Uganda's politics of war and debt relief

William Reno*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The return of interstate war in Africa after the end of the cold war and global awareness of predatory economic motivations for war raises the question of whether African states are reviving early modern European methods of building states. This study of Uganda's intervention in Congo reveals that this is not so. Uganda's peripheral position in the world economy, coupled with its relations with creditors, gives its leaders unexpected capabilities to plunder a neighbouring country's resources. Creditors remain surprisingly willing to tolerate this behaviour, while providing debt relief. Uganda's leaders exploit creditor anxieties about growing disorder among highly indebted countries and fears that chaos will undermine creditor efforts to manage uncollectable debt. Nonetheless, warfare, plunder and manipulation of creditor interests does not result in stronger institutions. The predatory behaviour of the Ugandan military resembles that of their state-building counterparts. But contemporary plunderers form their own ties to the world economy. Uganda's leader faces greater obstacles to consolidating control over violent commerce, and private interests of plunderers actually weakens existing central political control as Uganda's leaders and its creditors become even more tied to new loans to maintain short-term order.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-435
Number of pages21
JournalReview of International Political Economy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2002


  • Debt
  • Plunder
  • Reform
  • State building
  • Uganda
  • Warfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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