Professor Chris Blattman speaks at the New School

Professor Chris Blattman

Last week Chris Blattman, Assistant Professor of Economics and Political Science at Yale, came to speak at the New School regarding his work with ex-child soldiers in Uganda and post conflict development. After his presentation the floor was opened to the audience for questions.

One of the first topics discussed by Blattman was manner in which  international advocacy campaigns conduct their work regarding issues in conflict and post conflict zones. Campaigns such as these are important and have achieved good things, but they usually focus on what is catchy, and not on what is most important. The catchy stuff, said Blattman, is what galvanizes the masses to pressure their politicians and donate funds to a certain cause. This has been the case with ‘blood diamonds’ in Sierra Leone, and more recently with coltan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In many instances, when a particular campaign has been deemed to be ‘solved’, the issue tends to disappear from the public’s radar, despite the fact that the problem may still persist.

Another type of action he criticized is the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) issuance of warrants against the top leaders of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for committing atrocities against civilians. This warrant may have made things worse by preventing the peaceful resolution of this war.

The warrant issued by the ICC may have impeded local initiatives of amnesty and forgiveness in fostering cohesion in Ugandan society. At present the LRA has been chased out of Uganda, but it has now relocated to the remote south eastern corner of the Central Africa Republic where it continues to abductand kill civilians.

Why aren't these guys included in the ICCs most wanted list ?

Upon visiting the ICC’s website, I learned that all the people who are on its most wanted list are all African. If this isn’t already ridiculous, I find it more absurd that there is an international court hounding people in Africa for war crimes, when Western leaders, who themselves are culpable for war crimes around the world, are immune to such international courts.

Blattman was also asked to give his thoughts on Paul Collier’s influencial ‘Greed vs. Grievances’ argument. This argument states that all rebellions fought in developing countries are fought and sustained by greedy purposes (i.e. the control for a country’s natural resources), and that grievances are not the real fuel for rebellion. Blattman compared Colliers’s Greed vs. Grievances to what he referred to as the ‘Sylvester Stallone Model’ (where an individual, or a group, decide to rebel to avenge or regress an injustice inflicted upon them) 

'Blood corn'?

His responses in a nutshell were:

  • In Northern Uganda, where the LRA was operating, there were no natural resources to exploit such as diamonds, timber, or cocoa. In the north there were only cornfields and cattle.


  • In conflicts where natural resources have been used, the great majority of the soldiers fighting are definitely not rich, and they rarely see profits from mineral exploitation, so an important question to ask is why do they still fight? 


  • Finally, he said that many of the rebel groups across countries  did not begin because of greedy purposes, even though later on it acquired this aspect of greed (e.g UNITA and diamonds).

Dr. Collier, have you considered Stallone's marriage proposal?

However, Blattman he did not discredit Collier’s analysis, but simply said marrying both  ‘Greed vs. Grievances’ and ‘Sylvester Stallone model’ would be a smart thing to do and is where research should try and focus.

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