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The Bottom Billion Essay

The Bottom Billion: The Issue Focused by Collier

As it is today, the world has seen so many different ages of civilization that have so far had a great impact on the world itself. Each civilization age has brought about innovations that have been used to simplify the way people live for the sole purpose of preserving humankind from extinction.

Of all the ages, the 20th century has had the most significant impact on improving the welfare of humankind. At the end of the day, it has brought tremendous growth population worldwide. This growth in population has made the third-world countries record the highest numbers though bedeviled with poverty amidst the poor economic conditions thus leading to Paul Collier’s book ‘The Bottom Billion’, an issue that the author presents strategically.

He uses it when referring to the countries in the world, which make up the majority of the billion population of the world that unfortunately sits at the bottom of the world in terms of poverty and development. In his description, Collier (2007), says, “most of the 5billion, about 80%, live in countries that are indeed developing, often at an amazing speed” (p.3).

he bottom billion are countries, which, despite being in the 21st century, have their living standards way back in the 14th century due to problems of war, poverty, diseases, illiteracy, and the general poor economic conditions that are still falling. In his book, Collier is referring to poor countries located mostly in Asia and Africa as well as other countries located in South America.

Some of the bottom billion countries in this case are countries like Somalia, Chad, Eritrea, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam amongst others. One characteristic about these countries is that they are often led by despotic leaders who are themselves filthy rich thriving on looting from the countries’ resources.

Collier focuses on these countries because they are in coexistence with the 21st century countries and that he is afraid that their problems will soon be pulling the 21st century countries down. He says, “this problem matters, and not just to the billion people who are living and dying in the fourteenth century conditions…It matters to us” (p. 3).

By focusing on the bottom billion as an issue, Collier is trying to send a warning message to the 21st century countries whose comfort zones will soon be taken away by the problems emanating from the bottom billion countries. Perfect examples of this case include problems like diseases, which have already been eradicated in the first world countries. With war and poor economic conditions persisting, citizens from the bottom billion countries will always seek refuge in some of these first world countries.

With them, they will import the problem of diseases, crime, and economic strain to the 21st century countries. Lawlessness in countries like Somalia has led to the revival of a once old age practice of piracy in the high seas. Pirates from these lawless countries have led to businesses suffering losses to the tune of billions of dollars in ransom payments as well as deaths of sailors.

They have also made transport by ships an expensive affair due to the incurred costs by shipping lines trying to beef up security for their vessels. Despotic leadership in countries like Chad has made these countries become lucrative drug smuggling routes for drug cartels eying European markets.

Relationship between the civil war and poverty

Civil war is an internal conflict within a given country that results to more than one thousand deaths mainly combatants (Collier, 2008, p. 18).

Civil war or civil strife usually leads to stagnation of daily economic, social, and political activities leading to situations of strife. The relationship between the civil war and poverty is so synonymous that one cannot separate the two. According to Collier, “civil war is more likely to breakout in low income countries” (2008, p. 19).

This case can be predicted by halving the income of a country, which doubles the country’s risk. The relationship between the civil war and poverty is that, on one hand, civil war reduces the income of a nation by driving away any form of investment or economic activities.

On the other hand, poverty or low income in a country is a catalyst for civil war because lack of income will drive the unemployed masses to take up guns as long as the rebel movement pays up and or becomes a source of income.

Examples used by Collier

According to Collier (2008), “a typical low income country faces the risk of a civil war of 14% in any five year period” (p. 20). Civil war or merely the prospect of civil war will always send any investors, foreign or local, away for their safety because, in case of a civil war, lawlessness will reign due to insecurity.

Civil war leads to the collapse of any form of administrative order and thus the need for any investors to secure their investment from losses. Furthermore, property damaged during the civil war is never compensated by neither the government nor insurance companies. To justify his argument of the relationship between poverty and civil war, Collier goes ahead to say, “while civil war reduces income, low income indeed heightens the risk of a civil war” (2008, p. 19).

The author gives the example of Condo DRC formerly Zaire. He explains that, due to poverty, it became very cheap for rebel leader Laurent Kabila to mobilize fighters, as they were cheaply available. Therefore, poverty and civil war are synonymous. They are interchangeably used as causes for one another.

My Opinion

In my opinion, poverty and civil war are synonymous. As explained by Collier, they lead to one another regardless of whichever comes first. On the other hand, poverty only cannot lead to a civil war without further underlying issues. In most cases, some form of interest will lead to poverty. It will be used as a reason to start a war.

There are many poor countries worldwide, which have been poor for so long yet peaceful. However, there are successful countries, which have been brought down by civil war without necessarily being poor. In my opinion, a stable country’s natural resources can lead it into a civil war due to external interests, but with a perfect excuse for war.

A good example is the fall of Libya. Libya has been a peaceful country for so long with its civilians living a first-world lifestyle. However, due to the west’s interest in its oil, it (west) had to use the reason of creating democratic space to destabilize the country and control its resources. Therefore, other than civil war and poverty being the causes to each other, mineral resources too can be added as a cause besides the two.

Resource surplus

What does Collier mean?

Resource surplus can mess the politics of a given country because any group that has access to these resources tends to use the same resources to entrench its rule or cause thus tilting the politics of the given country to its favorable causes or ideas. When a country has surplus resources, it sometimes becomes an impetus for different groups to try to control the same.

A good example to this is the Nigerian government problem with the rebel movement in the Niger Delta. The ruling elites within the country have taken control of all the oil resources coming from that region to enrich themselves besides funding their political careers thus keeping them in power for as long as they can survive.

This, on its own, is one way of messing up the politics of a given country because the people on the ground are influenced in a way to elect leaders who they might not have elected in an ideal situation thus an abuse to the democratic process. This claim is described as patronage politics (Collier, 2008, p. 44).

In another way, resource surplus can mess a countries politics by turning that country’s politics from being issue-oriented to resource-oriented thus sidelining all the other important social issues that political leadership should uphold. On the other hand, leaders who lead countries with massive resources do not depend so much on the people’s taxes to run the country.

Therefore, in one way, the people’s say is diminished. A perfect example to this is the monarch rulers of the Arab world who control the countries with oil resources thus making them totally unanswerable to their subjects. These resources have made the countries’ politics be controlled by a few people.

Reasons for his statement

External forces interested in mineral resources within given countries always finance different factions of the political divide to have a leeway in the exploitation of the given country’s resources. This was seen during the Libyan conflict when the western countries, which were interested in the Libyan oil, were asked to make their military contributions as a license to access the Libyan oil after the conflict. Collier (2008) makes this statement in view of different situations happening in different countries.

He gives an example of Madagascar when the incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka lost the elections. He refused to leave power. Therefore, as a way of retaining control of the country, his allies laid a blockade on the port, which was one of the main revenue earners of the country (Collier, 2008, p. 83).

Another example given by Collier is the politics in Botswana. However, a small landlocked country, it is rich in diamond. Thus, a clique of a few people determines the political direction of the country. These are ways that most resource-rich have been affected by their politics. Angola as a country is mineral-rich in both oil and diamond.

For a long time, the value of these two minerals controlled the direction the conflict took. When diamonds were fetching much more money than oil in the international market, Unita, the rebel movement, thrived a lot. It was even able to attract recognition from such countries like the United States of America. Nevertheless, when the value of diamonds fell with the value of oil rising, the government was able to crush the rebel movement.

Recommendations for escaping the bottom billion

Collier has made several sensational recommendations for pulling the bottom billion countries from the bottom billion pit. These recommendations range from social economical move to military interventions. He calls for military interventions as a way of forcing out despotic governments who are in total control of the military apparatus of their countries as a way of freeing up some of the rundown countries (Collier, 2008, p. 184).

A good example of such a military intervention is when the Kenyan defense forces stormed Somalia after a decade of lawlessness, and got rid of the different factions that were controlling the country. This qualifies as a perfect example of military intervention to restore order where the locals have failed, or are sharply divided.

International arbitration may happen when such international institutions like the World Bank and the international monetary fund step in to advice on economic reforms to be followed in a bid to inject the much-needed capital into the economies of these worlds.

These institutions can also play a supervisory role on these countries’ economy to ensure that the recommended policies are followed to the letter. Investor insurance can also be used to attract investors to these countries by providing the necessary guarantees to investors who wish invest in these countries in such areas as infrastructure (Collier, 2008, p. 154).

In such cases, these institutions fund projects in partnership with the local governments. Another form of solution is internal arbitration whereby different factions of the country are brought to a round table discussion to solve the problems facing the country. Another solution is coming up for a charter for investment, which draws an investment plan for these countries.

What can the UAE learn from Paul Collier?

In my own recommendations, the UAE should find a way of engaging all interested parties in the running of its affairs. The UAE, being a rich country in resources, has seen the monarch and a few people run its affairs. One thing the UAE should learn from this book is that, with its rich resources, the country is an attraction to external forces, which are interested in its resources and who will one day move in to change the regime for the sole purpose of controlling its resources.

Citizens in a country who have everything provided for except democracy will one day stand up against the government and demand for involvement in the political process of the country. This will most definitely lead to war because the rulers of the country cannot wish to let go of power that easily.

Thus, they will use their military power to fight off any changes to their status. Earnestly the UAE should slowly introduce an arbitration process that would bring in the people to make them feel as part of the process of governance. The UAE should also try to find a way of diversifying its income because some of the mineral resources it relies on are not renewable.

One day, in case of their exhaustion, it might lead to poverty due to loss of income for the country. Though Collier’s solutions are seen to be viable, they cannot be taken entirely as so since they are theoretical in nature thus requiring an input of many other factors for them to be totally workable.


Collier, P. (2008). The Bottom Billion: Why The Poorest Countries are Failing and what Can Be Done about It. New York: Oxford University Press.

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