Polygamy has strong links with civil war, as a recent LSE study reveals
There can be many causes behind a civil war. The American civil war was fought on the issue of slavery. The struggle of the African National Congress in apartheid-era South Africa was motivated by the dream of seeing white supremacy over government and governance in the country overthrown. The Ethiopian civil war was fought on the premise of establishing people’s rule in the country. So, when a new study by a researcher at the London School of Economics, cited in an Economist report, found links between polygamy and civil war, it could have challenged belief for many. After all, when there are so many ‘worthy’ causes, can marital concerns really spark martial proclivities? The 20 most unstable regions in the world are all where polygamy is practised relatively more commonly. The link, of course, is not obvious at first, but as it unravels, it seems quite commonsensical.
In South Sudan, torn by decades of a brutal civil war, the most probable reasons for the state of affairs, you would think, are graft, governance and regulatory failure, and tribalism. But is also an area where 40% of the marriages feature multiple wives. Polygamy is, more often than not, tied to a man’s economic standing. The LSE study reasons that if the top 10% of men marry four women each then, the bottom 30% can’t marry at all. The scarcity of brides drives up what is called the bride-price or the money paid to the woman’s parents for her hand. The consequent sexual frustration and social marginalisation—an unmarried man in a tribal society is quite the anathema—pushes young men from poorer economic backgrounds into extreme measures, including picking up guns and robbing other tribes. From these bloody feuds, full-blown civil wars are often born. A study by researchers at Yale University and Texas A&M University found that high brideprice is a “critical” factor “predisposing young men to become involved in organised group violence for political purposes”. The polygamy-civil war link is also borne out in fragile and political violence prone places like Guinea, Central African Republic and Chad.