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Horizontal Inequalities: What are they? How do they lead to violent conflict? What is to be done? - Illustrations from recent developments in Kenya

Time (GMT +01) 17:00 18:15

Frances Stewart - Director, Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE)
Rt. Hon. John Battle MP - Chair, APGOOD

Professor Frances Stewart addressed an APGOOD meeting in the House of Commons on the recent work on horizontal inequalities by the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) at Oxford University and with foreign partners. In particular, in the lecture she applied the model to Kenya; although not a case study included in her book, the post-electoral crisis had occurred during its compilation and had attracted her attention.

In the first half of her speech, Frances Stewart summarised her main findings before applying her model to Kenya. Her talk was structured around five points:

  • To clarify her definition of ‘conflict’, as ‘organised political violence’. Stewart noted that there has been a significant reduction in their incidence.
  • To outline the causes of conflict. For Stewart, conflicts superficially motivated by ‘ethnicity’ in fact conceal a multidimensional problem, rooted in horizontal inequalities within the society.
  • A focus on horizontal inequalities in particular. Horizontal inequalities differ from vertical inequalities in being compromised of groups rather than viewing people as individuals or family units (the income approach). Stewart argued that when horizontal inequalities are political as well as economic; when the inequalities are widening; when there are a few large groups, rather than smaller ethnic communities and where the government is rigid in their policy, then conflict is more likely to occur.
  • The applicability of the horizontal inequality model to Kenya. Stewart used statistical analysis both of land holdings and the ethnicity of cabinet members to demonstrate the sharp political and economic inequalities between ethnicities within Kenyan society. She suggested that conflict had previously been averted in Kenya due to the shared growth under Kenyatta and also the difference in political and economic inequalities under Moi. Tensions had flared around the elections this year largely based of the convergence of political inequalities with wealth and asset differentials between groups. 
  • Policy implications. The horizontal inequalities model suggests a new way of approaching conflict-reduction which is at odds with the current structure of aid management.  Stewart outlined three types of policy that could be used to reduce horizontal inequalities within a society. Direct policies, targeted at assets and incomes, could be the most effective, but simultaneously provoke the most opposition. Indirect policies, which covered both legal policies and fiscal public policies, would be less effective but also less likely to lead to popular hostility. The third potential policy was to follow a much longer-term trend towards greater integration.

Points raised in the discussion included:

  • How data collection in the development sector could alter to accommodate these findings. Stewart pointed to the DHS survey financed by USAID in which the ethnicity of the interviewee was asked alongside their health questions.
  • Whether affirmative action to decrease inequalities would lead to a reduction in the efficiency of political institutions. This was accepted as an area for further research but with the hypothesis that it could lead to greater efficiency in the long-term.
  • There were several Kenyan citizens in the audience who raised particular points about the differing attitudes towards the electoral struggle displayed between economic classes in Kenya. In particular, the challenges presented by the involvement of the media.
  • Stewart was asked to comment on the nature of political deals made to cease conflicts in Africa. She highlighted the naiveté of the West about domestic politics in foreign countries and in particular political deals between African nations; further she briefly touched on the complexity of the issue of corruption, arguing that elements of it do play an integral role is some societies.
  • Stewart was challenged on the example of Peru; it was suggested that the real problem in that case was frustrated youth resulting from problems of unemployment among graduates. In response, she accepted the importance of employment as an issue but saw this as encompassed within the issue of horizontal inequalities.
  • Questions addressed the applicability of the model to other African states, including Nigeria, the ongoing conflict in the Sudan and the economic divisions in Ghana. Stewart distinguished between two types of horizontal inequalities, the capability trap, including health and education and the capital trap, with the requirement of access to capital.
  • Whether political power is inherently a winner-takes all scenario. In response, Stewart stressed that some permanent secretaries in the civil service in Kenya, are, as in many African countries, political appointees.
  • The applicability of the horizontal inequalities model to the Muslim/West divide.  Stewart is currently working on this and observes the impact of the clear inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • There was also a clear applicability of the horizontal inequalities model to Zimbabwe. Stewart also touched briefly upon the problems associated with an international criminal court, decreasing the incentive for a leader to leave office after losing power.  She drew on an earlier comment to reflect on policies in Uganda, given the length of time that Museveni has now been in power.
  • The example of entrenched ethnicity in Malaysia. Stewart’s graduate student, Marianne, who had accompanied her and is a specialist in Malaysian politics argued that affirmative action for Malays/bhumiputra had been more effective than commonly reported and that the recent losses by UMNO in the election represented a declaration by the Malays that they were ready to develop further politically.

Both Professor Stewart and John Battle MP, who chaired the session, were keen to stress that the challenge of horizontal inequalities extends into our own back yard. Stewart repeatedly referred to Northern Ireland as an example, arguing that it was not only and probably not primarily, the headline-grabbing peace negotiations which had effected change, but the British government’s more slow-impact policies implemented since the 1970s to reduce Catholic and Protestant inequalities. In his concluding remarks, Battle highlighted the applicability of Stewart’s work to his own constituency in Leeds. Stewart’s work also provides a fresh way of approaching international aid and conflict reduction requiring both new data collection within development work and innovative political policies.


Conventional studies of inequality tend to focus, almost exclusively, on income. Such vertical perspectives also dominate the debate around the MDGs and their associated targets. Professor Frances Stewart and the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), however, conducts research into how ethnic inequality governs access to political and economic resources and, in turn, affects political stability -- horizontal inequalities.

In a book published this week by Palgrave Macmillan, Frances and her team use the lens of horizontal inequalities to provide in-depth comparisons in three regions - Latin America, West Africa and Southeast Asia. The research method can, however, be applied historically and to non-developing countries - think of Northern Ireland in the 20th century and 1930s Germany - and the applications of its findings can be of direct and immediate use by policy-makers.

At this ODI/APGOOD event, Professor Stewart will apply the method to recent political developments in Kenya.

Committee Room 8