Climate shocks and conflict: Evidence from colonial Nigeria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper offers a historical micro-level analysis of the impact of climate shocks on the incidence of civil conflict in colonial Nigeria (1912–1945). Primary historical sources on court cases, prisoners and homicides are used to capture conflict. To measure climate shocks we use the deviation from long-term rainfall patterns, capturing both drought and excessive rainfall. We find a robust and significant curvilinear (U-shaped) relationship between rainfall deviations and conflict intensity, which tends to be stronger in agro-ecological zones that are least resilient to climatic variability (such as Guinean Savannah) and where (pre-) colonial political structures were less centralized. We find evidence that the relationship is weaker in areas that specialize in the production of export crops (such as cocoa and palm oil) compared to subsistence farming areas, suggesting that agricultural diversification acts as an insurance mechanism against the whims of nature. Additional historical information on food shortages, crop-price spikes and outbreaks of violence is used to explore the climate–conflict connection in greater detail.


  • Kostadis Papaioannou
External organisations
  • Wageningen University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • climate shocks, conflict, Africa, colonialism
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-47
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Geography
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes