, and Violence in Eastern Africa

A Regional Comparison
  • Carol R. Ember
  • Teferi Abate Adem
  • Ian Skoggard


Previous research on warfare in a worldwide sample of societies by Ember and Ember (Journal of Conflict Resolution, 36, 242–262, 1992a) found a strong relationship between resource unpredictability (particularly food scarcity caused by natural disasters) in nonstate, nonpacified societies and overall warfare frequency. Focusing on eastern Africa, a region frequently plagued with subsistence uncertainty as well as violence, this paper explores the relationships between resource problems, including resource unpredictability, chronic scarcity, and warfare frequencies. It also examines whether resource scarcity predicts more resource-taking in land, movable property, and people, as well as the commission of atrocities. Results support previous worldwide results regarding the relationship between resource unpredictability and warfare frequency. Results regarding resource-taking and atrocities are more nuanced and complex. In almost all findings, relationships are generally in opposite directions in nonstate and state societies. In post-hoc analyses, atrocities are significantly more likely to be committed in states than in nonstates.


Warfare Resource unpredictability Resource scarcity Eastern Africa Resource-taking Atrocities 



The comparative research in eastern Africa was supported by the Office of Naval Research ONR under MURI grant no. N00014-08-1-0921 to George Mason University with a subaward to the Human Relations Area Files (PI: Claudio Cioffi-Revilla; co-PIs: Carol R. Ember, Sean Luke, and Kenneth De Jong). The opinions, findings, and results are those of the investigators and do not reflect the views of the sponsors. The earlier work on warfare was supported by the program in cultural anthropology at the National Science Foundation (BNS-8211024 and 8606337) in grants to Hunter College, CUNY (PIs: Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember). A presentation of the major results was given by Carol Ember at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (New Orleans) in the organized session “Circulation, Exchange, and Redistribution of Resources, People, and Power: Relationship to Risk and Security.” The session was sponsored jointly by the Society for Anthropological Sciences and the Evolutionary Anthropology Society. A similar presentation was made at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research (Charleston, SC) in the organized session “A Tribute to Herbert Barry” (Alice Schlegel, organizer).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol R. Ember
    • 1
  • Teferi Abate Adem
    • 1
  • Ian Skoggard
    • 1
  1. 1.Human Relations Area Files, Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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